Sybille MERTENS, Full Professor, PhD
Attuned to sustainable development issues and more than ever aware of the crucial role that the private sector must play in the transformation of our societies, a valuable partner of the HEC network - a historical actor of family entrepreneurship in the Liège region - has agreed to support research on SMEs’ extra-financial performance. in Belgium, SMEs represent more than 99% of companies.
As of October 2021, this new partnership will materialize through the creation of the Eugénie Piedboeuf Chair and will make possible the financing from 2021 to 2025 of the PhD thesis of Simon Meert (a former student and current researcher at HEC Liège). His thesis will be supervised by Professor Sybille Mertens, Director of the Centre d'Economie Sociale, in charge also of HEC’s Master's in Management of Social and Sustainable Enterprises.
Beyond the publication of scientific articles and spin-offs in HEC Liège’s course programs, a first concrete deliverable of this doctoral research program is the development of a sustainability management tool for SMEs built around the framework offered by the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
This is a crucial and promising project. Indeed, in the current global context, assessing SMEs’ extra-financial performance linked to their management choices has become essential, both to strengthen them and to enhance their positive impacts. By doing so, SMEs can improve their attractiveness to various stakeholders, not only their customers but also their potential financiers and the talents they could attract. On the sponsors' side, impact investing funds (e.g. KOIS invest, SI2, Change, Scale Up), sustainable crowdfunding intermediaries (e.g. EccoNova, Lita.co) or public investors (e.g. SRIW, Noshaq) recognize great difficulty in easily delimiting a sustainable investment universe despite their preference for investing in it. In terms of human resources, it is becoming increasingly clear that companies’ values and sustainable management practices are an attractive factor for workers, particularly highly-educated ones. Consequently, in response to the need for monitoring (internal perspective) and reporting (external perspective), companies must broaden the analysis and management of their performance to include non-financial aspects.
The creation of the Eugénie Piedboeuf Chair on issues related to SMEs’ extra-financial performance, therefore, marks a strong and necessary commitment both for our society and for the companies themselves. We can only hope that this project will boost Belgian SMEs’ commitment to (even) more sustainability!