Research Discussion with Dr. Rahman

Dr. Saeed Rahman was featured in the University of Victoria’s Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation (CSSI) Year in Review 2018-2019 magazine. Below is the conversation he had regarding his research and passion for sustainability.

Q1: What topics or issues does your research explore?
My research explores how organizations can understand, build, co-create, and integrate ecological knowledge into their business practices. This involves an organization: learning about its place in interconnected social-ecological systems; collaborating with communities, research organizations and others to build an understanding of their impact; and ultimately integrating this new knowledge into their products and strategic vision. The BC-based agricultural organizations I worked with for my dissertation are engaging in thinking that goes beyond sustainability to the concept of regeneration.

Q2: What was the inspiration for your research?
During my PhD studies, I read a paper by Professors Stefano Pogutz, who became a member of my dissertation committee, and CSSI Director Monika Winn. The paper is a case study of Italian pasta manufacturer Barilla, and the results of the company deliberately going beyond their organizational boundary to learn about sustainability. To do that they had to talk to farmers and realized economic pressures were leading to some unsustainable farming practices. Barilla recognized their power as a large organization meant they could effect sustainability changes more easily than individual farmers, and they set out to understand their relationship to nature and farming with the aim of improving the company’s sustainability. By collaborating with farmers and scientific organizations, Barilla ended up creating a new type of knowledge, knowledge about natural systems and business’ interdependence with those natural systems. We have come to call this ecological knowledge. I started exploring the literature to understand what ecological knowledge was, and found there were no other studies that looked into ecological knowledge from a business and organizational point of view, or at how businesses acquire and co-create ecological knowledge, bring it into their organization and translate that knowledge into their products, services and processes. This helped inspire my dissertation research.

Q3: What impact do you hope your research can have on the current conversation around sustainability?
I hope my research helps organizations of all kinds understand the why and how of ecological knowledge. Why it is important to understand the natural systems that they are embedded in, and the interrelatedness of their mission with the whole social-ecological system. And how to go about building this ecological knowledge, the partners they can engage in creating this knowledge, and the ways in which some organizations have incorporated this knowledge
into their business processes. Although I looked specifically at organic agriculture in BC, I think the framework that emerged from my work could be relevant for other organizations wanting to understand their long-term impact.