Sustainable Business Examples from Around the World – US, France and Finland

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 16.21.58As businesses become more engaged in sustainability around the world, we are presented with an increasing range of examples of active companies. However, when I speak with students and faculty, they say that they repeatedly hear the same examples from the same international companies.

In an attempt to share some new examples of good practice, I asked a handful of faculty members from around the world about their favourite classroom examples of local companies that are actively involved in sustainability. Below are some examples from the US, France, and Finland.

Joe Lawless, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership & Social Responsibility, Milgard School of Business, USA
Theo Chocolates has done an exceptional job of creating a company based upon the belief that they can make the world a better place through a commitment to social and environmental justice. Their efforts to support farmers and farming communities in cocoa growing regions include supporting their ability to utilise sustainable growing practices without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilisers. Theo was the first organic and Fair Trade chocolate factory in the country. They are successful in creating a sustainable product profitably, and it is really good!

Caroline Cazi, Director of Human Resources, Diversity and CSR, Montpellier Business School, France
In 2012, Dell launched a commitment to put technology and expertise to work where it can do the most good for people and the planet. It is a first step toward a new sustainability strategy for Dell. The Dell 2020 Legacy of Good Plan brings that strategy into focus and sets the trajectory for how social and environmental sustainability will become an accelerator for successful and sustainable customer and societal outcomes for years to come. Another example is Adecco. While the labor market should be opened to all, many men and women—handicapped, senior, without diplomas, from diverse cultural or socio-economic backgrounds—have no possibility of working. Since 2002, the mission of the Foundation of the Group Adecco is to favour the professional success of all, so that each individual is able to express their talent and aspiration, in their employment.

Minna Halme and Armi Temmes, Professors of Corporate Social Responsibility, Aalto University, School of Business, Finland
Kemira (water management) is an example of a large company, which has changed strategy, and oriented its practices towards corporate responsibility. Below, are other examples from small specialised companies, which have sustainability as the core of their strategy. Globe Hope is an innovative company that designs and manufactures ecological products from recycled and discarded materials. Greenriders is a socially rewarding service that helps users decrease the amount of carbon emissions created through person transportation. Finally, Sharetribe allows users to create a custom sharing, renting, or selling market place online, without having to have any coding experience.

What are your favourite local companies engaged in sustainability? Share them in the comments section below.

Creating a Student Journal – European College of Economics and Management

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 16.23.39The European College of Economics and Management (ECEM) in Bulgaria has had a busy year. The past year has seen their new Sofia campus awarded building of the year in Bulgaria in terms of education facilities, the college launched a new Sustainable Development Policy and courses to support the sustainable development mission, and ECEM launched a new peer-reviewed journal for students around the topic of sustainability. For more on the new student journal and how it came about, I spoke with Vesselin Loulanski from ECEM

What is “Science and Business?”

At the beginning of 2014 we launched a new peer-reviewed journal for students, calling it Science and Business. The journal aims to enhance student-university collaboration in research, and focus on applied research including sustainability issues. The journal also aims to increase professional and personal development opportunities for our students.

Science and Business covers aspects of modern institutional development, societal roles, and capacity building. We want it to focus on applied research to bridge the theory with the real world of economics.

How was it created?

The process took various steps in preparation, time and effort, yet within three months, the idea turned into the first issue of the journal.

We approached this journal very much like any other academic journal and were pleased to see that students took the project seriously. The difference with this journal was that design mattered more, and there was a focus on making it look modern and be more accessible, with a focus on professional rather than scientific content.

What kinds of articles have been featured?

In the first issue there were three business case studies—two papers focused on the tourism and hospitality industry (cultural heritage management and sustainable tourism), and a last paper on economics. Our second issue was a special issue with all six articles from award winners of a national competition which took place under the Union of Economics in Bulgaria. The topic was on e-commerce and global market trends, and articles came from Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD students.

Each article is reviewed by a member of the editorial board as well as the editor, and final decisions are made at an editorial board meeting. The special issue was edited by the jury of the national competition with approval of the editorial board.

What advice do you have for other schools thinking of doing something similar?

Do not hesitate to lead the process. Students and faculty are happy with the journal. There has been serious submission interest and the journal is getting media attention. We are now looking to further improve the review process and the design of the journal, and hopefully introduce some English language papers. We will also probably have a series of special issues on topics of importance to the business sector in Bulgaria.

 

ISO 26000 in Higher Education Institutions – La Rochelle Business School

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La Rochelle Business School is currently in the initial phases of using the ISO 26000 directives as a central pivot to assist the school in its efforts to operate as a socially responsible institution. The school has extensive experience with the standard’s use in the business sector, and is in the process of implementing it in the school—raising awareness, developing consensus on what the standards mean, and identifying the issues the school will need to address. I recently spoke with Sarah Vaughan, associate Dean and Vincent Helfrich, Project ISO 26000 Coordinator, Institute for Sustainability through Innovation at La Rochelle Business School, about their experiences with the ISO 26000 standard.

What is ISO 26000?

ISO 26000 is an international standard on social responsibility which aims to provide guidance, rather than a set of requirements to which all types of organisations must conform. The standard was produced through extensive discussions with companies, NGOs and major trade associations, and covers:

  • principles of social responsibility
  • recognition of social responsibility and engaging with stakeholders
  • seven core subjects which in turn encompass some 43 issues

o   organisational governance

o   human rights

o   labour practices

o   fair operating practices

o   consumer issues

o   community involvement and development

o   integrating social responsibility within an organisation

It provides a strategic approach to social responsibility and is particularly helpful for internal and external analyses and providing starting points for implementing sustainability strategies (more information: http://www.iso.org/iso/home/standards/iso26000.htm).

How is La Rochelle using these standards? What are the benefits to the school?

The school has decided to institutionalise its commitment to CSR by structuring and aligning its overall social responsibility process with the ISO 26000 directives and the CGE/CPU framework—the French Universities standard.

The ISO 26000 framework is a universal guideline that we as a school are familiar with: we were actively involved in the national steering committee and workgroups that developed the standard, and we have acquired a practical approach to its implementation in the business world via the school’s industry funded research chair in CSR & ISO 26000. Using the ISO 26000 standard is a logical extension of the school’s commitment to social responsibility and sustainability, initiated at the end of the 90s.

What is some of the work coming from the Research Chair in CSR & ISO 26000? 

The CSR & ISO 26000 Research Chair crystallises our expertise in sustainability and social responsibility (SR) built up over the years. We were among the first to distil an understanding of SR and to provide guidance for corporations to translate SR principles, using ISO 26000, into effective actions for implementation. Our expertise of working with companies in developing practical strategies for implementing the standard, has enabled us to strengthen and develop our academic research base (contributing new insights), has had research implications for practice, and has informed our teaching (case study development and problem or issues-based consultancy projects).

The Fleury Michon research project is a perfect illustration of the work we are doing. Since 12th April 2010, the school has assisted this major French agro-food company in its process of integrating corporate social responsibility practices, in compliance with ISO 26000 guidelines. Collaboration with the company’s senior management has given researchers privileged access to the company in order to test the relevance of the ISO 26000 standard, by using a research-intervention approach. For the company, the self-assessment phase focused on evaluating actions in each of the 40 areas in the seven core subjects identified by ISO 26000.

The company published its CSR gap analysis and self-assessment report, tracking results on its CSR efforts, and then developed a strategy, identifying and highlighting areas for improvement, together with drawing up detailed action plans. Consultancy projects in the MBA programme have enabled students to become involved in the reporting process by generating reports on topics such as SR best practices in the Agro-Food Industries, Ethical Charters, and identifying the sector’s SR performance indicators that could be used by practicing managers.

What have been some of the challenges in implementing ISO 26000 at La Rochelle? Successes? 

The school’s ISO 26000 strategy is now at the second level of self-assessment. Implementation is not a simple process: firstly it requires creating a deliberative process to maximise stakeholder engagement. Secondly, it is essential to strike a balance between efficiency and representativeness of the project working group. Lastly, the working group must communicate throughout the organisation and update regularly on progress and achievements. SR encompasses a broad range of sometimes complex issues and not all members of the school’s organisation are well-versed in them.

As a consequence the internalisation and appropriation of the process—understanding and utilising the standard—is in general a lengthy one, but one which has enabled the school to progress on reaching consensus, a “thought way” as to the scope and purpose of social responsibility and its relevance to each member of the school in their activity. It has been an appropriate approach to broaden SR engagement. As for many organisations, the school is already taking some measures or is engaged in many activities to meet its social responsibility, but these are often the result of individual initiatives or informal processes, without a conscious SR strategy. It is a great participative learning process within the school to raise awareness of its accomplishments and share the different initiatives—this is probably the most productive part of the project lifecycle so far.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Each situation is unique but first and foremost ISO 26000 is a collective project that requires commitment from top management and must be co-built with all the members of the school. The focus is on structuring and improving SR policy—it is not a trajectory towards a certification seal (conformity tests and compliance statement, etc.), as indeed no certification exists. From this perspective ISO 26000 is an interesting practical and incremental process: it is merely an evaluation of how mature the school is in meeting its social responsibility, and putting its performance into perspective.

What’s next?

The next step for the school will be to launch our SR action plan based on the priority areas we have identified as a result of the self-assessment phase, and to pursue our stakeholder engagement process. We will also continue to focus on procedures and practices within the corporate world (in the context of the CSR & ISO 26000 research chair) and to pursue our engagement with the standards bodies, as experts but also end-users, to contribute to developments of current and future regulations and guidelines.

 

Engaging with Local Government – Pforzheim University

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Despite becoming more global, Business Schools are physically located in a community and are increasingly exploring ways to not just interact with, but contribute to and strengthen that community. At Pforzheim University, faculty and students are engaged in sustainability topics at both the local and national government level on a variety of important projects.

I recently spoke with Juergen Volkert, Professor of Economics, Ethics and Sustainable Development about the school’s work with local government, and got an update on the how business schools in the region are working together. Rudi Kurz, Professor of economics, has added a section on the state of the PRME Chapter DACH, a regional chapter of German speaking countries, at the end of the interview.

Briefly describe Pforzheim University’s approach to sustainability and responsible management education.

Our main goal is to develop the knowledge, skills, and employability of our students as future managers, in a way that enables them to find and implement competent and successful solutions for global challenges. We aim at developing their competences to identify ethical issues, responsibly take advantage of social or environmental opportunities, avoid and mitigate related risks, and be aware of critical issues and limitations of responsible management. We want to provide the necessary foundations to achieve these goals to all our business students rather than training highly specialised experts in very narrow fields.

Discuss your relationship with the state and federal government institutions.

In general, we see a direct relation between governments and the corporate license to operate and sustainable development, thus important to responsible management education. Governments as regulators play a key role in managing or failing to establish a legal and economic framework as a basis of sustainable development. Therefore, besides being an exciting research background, experiences with current political decisions and governance are helpful to develop students’ understanding of political processes. We see this as important to better understand the needs, opportunities, and limitations of responsible management in general, as well as the roles and challenges of companies as political and social actors, also in multi-stakeholder bodies and decisions. In the case of Pforzheim University we depend to a large extent on the financial resources provided by the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. This limits our ability to “greening the campus” (buildings etc.), although the green-red coalition government pays more attention and encouragement when aligned with initiatives like PRME.

What are some examples of the projects that have been undertaken?

Various colleagues engage in different kinds of projects and cooperate with companies, civil society organisations (CSO), and federal or state governments. Mario Schmidt, professor of ecological management, is a member of the Advisory Board for Sustainable Development of the government of Baden-Wuerttemberg since October 2012. Professor Schmidt is co-chairman of the working group “Goals and Indicators”—especially engaged in the development of a two-spheres-approach for sustainability consisting of the sphere “ecological viability” and the socio-economic sphere “needs and good life”. I am also a member of the Federal German government’s group of scientific advisors for official Poverty and Wealth Reports.

A decade ago, a state agency in the state of Baden-Württemberg established a state-wide certificate, the “Ethikum,” which is awarded students who show an outstanding intellectual engagement and reflection of issues related to ethics and sustainable development. At our university, the certificate provides incentives for students to delve into ethics and sustainability topics—not only because the certificate has become a valuable asset in a student’s application to companies. On average, our students make up 45% of all students awarded with the Ethikum, however, the certificate is not the only motivator for our students. For Pforzheim University, the certificate provides the opportunity to identify in which kinds of courses, how, and by which colleagues these issues are being incorporated and adopted into curricula.

What have been some of the challenges working with local government? Successes? Do you feel you are having an impact?

The Federal German government adopted the proposal of a research team, directed by myself, for its second and third Poverty and Wealth reports in 2005 and 2008. The research team had suggested using Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen’s capability approach as a theoretical framework for the government’s Poverty and Wealth reports, and operationalised this in a German setting. Of course, such a complete adoption of a scientific proposal is more an exception than a rule. Often political rationality will result in outcomes that may lack stringency from a scientific point of view or sometimes even ignore better alternatives. However, with respect to political rationality, processes, and governance, the latter cases provides at least as many learning opportunities for researchers as real impacts. As such, they are all “successful,” because they help to better teach political and sustainability governance issues, get into contact and dialogue with international researchers and practitioners, and hence, also foster a PRME strategy.

Green economy is a major challenge and chance for Baden-Wuerttemberg, and Prof. Schmidt is very engaged in supporting the regional economy in implementing a “greener economy.” He considers it an important task to contribute to the sustainable development of Baden-Wuerttemberg, doing this through his consulting activities in different boards. He also shares his expertise with our students at Pforzheim University, especially regarding the newly founded Bachelor-Program, “Resource Efficiency Management,” and the forthcoming Master-Program, “Life Cycle & Sustainability.” The study programme will prepare its students to implement resource efficiency measures in companies and thus to contribute to a greener economy.

What advice would you have for other schools for engaging more with their local governments?

Do not expect a cooperation to have an immediate impact, see it as a valuable learning opportunity with respect to a major responsible management stakeholder. Start in a team with others who are experienced with government relations. Do not only focus on companies and governments but make sure that your university also works with civil society or international organisations to establish a more comprehensive experience base with major responsible management stakeholders.

What are the next steps for this relationship?

As various colleagues already engage in corporate, CSO, and government projects and relationships, we want to further develop these contacts into a “learning experience centre.” The hope is that this centre will bring together the expertise of colleagues from diverse backgrounds within governments, companies, and civil society organisations at our university, and provide practical learning experiences in interdisciplinary teams for our students.

Pforzheim is a member of the PRME Champions group and also initiated the launch of the PRME Chapter DACH, in Co-operation with HTW Chur. Can you give us an update?

We share the idea that Regional Chapters can play a vital role in the advancement of PRME. Here we are adapting PRME to our regional context (of rich developed countries in Europe). In the DACH Chapter, communication is easier based on the common German language and we can also include participants with little English skills. Additionally, dialogue and mutual learning is easier because of short distances between countries.

After preparatory meetings in Pforzheim (January 2013) and Bled (October 2013), we officially launched the Chapter on 21 January, 2014, at MCI Innsbruck, with fifteen founding schools participating. This is a small number, and therefore one of the goals of the Chapter is to increase this number and to find broader support of the Principles.

Almost all business schools in our region do have some components of ethics, sustainable development, or CSR in their curriculum or research. What is lacking is a common understanding of the core elements, learning goals, and pedagogical approaches. The network will help to improve this situation. We are also in contact with all the regional networks of UN Global Compact, and want to establish a close relation with companies to exchange ideas and to learn from each other. Leaders include large global players like Bosch and Siemens, but also a lot of not so well-known medium sized companies which are nevertheless world market leaders (hidden champions).

The next conference will be in Chur, Switzerland, 29 – 30 October, and will focus on mission statements and strategy, as well as on teaching and curriculum development.

Management Education and the Sustainable Development Goals

This past week the PRME Champions group met in New York City to discuss how to work collaboratively to develop and promote activities that will address shared barriers to making responsible management education a reality. These discussions happened in parallel, and were linked to the discussions happening at the same time in the UN headquarters around the post-2015 agenda and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals, and addressing the role of the business sector in helping to make those goals a reality.

As part of the Champion’s meeting, a panel discussion was prepared with a group of distinguished guests from the UN and the UN Global Compact to discuss the role that business schools can play in the post-2015 era—both as though leaders and educators for future managers, and the range of opportunities this will present.

Mr. David O’Connor, Chief of the Policy and Analysis Branch of the UN Division for Sustainable Development, stressed the need to create mindful managers who are able to identify and take advantage of the multiple opportunities that lie ahead, but also aware of the multiple responsibilities that they have towards stakeholders. Graduates must be able to work in a more complex business environment, much more complex than has ever existed before.

Mr. Christian Frutiger, Deputy Head of Global Public Affairs from Nestle, a Global Compact Lead company, talked about the importance of the work of the Global Compact. He expressed concern that many graduates are not aware of the Global Compact, the work it is doing, and the tools it has available to help business in driving sustainability. Students need to taught about the growing range of voluntary tools—that are increasingly seen as mandatory—and collaborative platforms for business, including but not limited to the Principles for Responsible Investment. He also talked about the power that companies such as Nestle can have in bringing about change. Nestle sells 1.2 billion products a day so they have many opportunities to engage and educate their consumers, and make a positive impact on the local communities in which they operate.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Chairman of the Global Compact Foundation and Former Chairman of Anglo American and Royal Dutch Shell not only spoke on the panel, but also contributed his thoughts on PRME during roundtable discussions of the two-day meeting. He noted that specific countries will need different tools and assistance to help them achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that business schools can provide research and context for these. He stressed the importance of preventing groupthink, of making sure that everyone buys into the values of the SDGs, and highlighted the need to teach students how to be better and more active listeners—particularly in local community contexts.

Ms. Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International and Member of the Global Compact Board, spoke about the need for training future leaders focused not just on the short-term, but also on the long-term implications of actions. Business has a role and responsibility to contribute to the wealth and well-being of countries. Over 1 trillion in illicit money has left developing countries, more than all the overseas development assistance that they receive.   She spoke about the importance of looking at incentive structures when it comes to preventing this and other kinds of corruption, where often salaries are dependent on getting contracts at all costs.

The last speaker was Mr. Yilmaz Arguden, Chair of the Global Compact Local Network Advisory Group and Member of the Global Compact Board. He noted that if business schools continue to operate in the way that they do, not half of the schools present in the room will exist in 15 years. He felt that one of the most important ways that business schools could engage in the post-2015 agenda was through research—in particular in collaboration with Global Compact Companies—and suggested this short list of possible topics:

  • How to change the incentive systems in the world to align behavior to SDGs. (e.g. taxes, short and long term performance measures and performance)
  • The academic incentive system and how it, for example, rewards individuals who do new things, but not those who are working towards long-term impact in communities and projects.
  • Exploring new technologies and how to deploy them to improve stakeholder engagement.

He finished off noting that students need to be made aware of the long-term implications of their actions throughout their careers.

For more on the post-2015 agenda, and the most recent draft of the new Sustainable Development Goals click here.

 

Implementing Sustainability Principles – Sharing Information on Progress (April/May)

Lund University School of Economics and Management

Lund University School of Economics and Management

Every month, several new Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reports come across my desk. These SIP reports are full of interesting and innovative projects aimed at embedding the Principles of PRME across campuses. In this series of blogs, I will feature a small selection of these projects taken from recently submitted reports. This month, we take a look at examples, as they apply to the Six Principles of PRME, from Sweden, the US, Paraguay, Mexico, South Africa, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Colombia.

1. Purpose:

Lund University School of Economics and Management (LUSEM) in Sweden currently runs an initiative, launched in the summer of 2013, where students are put in contact with a number of the school’s partners and other companies, to review practi­ces in corporate responsibility and sustainability. The initiative has developed ongoing, active collaborations, with a number of organisations including Alfa Laval, Arla Foods, Deloitte, the Hunger Project, IKEA, and Swedbank. The initiative includes continuous follow-up by the school, and pursuit of further initiatives and partnerships to allow students to engage with the organisations in a number of ways—some of these leading to students writing bachelor’s and master’s theses in collaboration with the companies. This initiative reflects both the commitment by the school to gain ground on corporate responsibility and sustainability issues, and the insight that partners and other corporate, public or non-profit bodies are eager to engage with the academy in these developments.

2. Values:

Clark University Graduate School of Management’s University Park Partnership (UPP) is a broad, grassroots collaboration that involves neighborhood residents and organisations, local churches, government officials, the business community, and public schools. The university has played a leadership role in the community since 1985 and has been a primary partner in UPP since 1995. As a partner, university individuals conduct research for UPP organisations, teach in neighborhood schools, and serve as mentors.

The Universidad del Cono Sur de las Americas in Paraguay has an annual event that has been going on for six years now called, Contest of Crazy Ideas. This contest invites students to develop creative ideas and new products and services with a focus on social responsibility.

3. Method:

The Universidad del Norte in Colombia has been working to build up its database of case studies with a clear focus on social responsibility and sustainable business. It is working with the Colombia Global Compact Local Network, of which it is part of the organising committee, to create a series of case studies on human resources and social responsibility at the national level.

As part of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Business School Network for the Promotion of Responsible and Sustainable Business Practices through Business Education, EGADE Business School in Mexico, has designed a course in collaboration with the ILO, Boconni University in Italy, and Sun Yat Sen University in China. The course, called “Labour Dimension of Corporate Social Responsibility; from principles to practice,” is available to enterprises, entrepreneurs, and the general public.

4. Research:

Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in South Africa has a Centre for Dynamic Markets, which is dedicated to generating and disseminating insights into and information about doing business in dynamic markets, as well as the implications, arising out of the success of the dynamic market economies, for doing business elsewhere. The centre has been expanding its operations and presence into other African countries, with a new office in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2014, it launched its inaugural GIBS Dynamic Market Index, which attempts to empirically identify the conditions and institutions that enable the catalysts for economic growth, wealth creation, innovation, and overall socio-economic development. The index, which will be updated annually, measures a series of indicators across 133 countries over a seven year period.

5. Partnerships:

The Faculty of Economics and Administration (FEA) at the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia is working closely with the anti-corruption authority, an initiative created by the government of Saudi Arabia in 2010 to fight corruption and unethical behavior, and foster a culture of social responsibility among all sectors of the Saudi Arabian economy. FEA held workshops in conjunction with the authority, with the aim of exploring venues for potential cooperation between the college and the anticorruption authority through training and research.

6. Dialogue:

INALDE in Colombia has a project in collaboration with the Exxon Mobil. This programme brings together leaders of national NGOs and Foundations to develop the capacity of these leaders to generate positive change at the community and national levels.

The George Washington School of Business’ (GWSB) Career Center partnered with employers to create the Corporate Collaborative Council (CCC). The CCC consists of senior level industry leaders strongly committed to developing global business talent. Council members—representing a broad range of business, government and non-profit organisations—help drive the direction of the business education curriculum through regular meetings with key faculty and administrators.

+ Organisational Practices:

Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business in the Philippines invited students to take part in a No Impact Experiment, a one-week carbon cleanse programme. Students and staff were encouraged to take steps to reduce their impact. Each day had a theme, Monday was trash, Tuesday transportation, Wednesday food, Thursday energy, Friday water, Saturday giving back and Sunday was eco-Sabbath. The event was organised by the Campus Sustainability Office.

 

 

 

 

Humacité Service Learning Mission– La Rochelle Business School

La Rochelle Business SchoolThe innovative Humacitér service learning mission has become a cornerstone of La Rochelle Business School’s approach to educating responsible managers. The aim of this mandatory, 3-month long experience is to equip future managers with the capacity to adapt to issues emerging in different social contexts. I recently spoke with Sarah Vaughan, associate Dean at La Rochelle Business School and Daniel Baudin, Director Humacite, Ethics and Solidarity, about their experiences with service learning.

What is Humacitér?

Humacitér is a combination of two French words, humanitarian and citizen. It is a mandatory three-month, full-time, humanitarian, social or civic service learning initiative that exposes students to cultural, social, economic, political, and religious differences and thus helps to develop their humanitarian values. It combines courses, community service, and opportunities for reflection on the learning that occurs through that service. The programme was piloted in 2007 and fully deployed to all taught programmes of the school in 2012-2013. This past year 809 students completed a Humacitér mission, and 70% of these were completed abroad.

Service opportunities are carefully selected in partnership with local NGOs, to align with the learning goals of Humacitér and the student’s degree programme. Recent projects have included working on a housing project in India and an orphanage in Nepal, working with First Nation communities to develop sustainable tourism projects in Yukon, and developing training programmes on environmental issues with local communities in Morocco.

What additional support are students given for their projects?

The school provides a portfolio of courses to raise student awareness and prepare them for this experiential learning component of their degree programme. A range of electives are offered covering major issues—developing countries, human development, UN Millennium Objectives, history of religions, principles of fair trade, humanitarian activities, UN Agencies, NGO’s, Human rights, and development history. Students are required to take two electives out of the fifteen available during their curriculum.

Business school curricula rarely explore social issues and when they do so, such issues are either given short shrift or are approached almost exclusively from the management perspective (i.e., management in nonprofit organisations, or social entrepreneurship). The elective portfolio has been designed to raise student awareness of ongoing or emerging global challenges, and the need to improve or advance global conditions. Issues discussed include widespread poverty and efforts to eradicate or alleviate it, international cooperation for social development, the implementation and realisation of human rights, inequitable social conditions, and issues in sustainable development. Consistent with our mission, we want to provide our students with both information and opportunity: information through the courses, to explore and gain an understanding of the complexity of these issues; and opportunity to subsequently empower them to engage in the grassroots projects within communities in need.

What have been some of the challenges?

The first challenge when the Humacitér programme started was to convince our students of the pertinence of a voluntary service learning mission as a solidarity and commitment initiative, as an integral part of their degree. It was a “juxtaposition of contraries” for them: voluntary v. mandatory, service learning and solidarity v. business knowledge. No other business school in France had initiated a programme to support NGOs and communities in need, and it was not in the wider collective unconscious either.

The second challenge was also, partly, to convince our business school faculty and staff of the purpose and relevance of such an initiative.

The third challenge was to dissipate the reservations of some of the NGOs–the primacy of profit maximisation over all other values is perceived by many as the core of both social and environmental problems. Was the school trying to transform the global corporate agenda, was it really trying to take the notion of citizenship to a global scale, or merely trying to burnish its image in its communications for the recruitment of future students? It has been a process of mutual learning over time: the partnering organisations have shared their methodologies and our students have made innovative contributions across the traditional boundaries to relationships with the local communities.

Another challenge has been to keep our Humacitér programme sincere to its underlying values and principles and to guarantee its ethical coherence. One recent trend to note has been the rise of the “charity business”—volunteering organisations and agencies mushrooming worldwide, providing at a cost, “solidarity emotions” to Western students. Far from being enabling conditions, these money making developments are perceived negatively by the local communities, and there is a strong risk of longer term repercussions for students accessing acceptable and appropriate projects.

What about successes?

The first successes came when the first students came back from their Humacitér mission. It had been such an eye opening and transformational experience for them: almost all realised that they had “grown” in maturity after such a unique experience. They felt happy to have made a difference— to have added value both to the communities involved, and to themselves. They also realised that this was going to be an asset, literally, for their personal and professional lives.

Over the years, Humacitér has become a definite appeal to potential candidates to our business school in terms of recruitment, and is systematically given in the top three reasons for joining the school.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

An initiative like Humacitér can only be successful if there is genuine commitment from all stakeholders within the business school. It requires a shared vision—that students have the right to study, explore, and experience these issues as a core and primary focus of their education, and that we can inspire students to become actively involved and subsequently consider the social and environmental impact of their work. The real question schools should ask themselves is why put something like this in place, is it purely in response to a fashion or is it a strategic vision?

It also requires dedicated resources—not only a team of faculty and staff to support the preparation, monitoring, and assessment of students before, during, and after Humacitér, but we also have to monitor safety issues daily (prevention and intervention plans) as political situations can change rapidly across the globe.

What’s next for Humacitér?

Humacitérrelies on a large network of dedicated NGOs in the Third and Fourth World that trust our approach, and that we trust. The extension of our network is key to the development of our Humacitérprogramme. We monitor the quality of our cooperation, and we have to continually “weed and seed.”

The school has invested in preparation programmes and we continue to develop and improve advice and support to students, and to increase the elective course offerings. We are currently developing two new projects:

-       a Humacitérreview committee with representatives from charities, NGOs, alumni and other higher education institutions across the world, to provide the strategic focus for developments to the programme in the future

-       a “Humacitérnetwork,” where students and alumni can share their experiences (the impact on students is strong even years after they have carried out their Humacitér mission)

We are also at a point where we feel we can publish on our Humacitérexperience. Over 3500 students have undertaken a project, giving invaluable insights into the transformational process, and we would now like to track the impact of the experience on their career trajectories—including the impact on the recruitment decisions and whether students have carried out their intention to act differently once in the workplace.

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