Economic inequality and the role of companies – ESADE

ESADEWhy and how can companies contribute to the reduction of economic inequality in the world? This is the question that ESADE’s Global Integrative Module (GIM) aims to explore. In partnerships with business schools from around the globe, the module engages students from a variety of academic programmes in proposing concrete solutions to businesses around this topic. The GIM is a proud awardee of the Ideas to Innovation i2i 2012 Challenge of the GMAC Management Education for Tomorrow (MET) Fund, which supports big ideas designed to improve management education. I recently spoke with Anna Inesta Codina, the coordinator of the GIM project at ESADE, about this innovative project.

What is the Global Integrative Module?

The Global Integrative Module is an innovative learning experience that invites students to work in online virtual teams to propose solutions to a challenge of current social, political and economic relevance, by applying an integrated modular approach—combining relevant knowledge from the fields of Economics, People Management and Social Sciences. Ensuring both academic and cultural diversity, online virtual teams are composed of students from different academic programmes, namely BBA, MSc and MBA students from the participating business schools, ESADE (Spain), NYU Stern (US), SDA Bocconi (Italy) and Sogang University (the Republic of South Korea). Each team is assigned a web-based ‘virtual studio’ environment, which is designed to enhance shared knowledge-construction and problem-solving among the members of the international teams.

The proposed challenge asks students to consider themselves part of a team of professionals who have been contacted in order to elaborate a consultant report, and to answer the question, “Why and how can companies contribute to the reduction of economic inequality in the world?” Students are required to go beyond reflection to construct a personal and yet conceptually and practically justified action-oriented position that takes the form of a report to propose recommendations for companies, organisations, and governments to make the difference in solving the challenge. Students submit weekly learning journals related to their project and experiences, three preliminary deliverables in varying formats, and a final report with concrete proposals for companies and business schools.

You work with a range of international partners. How does the partnership work?

The GIM is a joint project between the four above-mentioned international business schools. For ESADE and Sogang University, the GIM is included in the curriculum as an elective course, while at NYU Stern and SDA Bocconi it has been embedded as a project within existing courses. In the 2013-2014 international edition of the GIM, 74 students representing 24 different nationalities took part, with 39% of participants from ESADE, 31% from NYU Stern, 11% from SDA Bocconi, and 19% from Sogang University.

Project Leaders from each of the business school partner institutions were involved in the design of the 2013-2014 implementation of the GIM, and monthly online coordination meetings were held to make decisions on important aspects of the course – such as the topic, task-design and assessment. Furthermore, during the implementation of the module, each business school had an in-house tutor whose job was to provide academic support to their online virtual teams.

What have been some of the challenges?

Designing a complex task that was challenging but not too far beyond students’ capabilities in terms of time and workload was a challenge. Indeed, the authenticity of the task, albeit successful in engaging students in processes that are very close to the kind of authentic challenge resolution they will be confronted with in their professional activity, was very demanding. Not all students were willing to invest the kind of energy (besides the time and effort) that making the most out of this learning opportunity would require, perhaps due to their decision to prioritise other academic responsibilities.

Coordination was also a big challenge given the large number of stakeholders involved in the module (students, Project Leaders, members of the ESADE academic team and tutors) and international nature of the module.

What about successes? 

Students’ feedback collected at the end of the module via a final reflection paper and an end of course survey was very positive. Specifically, students found the learning experience to be an opportunity to better understand relevant global issues, develop global competencies, foster team building skills and work in an international environment where they have the chance to adapt to different challenges. It contributed to students’ understanding of economic inequality as a global issue and of the role played by companies in reducing economic inequality.

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

Before deciding whether to implement a similar module, it is imperative not to underestimate:

  • The importance of institutional vision, as well as importance of personal networking to ensure the full commitment of the participating business schools: without the support of the corresponding departments at each of the schools, the fruitful partnership would not have been possible.
  • The value of true teamwork among the faculty participating in the learning experience: confidence, trust and flexibility are a must to ensure the kind of shared decision-making that is necessary for the project to succeed.

Moreover, when designing the learning task, it is important to:

  • Find the right balance between conceptual rigor and value-added practice
  • Reach a consensus as to the dates to start and end the project/course,
  • Agree on the kind and characteristics of the tools to apply to measure students’ learning

What is next for GIM?

Preparations are underway for the 2014-2015 GIM. We will be reducing the length of the course slightly to adjust to the academic calendars of all partner schools. The recruitment process will be more selective to ensure that all students are prepared and willing to dedicate the time and energy to the project. We are also working to strengthen the academic teams at each school so that students receive adequate support from tutors and professors.

All the changes proposed are designed to enhance students’ learning process and experience in the module, and they are not aimed at scaling up the module in terms of number of participating students. Given the challenging nature of the learning experience and the complexity involved from the coordination side, we are considering increasing the number of business schools participating as partners. This would ensure an even wider diversity of students’ profiles and, thus, an even more authentically international experience.

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