How to Engage Students Around the SDGs – Antwerp Management School

ams-sdg-student-ambassador-tshirtOver the past three years, Antwerp Management School has stepped up its efforts to implement the PRME principles. Apart from having been a Signatory since 2012, they also hosted the Belgium Global Compact Network Chapter. Sustainability is a key focus area of their school, in particular what they refer to as societal consciousness of students in relation to sustainability.

I recently spoke with Eva Geluk, part of the team at BASF Deloitte Elia Chair on Sustainability and Manager of the Competence Centre Corporate Responsibility at Antwerp Management School about one of their newest programmes, the SDG Student Ambassador Campaign, that aims to engage students in sustainability discussions and, in particular, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

What is the SDG Student Ambassador Campaign?

At AMS, we aim to empower students with the necessary knowledge, skills and reflection on societal challenges that will not only help them to develop their own perspective on corporate responsibilities, but also help them by turning these into future business opportunities. As the SDGs are gaining increasingly visibility in the world of business and civil society at large we thought it was time to promote the Goals within our student community and empower them with the necessary knowledge to challenge their peers and faculty. Worldwide her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium is one of the official SDG Ambassadors on global level.

Every year all of our students participate in a one-day programme consisting of an introduction to sustainability in the morning and an interactive and fun experiment in the afternoon. The morning lectures are on ‘Sustainable business = business’, followed by two interactive sessions on ‘Cultures of sustainability’ and ‘The evolutionary basis of sustainable behavior’. The afternoon session is an experiment through which students experienced (un)sustainability in an interactive, integral, and original way.

This year during the programme we launched the SDG Student Ambassador Campaign initiative looking for 16 Student Ambassadors – it is a voluntary initiative on top of their day-to-day curricula work. As there is no course incentive for them it is purely involvement based upon their own intrinsic motivation illustrating that this generation is not only aware of a changing world but also wants to actively contribute to it.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work?

We see the creation of SDG Student Ambassadors not only as a means to promote the Goals within our own schools, both with fellow students and with faculty that teaches on their programs, but also as a means to further empower our students to critically assess the role of the Goals in management education. After all it is them who will be going out into business once they finish their degree and become the leaders of tomorrow. The original idea was to create 16 SDG Student Ambassadors that would facilitate a workshop with companies committed to the SDGs for their fellow students. To our delight the interest was that great that we ended up with 54 SDG Student Ambassadors. This represents almost a third of our total student population in the Full Time Masters division.

This group of SDG Student Ambassadors will be provided with extra information and get the opportunity to participate in conferences and events organized around the different sustainability themes. The best project will also get a prize for their work and we will create visibility for them where we can during their academic year. They have all received a SDG training session provided by CIFAL Flanders – part of UNITAR training centers, based in Antwerp and focusing all its training activities on the SDGs.

What are some of the projects that the students will be involved in?

Because of the success of the programme, we adapted our approach by suggesting a few more projects and letting room for the creation of own initiatives by the students. The result is a multiple of diverse projects:

  • A project where students will conduct a workshop with different companies active on the SDGs for their fellow students
  • a project where students will conduct a workshop on the SDGs in local schools
  • a project that will look at the own footprint of the student community
  • a project that will work guerilla style drawing attention in creative ways to the goals by for example organizing flash mobs in different cities in Belgium
  • a project that will organize a debating night on the SDGs and invite relevant and inspiring speakers
  • a project that will identify documentaries on the different goals and organize a movie night with teaching questions attached to it so that they can be used in class too
  • and a project with Aim2Flourish where students will interview business leaders that started a company with the aim of doing good
  • and finally a project that will look at SDGs in reporting and a project that creates our own SDG You Tube channel

What have been some of the challenges? 

Managing the additional workload that the great interest by students to become a SDG Student Ambassador had created. But this is only a pleasure! It would help to have a fixed budget for this project hence the leverage internally that this project creates is so important!

Successes?

The fact that we got 54 SDG Student Ambassadors instead of the 16 that we were hoping for was a massive success and gives us internal leverage to further promote not only the SDGs but PRME initiatives as a whole.

The fact that there is so much interest from the students is obviously very exciting. It gives not only hope about the next generation of young leaders understanding the importance of sustainable development in a business context but also fulfills our aim of empowering the students with knowledge and critical thinking that they can use with their peers, faculty and future employers. Also the fact that they are actively involved in finding own projects is exciting as it underlines the empowerment approach and shows that it is working. Thirdly, it has the potential to become an important internal leverage for putting even more focus and effort in implementing the PRME principles in all of our teaching, research and activities as almost a third of our students illustrated this much interest in the theme.

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

Do not think too much about it but just do it. We launched it as an experiment, with only the only objective being having 16 student ambassadors and one project so being flexible in what comes at you and have internal support from above is also essential.

What’s next for the initiative?

Now all focus is on executing the different projects and raising awareness on them and the AMS SDG Student Ambassador campaign at large. Early spring we will evaluate and see how we can further build not only the student empowerment programme itself with the overall aim of getting ECTS points attached to it, but also the SDG Student Ambassador campaign and create continuity. Furthermore we would love to share our experiences and the outcome of the projects with other schools as much as possible.

Our approach to responsible management education is supported by the BASF Deloitte Elia Chair on Sustainability – a joint academic partnership by the faculty of applied economic science at the University of Antwerp and Antwerp Management School. For more read AMS’s SIP report.

SDGSDG11

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