Reaching the Sustainable Development Goals requires the support and involvement of all groups in exploring the challenges but also proposing innovative solutions. This is exactly what the students at Universidad EAFIT in Colombia are doing. Over the past year they have been developing a range of solutions to SDGs with a particular focus on the issues most relevant to their country and community. I spoke with Maria Alejandra Gonzalez Perez, Professor of Management at Universidad EAFIT, about their involvement in the global initiative Ideas for Action.
What is I4A and how did EAFIT become involved?
I4A (Ideas for Action) is a joint project between the World Bank Group and Wharton Business School to foster the engagement of young people in international development, and with a specific focus in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I4A wanted to increase the participation of Latin America in the initiative. We were personally invited by Prof. Djordjija Petkoski at the Wharton School to participate in the annual competition.
What are the key features of the programme and how does it work at EAFIT?
I4A annual competition aims to promote a generation of ideas for financing and implementing the SDGs. Winners are invited to present their projects at the IMF and World Bank annual meeting, and they receive support by a start-up accelerator in Wharton. In 2017, over 700 projects were submitted, and around 30 of them were by teams from EAFIT.
How were EAFIT students specifically involved?
As part of their CSR course, or as a voluntary project, students designed their projects, and submitted their projects to Ideas 4 action. Students were given academic recognition for the power of their ideas, the realistic possibilities of implementing the project, and their commitment. Click here for an overview presentation.
What kinds of ideas were proposed/what was the impact on the students?
Most of the projects submitted by EAFIT addressed SDGs 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). The majority of the proposed initiatives were focused on post-conflict Colombia, and how to create economic and social inclusion for former guerrilla members. The ideas range from extreme wild tourism, community based micro-financing, reforestation, and organic agriculture.
Students expressed that this project gave them the opportunity of building ideas for a more inclusive and sustainable future for their country. It also gave them networking opportunities with other students from around the world, and interaction with senior members of the World Bank.
How did you incorporate this into the curriculum?
Nearly 80% of the submitted projects were from students that take the course “Ethics and Social Responsibility” in the Business Management undergraduate programme. They were assessed based on originality, power of the idea, realistic possibilities of implementation, and, background research (data mining) on the issues and opportunities.
The other 20% of the submissions were by members of the student research groups (Observatory on Trade Investment and Development). They participated because they wanted the opportunity to contribute and be heard.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
It was our first time participating, and what we found most challenging was ensuring that students understood the importance of the SDGs. It was an excellent way to encourage them to bring together everything they had learned in the business curriculum and apply it to current environmental, social and economic challenges taking place in Colombia. After Brazil, Colombia was the country with most submissions in Latin America. This gave visibility to students, our School, and the country.
What other initiatives are you currently involved?
We are currently involved with WikiRate and have several research groups looking at corporate performance on SDGs 8 and 16. Another initiative on campus that we are proud of is our student research group, the Observatory on Trade Investment and Development. It is a space where students publish articles with short analysis and opinions about the topic of business, investment and development focused primarily on emergent markets and exploring sustainable development. The forum is inspired by the United Nations Conference on trade and Development (UNCTAD). EAFIT is also a member of the Global Compact.