Although we are 2 years into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many faculty, staff and, in particular, students are still not aware of what the Goals are and why they are important. After conducting an informal student survey last year, the PRME team at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) in Denmark was surprised by the low level of awareness around the Goals and decided to do something to address that. I spoke with Jacob Schjødt, Project Manager for a special day they organized for students on the Goals, about how the team went about raising awareness.
What was Students for the Global Goals?
Students for the Global Goals was a one day on-campus event organised by the CBS PRME office in collaboration with 13 student organisations from CBS. Each organisation hosted an activity uniting their area of interest with one or more of the SDGs. Twenty companies participated alongside organisations, that were either collaborating with the team at events (e.g. through talks, workshops and/or case competitions), or by being present at a stand throughout the day.
How did it come about?
The event came about when CBS PRME noted that we were addressing responsible management in our curriculum, faculty and outreach but that there was very little that directly targeted students. But the question remained of how to engage students and what was relevant. Louise Thompsen, a project manager at CBS PRME felt strongly that the SDGs were not on many of our student’s radars and that there was a lack of awareness regarding them. This was further fueled with the results of an informal survey which revealed that only 30% of CBS the students questioned had heard of the goals, and that only 12 % of these had gained this information from CBS. Something needed to be done to drive awareness and so Iwas brought in to take on this challenge. Prior to the Student for the Global Goals event, CBS had not held an event about the goals, which was in contrast to many other Danish universities who had already, contributed in some form to the perceived necessity of creating awareness. In a more practical sense, it came about via the joint effort of two part-time PRME employees, spending around 10 months on planning and executing the entire day
How was the day organised. What happened?
We had a number of workshops, debates, cases and talks throughout the day. This included an event with Velux, Novo Nordisk and Oxfam on the SDGs – a New Wave of Greenwashing and another about Sustainability as a Competitive Edge put on in collaboration with Maersk, Unilever and Orsted (a large producer of energy). We had some events organized by student clubs such as mending clothes during the event (CBS Fashion Society) and Volunteering for the Global Goals (AIESEC). The CBS Debating Society organised a debate on the SDGs, exploring their relevance to business and to students. The best overview is provided in the booklet we prepared for the event.
How did you get companies involved? How were they involved and has the relationship continued past the event?
Companies had three different ways of engaging. Some were involved as partners. Here we asked companies to contribute financially in return for exposure, a large stand in a prime location, and engagement in events during the day. Initially we were going to ask one company to be the main partner but later decided it was better to ask three different companies. This was done by email, followed by meetings. Several companies were involved in specific events. In this case it was the student organisations that organised all the connections themselves. Lastly we asked companies to join on the day with a stand where they were able to tell students about their companies and the work they do.
We have developed a very good relationship to everyone who was involved, and some have shown interest in participating again next year.
What were some of the companies and the cases involved? Were the solutions shared with the companies and will they be implementing them?
We had one large case competition with Chr. Hansen, a leading global bioscience company about further engaging the SDGs in their work. Here, 50 students worked for 48 hours in close collaboration with the company. We also had some smaller cases, such as the implementation of our SUPO (sustainability points) project. This is a project aimed at incentivising students at CBS to engage in sustainable behaviours by rewarding them with points they can use to gain on-campus benefits. The workshop was about developing this currency system.
How did you bring together all the student organisations?
We are very lucky to have more than 80 student organisations at CBS, so finding engaged students was not a challenge. We looked through a catalogue, and identified interesting and relevant organisations with a reputation for being ambitious. Then, we invited their leaders to an informal coffee meeting, asking them if they would be interested in engaging in a student-oriented event about the Global Goals. The majority said yes.
After plenty of coffee meetings, we had a larger gathering with all of the organisations, where we explained our vision for the event more in depth. All organisations were from CBS, so they all had a business background. Yet, they varied greatly in their activities (from marketing, to debating, feminism, to Asian studies, sustainability and exchange).
What were some of the challenges faced and how will you fix those for next year?
We spent a lot of time trying to get funding for the events, by applying to various funds instead of reaching out to companies. None of the six funds offered to give us any money. Another challenge was that we invited some student organisations that had limited experience hosting events. That created a lot of nervous energy leading up to their contributions on the day. A more thorough screening process would have saved us from such worries.
What were some of the successes, how was it received!
It was very well received. Plenty of people showed up. Participants and co-organizers seemed both happy and impressed with the event. We had some of the largest Danish companies and large number of sustainability VIPs participating. It has also been mentioned a lot since both in the hallways at CBS, and in CBS’ newspaper and blog posts. We have, undoubtedly, created awareness and engaged a large number of students in the SDGs.
What advice do you have for other schools thinking of doing something similar?
Start out by having fun with the idea, and be super ambitious. A lot is doable.
Then, seriously consider how much time and energy you have at hand. It was quite demanding to be in charge of the project while only being employed part- time.
What’s next for the event?
Planning next year! One major aspiration is to go beyond CBS, and invite student organisations from other universities but that remains to be seen.