Engaging the Next Generation of Business Students in the SDGs – Examples from Around the World

Monash University Malaysia
Business schools around the world are putting in a range of programmes and initiatives to educate and prepare their students to be part of a more sustainable future. However, they are also increasingly actively engaging with local high school students, providing them with a range of opportunities to do the same. This means that these students are already not only aware, but actively engaging in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before they even enter your doors as a student. While many of these programmes used to focus simply on raising awareness around the SDGs, and sustainability more broadly, today they are giving young people the tools to engage as entrepreneurs and problem solvers. 

For example, IBS-Moscow runs a summer schools for high school students one year before they enter university. The main focus of the summer school is the SDGs and each year is devoted to a particular theme. This past year was socio-economic inequality. During the summer school, IBS faculty work with participate to prepare and present projects that help to achieve the SDGs. At Kent State University, the SDGs were embedded into its Upward Bound Summer Institute Programme focused on giving first generation, low-income high school students an opportunity to gain college experience. Students participate in business classes and then prepare a business plan as a final project. Students were asked to identify which SDGs their business could help achieve and to present the SDG that was most meaningful to them.

Some schools are developing virtual tools to engage young people in the SDGs. Recently Wellington School of Business’s Virtual Reality Tour of Machu Picchu focused around the SDGs was highlighted here on PRiMEtime which is used by more than 160 secondary schools across New Zealand. Curtin University and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Chair of Data Science in Higher Education Learning and Teaching launched an innovative, game-based learning programme for students and staff around the globe called Balance of the Planet. The programme delivers online tools aimed at developing creativity, leadership and problem-solving skills among teenagers. Students are tasked with creating a solution for an SDG of their choice, ranging from poverty and hunger to gender equality and climate change. 

Several schools organise annual Children’s Universities aimed at primary and secondary students, increasingly with a focus on the SDGs. Vienna University of Economics and Business’ Children’s University (“WU Kinderuni”) offers children in various age groups the opportunity to participate in especially designed lectures and to meet researchers. Current students are also encouraged to become “learning buddies” or “music buddies” for children from economically disadvantaged families. Universidade Júnior is a yearly initiative of the University of Porto in Portugal that brings over 6,000 high-school students to the university’s schools and research institutes with the aim of introducing them to future higher-education paths and careers. Porto Business School is also part of it by hosting a week- long program on “Being an Entrepreneur”. During one week, about 20 youngsters learn ideation and innovation tools, visit a company, and develop and present a new business project. The SDGs (as a source of new business ideas) and the “triple bottom line” (as concept to keep in mind) are introduced and emphasized since the first day of the program. 

There has been an increase in programmes aimed at young people that focus on development entrepreneurial skills and putting these skills into practice with a focus on the SDGs. For example, the University of Surrey recently launched the Surrey Innovation and Digital Enterprise Academy – SurreyIDEA. The idea is based on their successful Young Person’s University programme that has been running since 2015 that brings together 40 Year 12 and 13 students. However, they found that many of these bright and motivated students don’t come from traditional university going backgrounds and drop out of the system. SurreyIDEA aims to find and develop the next generation of digital entrepreneurs and disruptors. It hosts several programs for groups of all ages, from young people still in school through to doctoral candidates, at whatever stage they are at in their journey as an entrepreneur. Their current aim is to engage 500 15-17 year olds from up to 20 schools, charities and community organisations.

The school of business at Monash University Malaysia organises a day programme called Teenentrepreneur that brings together 80 secondary students to give them an overview of entrepreneurship and introduced them to responsible management. The challenge for the teenagers was to propose a product or service to help meet SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation). Participants are introduced to design thinking tools and methodology to ideate, validate, and pitch their solutions and business ideas in front of a panel of industry professionals. 

Finally, aimed at a much younger audience, is the Entrepreneurial Playground at the Faculty of Economics, Business and Tourism, University of Split in Croatia aimed at kindergarten students. Children participate in this a month-long programme where they learn about the whole entrepreneurial process, from ideation to sales. The children produce their own hand-made products (souvenirs), plan their marketing activities and decide how to share the profit. They then go to campus to meet students and professors and sell their products in the lobby of the university. The programme came about because the University found that there was a (mostly) negative connotation of the word entrepreneur in Croatia and they wanted to go about fixing this. A share of all profit is given to charity. 

Past posts with more examples of schools engaging high school students and children in sustainability include this post from 2015 for International Youth Day, this programme from San Francisco State University College of Business featured in 2016,  and this more recent post from International Youth Day 2019.

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