Creating Sustainable Mindsets – SDG focused Action Learning Projects at Antwerp Management School

Antwerp Management School

Back in 2016, PRiMEtime featured the SDG Student Ambassador Campaign at Antwerp Management School, a programme that aimed to engage students in sustainability discussions, in particular around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Four years later, this programme has developed from a voluntary extracurricular activity to one that is truly embedded into the core curriculum. I spoke with Jan Beyne from the Sustainable Transformation Lab at Antwerp Management School about how this programme has evolved and why it is still so important.

What is Antwerp Management School’s (AMS) approach to sustainability?

Antwerp Management School, a ‘Transforming’ school in the Positive Impact Rating 2020 Edition, is an international business school that aims to shape its students into global citizens, decision-makers and leaders. In every programme, the values of our school on self-awareness, global perspective and societal consciousness are taken into account. 

In order to truly integrate sustainability in the whole organization, AMS has started a more intense dialogue with multiple stakeholders in the school. This includes collaboration with the research and valorization team, the Chairs on Sustainable Transformation and Management Education for Sustainability, executive education, the full-time master’s team, facility and HR team and students. 

Underpinning the AMS sustainability framework are three pillars: Human impact, Environmental impact, and Knowledge impact. These have been mapped, priorities identified, and measurable targets have been put in place which will be the catalysts in working towards achieving the Agenda 2030. For more see our most recent Sharing Information on Progress Report.

How did this programme start?

In 2016, AMS launched the SDG Student Ambassadors Campaign to empower our full-time master’s students with knowledge and inspiration that they can translate into actions to positively impact their faculty, fellow students and wider society. In 2016, 54 students embarked upon a variety of campaigns, entirely voluntarily and on top of their already busy study schedule. All of them received extra training by CIFAL Flanders to increase their understanding of the SDGs. In 2017, 50 students participated, covering 15 projects. In 2018, the SDG Student Ambassadors Campaign replaced the former community projects; this led to a record number of 80+ student ambassadors.

What kinds of projects were the students involved in at the time? 

One group organised five SDG workshops at secondary and primary school with the aim of raising awareness about the SDGs with young adults.  This led to some great discussions about sustainability and left the younger generation inspired to start integrating the SDGs into their own schools. Another group ran a public-awareness campaign and organized a day of guerrilla marketing actions on Antwerp’s largest shopping street. They approached the public with provocative material on animal welfare and waste management, and emptied bags of garbage on the street, filming people’s reactions. Other students worked on awareness posters about water consumption that were hung up in bathrooms across campus, a campaign to tackle waste by organising a closet sale and another focused on tree planting and introducing eco-friendly pesticides. This is only a short list of what the students have been involved in.

In 2019 the programme changed. Why and how did this transformation occur?

As of 2019-2020, the Student Ambassador Campaign program shifted from an optional programme to a mandatory Action Learning Project (ALP), integrated in the Global Leadership Skills (GLS) programme. GLS is part of the master’s programmes. The SDGs are still the main starting point, but the projects are organized in a different way. The purpose of the projects is to give students the opportunity to practice their cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary leadership and teamwork skills and to gain significant results in contributing to the realization of one of the SDGs. As such they are working in cross-programme (multi-cultural) teams of five to six people each. All projects need to respect three general guidelines:

·                 Projects should focus on one or more SDGs and make a positive impact to said SDG(s) within a timeframe of six months (i.e., before mid-February).

·                 Projects must involve organizing and persuading other people, who are not on the team, to achieve a goal set by the project team. If students work with a larger organization or charity, they must show how they went beyond that organization’s efforts to organize and influence others to complete their project.

·                 Projects should provide significant opportunities for all team members to exercise their leadership skills and/or make progress on the areas targeted in their personal development plans.

A secondary side effect of this project is the involvement of AMS staff. Each project gets assigned a mentor from the AMS staff. This helps students to connect with AMS and to feel at home, but it also serves as a tool to raise awareness on the SDGs amongst AMS staff.

What are you hoping this programme will achieve?

The AMS Global Leadership Skills (GLS) course centres on the three building blocks of the AMS mission: self-awareness, global perspective and societal consciousness. The course has the aim to challenge students on all three aspects, to guide and to allow them to grow through an intense experiential learning track. Within the building block societal consciousness, AMS focuses on systems thinking, key to understanding and acting on the interconnectedness of our economic, technological, human, social and ecological systems. Societal consciousness is seen as part of the bigger picture: Are you fit for the future? Will your career, organization, community, city or country survive and thrive in 10, 20, 50 or even 100 years? As individuals and future business, community and policy leaders, how can you not only prepare for the future but also help shaping it? Students are introduced to megatrends and future-thinking tools that will help them to be more resilient and sustainable in the 21st century. 

Students dive deep into seven aspects of integrated value: rethinking patterns, realigning partners, renewing principles, redefining purpose, reassessing performance, redesigning products and reshaping playing-fields. Through a mixture of in-class and cross-program sessions they are challenged to develop their personal vision on how to integrate sustainability in their future work and career. Core competencies are knowledge (areas of global societal risk, breakdown and breakthrough or innovation), reflective capacity (awareness of personal values and how they translate into behaviour as a consumer and citizen) and skills (the ability to think systemically, critically and with a long-term perspective).

What’s next?

AMS is developing innovative approaches to become a truly responsible and sustainable business school with personal attention for each student, and a focus on developing the best leaders, not ‘of’ the world but ‘for’ the world. The changing circumstances that we are now facing due to the COVID-19 crisis only confirm the importance of the choices we have made and strengthen our determination to continue to pursue these goals. Going forward, we will continue our ‘journey’ ensuring that sustainability remains one of our key drivers, and that together with all our partners and stakeholders, we continue to aim for impact in achieving the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

Any advice for other schools interested in doing the same thing?

The idea behind this interdisciplinary programme was to develop an integrated learning journey that would put the values of the school – global, critical, and sustainable mindsets – at the centre of AMS’s full-time master’s and executive education programmes, and to engage all students in concrete activities that support these values. This worked for us – and might also work for other schools worldwide.

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