Impact Investing at Business Schools – 7 Impact Investing Competitions for Students

Last week, as part of this month’s special series on impact investing, we looked at ten ways business schools are engaging their students in impact investing on campus. An eleventh way is through a range of mostly new impact investing competitions open to business students globally. These competitions, mostly based at US schools, offer students the opportunity to not only learn about impact investing but to apply this knowledge to real cases that often impact actual businesses. Here is a selection of seven such impact investing competitions either run by or with participants from PRME Signatories.

 

  • The IESE Impact Investing Competition is an all day session that simulates an investment process including entrepreneurial pitches, due diligence, term sheet preparation and investment committee meetings, followed by intense negotiations with the entrepreneur of their choice. The event happens annually as part of the Doing Good Doing Well Competition at IESE’s campus in Spain. Participants this year included CEIBS, Cranfield School of Management and IE Business School.

 

  • UBC Sauder School of Business hosted the National Strategy Consulting and Conference event that brought students from across Canada and the United States to compete on an impact investing case based on Brighter Investment, a social venture supported by the Centre for Social Innovation and Impact Investing. Competitors were judged based on their strategy recommendations, as well asthe potential social impact their recommendations would yield. Students across different disciplines were challenged to integrate their financial, marketing and impact measurement skills into a coherent strategy for a social enterprise.

 

 

  • Duke University was one of the schools that recently participated in the Invest for Impact Competition, hosted by UNC Kenan-Flagler in the US. The invitation-only Competition is an experience that includes a wide variety of challenges that bring together top MBA students, sustainable entrepreneurs and successful impact investors, who have an opportunity to learn from and network with each other. Student teams from around the world play the role of impact investors and review business plans of three companies and select the ones they would invest in based off of both financial viability and their social and environmental impact.

 

  • INSEAD in France and Schulich School of Business at York University in Canada both take part in the MBA Impact Investing Network & Training (MIINT). MIINT is an experiential lab designed to give business students knowledge and skills around impact investing. MBA students create teams at the start of the academic year and identify an impact company that they will focus on during the programme. They then present recommendations to a judging committee composed of industry leaders for a potential investment of up to $50,000 in the companies that they chose to represent during the process.

 

  • Cornell University was one of the finalists in the first Impact Investing in Commercial Real Estate Competition hosted by the University of Miami School of Business Administrations in the US. The Competition focuses on investments made in commercial real estate projects with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside an appropriate financial return. The competition takes place yearly in the US and is open to teams of business schools globally.

 

  • Lagos Business School in Nigeria organised its Impact Investing Competition in 2016 as part of the Lagos Business School MBA Entrepreneurship Investors Forum. The Forum is a new initiative introduced by students as part of their entrepreneurship course and coordinated by Dr Henrietta Onsuegbuzie, Impact Investing Project Director at the school. During the event, students present business ideas that bridge the gap between economic growth and lagging social development through profitable businesses that solve social problems. Judges are post MBA students who are currently working in this field or have developed businesses that have a social impact.

Impact Investing Series – 10 Ways Schools are Bringing Impact Investing to Campus

Tsinghua University Net Impact event on Impact Investing

This month PRiMEtime is focusing in on the important and increasingly popular topic of impact investing. So far we have looked at what impact investing is and summed up a range of resources on the topic and have looked in depth at the Social Finance Academy, a new programme coming from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Canada.

There are a number of ways that business schools are bringing impact investing to campus. Here we look at ten ways that business schools are specifically engaging students in impact investing on campus.

1. Events that bring impact investing actors onto campus to discuss the state of the industry: The University of St. Gallen in Switzerland organises an Impact Investing and Social Finance Conference. For its first three years the event was held in Sao Paulo and focused on Latin America, but has since moved to the St. Gallen campus in Switzerland. The event brings together impact investing practitioners to meet and discuss with students. The business school also offers students the course Impact Investing 2.0: Building the Impact Economy, a course focused on the fundamental context for impact investing and its requirements, that aims to train students to be able to spot impact investing opportunities.

2. Student engagement through clubs: The Net Impact Club at Tsinghua University in China organised a special session on impact investing for students, inviting experts and practitioners to campus to share their knowledge with students. The University has also recently partnered with UNDP and other leading universities to develop a research agenda around impact investing that will better leverage private investment to finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This includes undertaking research to improve the analytical frameworks, evidence, and policy environment that encourage and guide commercial capital flows in support of the SDGs.

3. Funds for students to invest: The Haas Social Impact Fund at Haas School of Business University of California Berkeley is the largest of the student-managed socially-responsible investments funds with more than USD$2.5m of assets under management. Student fund managers are chosen yearly from the business programmes to evaluate investment opportunities by analysing traditional indicators of business quality and valuation metrics along with environmental, social, and governance policies and practices. Students that participate also have the opportunity to receive a certificate in Social Investing upon graduation.

4. Selecting MBA students to be Impact Investing Fellows: SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University’s Environmental Finance and Impact Investing Fellows Programme aims to train students for emerging opportunities at the intersection of sustainability and finance, including project finance that addresses climate change, ecosystem services, and poverty alleviation. Through a series of courses, coupled with applied projects, Fellows learn how to invest in, manage, or regulate businesses or projects seeking financial, environmental and social goals.

5. Engaging students in consulting projects with business: Duke Fuqua School of Business’s CASE i3 Fellows are selected second year MBA students who complete coursework in impact investing, support the centre’s research and operations, and complete a consulting project and apprenticeship. The fellows work with a broader set of CASE i3 Associates, often first year students, in teams for their Consulting Programme which pairs students with leading organisations on impact investing projects, including developing impact due diligence guidelines for investors, doing market analysis, and investment landscaping.

6. A selection of elective courses focused on impact investing: Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in Canada offers a course on Impact Investing: Social Finance in the 21st This course provides an introduction to the impact investment sector. It describes the evolution of impact investment, the growth of new asset classes, and the opportunities and challenges faced
by investors seeking meaningful impact investment vehicles. Through a combination of readings, discussions, guest lectures, research, a pitch competition and a portfolio allocation project, students will gain deep insight into the different perspectives brought by the impact investor who is concerned with stimulating social and environmental impact while generating financial return.

7. Providing a regional focus: The Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town offers a course on impact investing in Africa aimed at wealth managers, consultants, funders, lawyers and other financial intermediaries looking to gain an understanding of the field. The workshop is (next sentence addresses them) led by a diverse group of leading experts in the field. They have also collaborated with the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford to create twelve teaching case studies on impact investment in Africa.

8. Creating MOOCs on impact investing: ESSEC offers a MOOC (‘Massive Open Online Course’ – a type of free online course) about impact investment available in French. The course explores what impact investing is, which companies are involved and what are they investing in, what kinds of solutions are proposed and the ingredients necessary to create a favourable impact investing ecosystem in the north and the south. The latest offering of the course started on September 25th, 2017.

9. Creating new courses aimed at an executive audience: The Fundamentals on Venture Philanthropy and Impact Investing  at ESADE Business & Law School is a new executive education programme aimed at providing managers with effective tools for a high-engagement approach to social investing and grant making across a range of industries. The course combines online learning materials with two days of face-to-face interaction at ESADE’s campus in Barcelona with leading lecturers and practitioners. The programme is taught jointly with the European Venture Philanthropy Association, a network of 2010 investment firms, banks, business schools and other organisations committed to creating positive societal impact.

10. Pushing Impact Investing forward through Research: The Impact Investing Lab at SDA Bocconi School of Management in Italy focuses on scalable business models that can create economic and social value through innovation in products, services, and processes. The lab acts as a platform and point of reference at a national and international level to support the development of impact investing as a new asset class able to attract public and private capital. It generates research, organises seminars and workshops, and contributes to the spread of a culture and a knowledge of impact investing.

Training the next generation of impact investing professionals through the Social Finance Academy – Smith School of Business

The Centre for Social Impact at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University in Canada educates students and fosters research and advocacy on issues of social impact. The Certificate in Social Impact programme is one of its sought-after programs. The Certificate allows over 500 Smith graduate and undergraduate students to earn a designation alongside their degree. Enabling business students to gain foresight into how social issues are affecting business and society while gaining relevant skills needed across today’s changing landscape is one of the focuses of the Centre and its newest programme, the Social Finance Academy narrows in specifically on the topic of impact investing.

I spoke with Joanna Reynolds, Associate Director of the Centre for Social Impact at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University Canada about this programme.

Why is impact investing important?

Increasingly, people in their professional and personal life want to be part of social and environmental solutions. Whether through our purchasing power as customers or in how we make investments. The appetite for social finance is growing across Canada and globally. Examples, such as impact funds and green bonds are two of the many new and innovative ideas gaining momentum in the marketplace, and inspiring organizations and consumers to think differently about our investments.   An example of the growth of impact investing globally is the 2017 Global Impact Investing Network’s annual survey which continues to report increases in the size of the global marketplace at USD 114 billion in managed impact assets across geographies and sectors. Professionals today want to know how to gain the skills that open opportunities for themselves and their organizations in this area.

What is the Social Finance Academy?

The Social Finance Academy is a unique opportunity for professionals to gain insights into a growing global field that now includes Social Responsible Investing, Impact Investing, and Venture Philanthropy. The Academy came about to meet this rising demand for professionals within finance, capital management, public and the not-for-profit sectors to understand emerging opportunities in this space.   Investors involved with foundations, endowment boards, or who manage assets for individual private wealth are increasingly seeking to align their investments with purpose and need advisors who can work with them to create customized solutions; while, not-for-profit organizations are seeing that social finance can enable their public benefit mission to thrive; and, governments recognize that social finance and social enterprise can meet multiple public policy objectives. Professionals across these sectors are seeking to enhance their skills sets and distinguish how they add can value.

Why offer a programme specifically focused on social finance?

Currently, programs like the Social Finance Academy are rare opportunities to learn from the trailblazers who have shaped the landscape and marketplace in Canada and globally.   As the appetite for social finance and impact investing continues to grow, the professional skill set requires more technical knowledge. Such as skills found in traditional finance and capital management now need to be combined with a rigor of impact measurement. Additionally, social finance often brings together people from across the public, private, and community sectors. Therefore, understanding public policy levers, community missions, and diverse investor values are essential contexts to creating a social finance solution. Educational programs such as these aimed at cross-sector collaboration with a focus on social outcomes are exceptional opportunities.

What is the content of the Social Finance Academy?

The Academy is a two-day program offered this November in downtown Toronto. Participants gain practical knowledge to apply social finance tools within their organizations to transform outcomes and investment models while achieving measurable financial returns and valuable social impacts. Sessions are led by professionals from the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, BCorp Canada, City of Toronto, Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, Purpose Capital, Centre for Social Innovation, CoPower and top faculty from the Smith School of Business. Smith faculty and session leaders use a combination of insightful teaching, breakout sessions, and tutorials to examine case examples that provide participants with a local and global understanding of the marketplace. Session topics include outcomes finance, impact measurement, social procurement, solutions finance, community bonds, insights into public policy levers, and designing decision frameworks that guide social finance strategy.

What has been the response?

The response has been excellent. The 2016 inaugural session had a wait list of over 50 people. A great example of how institutions are taking advantage by sending their teams to engage and learn is our continued partnership with the Ontario Government who has sponsored ten Social Finance Fellows across departments to earn a full Certificate in Social Impact. By earning a Certificate, participants take a second program call Leading with Impact that help them gain the skills to affect change from within an organization. Participants then work individually or in teams on an applied project. The two in-class programs combined with the applied project has been well received as a way for professionals to bring value into their organization. Bmeaningful, Canada’s leading go to platform for career’s with impact is our promotional partner.

What’s next for the Social Finance Academy?

The Social Finance Academy is part of the Certificate in Social Impact for Professionals.  We expect to continue to partner with leading organizations to offer the Academy in subsequent years as the field continues to evolve.

Any tips for other schools looking to engage in this topic.

Impact investing and social finance present exciting opportunities for business school students to learn about an emerging field that crosses geographies and sectors. From mainstream capital markets through to development and community finance, this field is active, and demand is growing. A tip for other schools is to articulate the demand for social impact education across sectors and to identify the unique skill sets required by professionals to succeed in their areas of expertise. No longer are social impact considerations on the fringe for business success. It is now imperative for the resiliency of business and society as a whole to be part of the solutions that our world is grappling with.   Therefore, business education that is offered at the Smith School of Business is critical to developing outstanding leaders in business and society.

 

Business Schools Engaging Business in the SDGs Nationally – Lagos Business School

The 17th goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is partnerships. But it isn’t just a goal in itself; it is also a key component of the other 16 goals. In particular it is partnerships that engage the business sector that will be key in pushing these goals forward. Business schools can play an important, and much needed role in providing a platform to bring business together, guide collaboration efforts and provide training. This is exactly what Lagos Business School in Nigeria is doing with their new Private Sector Advisory Group. I spoke with Oreva Agajere, Sustainability Associate at Lagos Business School about this new programme.

How is LBS engaging/planning to engage in the SDGs in Nigeria?

At Lagos Business School, it is our mission to create and transmit management and business knowledge based on a Christian conception of the human person and of economic activity relevant to Nigeria and Africa at large. The school continues to promote sustainable and responsible business by being a hub of learning for entrepreneurs and managers. Since the launch of the SDGs, LBS has designed new executive programmes which speak to particular SDGs. For instance, our Agribusiness Programme is directly linked to goals 1, 2, 8 and 12. The programme trains experienced and budding entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector and is aimed at reducing poverty and hunger through job creation, economic opportunities and responsible consumption and production. LBS also engages with the SDGs by being a centre for sustainable thought leadership. Research and initiatives carried out by the school’s faculty and sustainability centre serve as conduits for mainstreaming the SDG conversation in the business space in Nigeria. Lagos Business School is also partnering with leading businesses to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals at a larger scale across Nigeria.

What is the Private Sector Advisory Group and how it came about.

The Private Sector Advisory Group Nigeria (PSAG Nigeria) is a local coalition of businesses formed to better align public and private sector partnerships for sustainable development in Nigeria. The group was inaugurated in February 2017 by the Office of the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with a mandate to mobilise private sector organisations willing to partner on ventures to help the Nation achieve the SDGs. This group came about with the recognition at various levels of the public and private sector that Nigeria didn’t achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) because there was no clear working model for private sector participation to aid the achievement of the MDGs. The PSAG is a solution to this problem.

The role of the group is to inspire and organize renewed public-private collaboration to promote inclusive growth and development in Nigeria. Working in cluster groups focused on various SDGs, the PSAG will assist in identifying areas of common interest and promote business driven strategies, projects and initiatives around the 17 SDGs. Another primary objective of the PSAG is to establish productive partnerships between the public and private sector by offering policy recommendations on developmental issues which affect Nigeria and the everyday Nigerian. Thus, the group works closely with the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs to ensure a real connection with the arms of government and policy makers. The group will also support its members and the wider private sector in reporting on the SDGs to provide reliable data sources for policy and decision makers.

Who is part and how are they engaged?

The group was inaugurated with five organizations as co-chairs on the board. This includes Lagos Business School (LBS), Growing Businesses Foundation (GBF), Sahara Group Limited, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and PricewaterhouseCoopers Ltd. (PwC). Other members and key partners include British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN), Google, Unilever Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, Standard Chartered Bank, General Electric (GE), Siemens Nigeria, Dangote Group, Coca-Cola, Channels Television, Chamber of Commerce- Lagos/Kano, and National Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI). As the work progresses, the number of organizations that make up the PSAG is expected to rise.

Members have been engaged in several meetings and participate in SDG engagements at an international level. These include the High Level Political Forum which was held in New York in July 2017. The cluster groups structure of the PSAG is the main avenue of engaging member organisations. Companies join the cluster that focuses on the SDGs that are most material to their business and in that way, have the opportunity to collaborate with organizations that have similar sustainable development objectives. The group is still growing and is open to all private sector players who would like to make an active contribution to the achievement of the SDGs in Nigeria.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work (what is planned).  Why have a group like this? What are you hoping it will accomplish?

The PSAG’s activities will include joint private sector SDG projects, businesses reporting on the SDGs, capacity building for business executives and policy recommendations to government.

Lagos Business School is leading the group’s capacity building initiatives. The focus is to increase private sector involvement in socio-economic change by providing a platform for active participation, partnership, advocacy and awareness. Through the PSAG, we hope that there will be an overall promotion of the development of practical and sustainably impactful business models; improvement of capacity building for stakeholders; midwifing relevant dialogues between public and private stakeholders to provide real solutions to Nigeria’s challenges and opportunities for improvements where necessary. LBS has developed new training programmes for C-Suite level business executives and implementing managers. The programmes focus on the integration of sustainability and the SDGs into the strategy, operations and reporting of businesses in Nigeria. A group like the PSAG is necessary in an emerging economy like Nigeria, because businesses are a key part of the society’s desired growth and advancement

What have been some of the challenges and successes (or expected)?

Some of the challenges so far have been around ensuring proper implementation and governance; the PSAG has had to spend a good amount of time working out the structure of the group. The group has also had to gradually build stakeholder’s interest and commitment.

Since February, the PSAG has gained commitments from leading business in Nigeria. Their commitment is one step in the right direction for Nigeria in advancing the SDGs. The group is also working collaboratively with the office of the special adviser to the President on SDGs and has been able to share its working model with other countries. The PSAG model has also drawn interest among other countries in Africa and the Middle East which face similar sustainable development challenges.

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

Our advice would be that management education institutions adopt a corporative approach to advancing the sustainable development goals in their spheres of influence. Partnership with the private sector and other stakeholder groups can ensure that the goals are met faster and more effectively.

What are 2 other initiatives at your school you are particularly proud of in this area?

  • Sustainable Business Models for Delivering Digital Financial Services (DFS) to Lower Income Unbanked Citizens of Nigeria (Research Project): This is a two-year research project of Lagos Business School (LBS), supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). This project’s core objective is to establish the supplier side constraints to sustainable DFS in Nigeria and develop economic models for addressing identified constraints. The project also aims to recommend market-enabling policies for the sustainability of DFS in Nigeria.
  • Nonprofit Leadership and Management (Certificate Program): The course will provide a detailed introduction to Nonprofit Management through a highly practical, experiential and interactive series of faculty-facilitated lectures, guest lectures, case study discussions, videos and field visits. The programme is designed to meet the pressing need for effective and impactful management competence in Nigeria’s nonprofit sector. This programme, which commences later in 2017, is supported by the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation is the funding partner and LBS is the executing partner.

Students Driving the Reporting Process – Boise State University (part 2 of 2)

At the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, several Signatories were recognized for their efforts in reporting. The reports that received recognition represent different approaches to reporting on progress against the Six Principles of PRME. One of the Schools to receive recognition in the First Time Reporters category was the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University (COBE) in the USA. But what makes this impressive report unique is that the whole process of putting together the report was lead by student volunteers.

This is the second part of a two part interview with former MBA Student, Graduate Assistant and Sustainability Report Project Lead Taylor Reed about their report. Click here to read part 1.

What impact does this kind of experience have on the students involved?

The experience was challenging and meaningful. The best way I can describe the reporting process in the first year is driving a car down the road while also building it. At least four of the members of the team now work in industries related to sustainability, and I’m confident that all of the graduates are now working in roles where they have to perform research, synthesize and communicate information, or develop buy-in from colleagues, consumers or business partners—these are all skills team members were able to develop by participating in this project.

One of the most valuable lessons that came from this process wasn’t necessarily the data gathered, but rather the conversations that arose throughout the research process. Many students were frustrated that key metrics like the amount of waste generated or carbon footprint did not yet exist. However, by meeting with campus officials, discussing their purpose in creating a sustainability report, and posing questions related to sustainability, students were able to begin to educate campus staff and faculty and empower employees to begin considering social and environmental impacts. Those initial conversations helped build a foundation for the development of systems to capture improved sustainability data.

What were some of the successes?

Three years later the college continues to produce an annual sustainability report and our efforts have inspired Boise State University’s College of Health Sciences and the Student Union Building to publish their first sustainability reports. The reports have driven sustainability achievements such as more sustainable procurement policies, the installation of solar panels, the college’s strategy for inclusive excellence and a taskforce focused on increased inclusion, and increased awareness of environmental and social issues across campus. And of course we were thrilled to receive recognition from the PRME for our work!

The final piece of the report presents sustainability recommendations for the Dean and Associate Deans to consider. After COBE’s leadership deliberates and discusses strategies with student reporters, many of the recommendations are implemented over time. This part is especially meaningful because it’s where the research and analysis performed by students becomes actionable and translates to social and environmental impact—that’s the best part in my opinion.

Why should schools engage their students in the reporting process?

According to the Deloitte 2016 Millennial Survey, 87 percent of millennials believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.” Millennials judge the performance of a business on what it does and how it treats people— both of which are data points in COBE’s sustainability reports. More than 60% of millennials believe businesses achieve long-term success by putting employees first, and developing a solid foundation of trust and integrity. Finally, millennials choose employers whose values reflect their own— 56 percent of Millennials have “ruled out ever working for an organisation because of its values or standard of conduct.”

Projects like the sustainability report are the secret sauce to motivating, developing, and retaining millennial employees. By producing a sustainability report COBE achieved all of the following:

  1. Creating a healthy culture that exists to achieve more than financial results
  2. Identifying the values of students and providing an opportunity to practice those values in their profession
  3. Providing hands-on opportunities for millennials to take on leadership roles and gain critical thinking skills that will make them more competitive in the job market and equip them with the skills needed to effect real change

What advice do you have for other schools looking to engage students in the reporting process?

Do it. If schools think that tomorrow’s leaders should understand the social and environmental impact of their business decisions, and take responsibility for them, then students must learn these skills and have the opportunity to practice them.

Create a safe space for students to fail—if they do, coach them through the steps needed to get back on track. When they’re faced with a similar scenario in upon graduation they’ll know how to succeed.

What’s next? Any plans for the next report? Things you will be doing differently?

This fall, students of Boise State University’s College of Business and Economics (COBE) will publish the College’s third sustainability report measuring the social, environmental and economic impacts of the College (we produce reports annually). Student reporters continue to implement recommendations made in the College’s first two reports, and continue to develop new targets based on the feedback of internal and external stakeholders. In line with COBE’s sustainability initiatives, student reporters have transitioned to an interactive online format, rather than a printed report. We have a collective aspiration to produce a university-wide sustainability report in the near future.

 

A few highlights of the report:

  • A summary of percentage of responsible business faculty research organised by department (p. 26)
  • An overview of the new College of Business and Economics Building, built in 2012, designed to have minimal environmental impact and maximum environmental efficiency (p.42).
  • An overview of how they assessed materiality and what their material issues are, organised by stakeholder group (page 49)
  • A detailed timeline and process map for the sustainability report (p. 50)

Students Driving the Reporting Process – Boise State University (part 1 of 2)

At the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, several Signatories were recognized for their efforts in reporting. The reports that received recognition represent different approaches to reporting on progress against the Six Principles of PRME. One of the Schools to receive recognition in the First Time Reporters category was the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University (COBE) in the USA. But what makes this impressive report unique is that the whole process of putting together the report was lead by student volunteers.

I recently spoke with former MBA Student, Graduate Assistant and Sustainability Report Project Lead Taylor Reed about their report.

What was the driver behind the Sustainability Report?

In 2014, COBE underwent a strategic planning process to establish the collective values that ground the work done at the College. These values—relevance, respect, and responsibility—are not truly lived if we don’t measure, analyse and publicly report the results. A sustainability report, which covers issues such as climate change, health & wellness, community engagement, and transparency, helps us live those values rather than simply posting them on a webpage. The annual report serves as a thermometer for how the college is doing in terms of living its values and creating a healthy culture for students, faculty, staff and the broader community.

COBE firmly believes that sustainability reporting is a best practice, so before engaging its business community partners to pursue this type of analysis, the College needed to get some skin in the game and develop its own expertise. Producing the COBE report allowed the College to gain empathy and discover the challenges and opportunities that arise from this practice.

Why involve students in the reporting process?

The College recognised that if it identified sustainability reporting as a best practice, COBE graduates should not only be familiar with sustainability reporting, but have firsthand experience in creating one. COBE is one of only a handful of colleges and universities globally to integrate students fully into the management, research, writing and publication of its sustainability report. The students that participated on the reporting team did so as a volunteers.

How was the report produced?

The reporting process was broken up into five phases:

  • Focus: In the first phase of the project the team of student reporters engaged three stakeholder groups (students, college faculty/administrators, and community business leaders) to define the college’s material issues.
  • Coordinate: Next, the topics found to be material in the Focus phase were assigned to student reporters. I purposefully matched topics with students’ interests or area of study. For example, equal remuneration was assigned to a student studying human resources.
  • Research: Team members then gathered quantitative and qualitative research across departments through a series of interviews and collaboration with faculty and staff to gather data.
  • Synthesize & Write: In this phase of the project, students synthesized and analyzed collected data and collectively outlined a rough draft of the report. A majority of the writing and revising was done by a few individuals to maintain style and tone throughout the report.
  • Review & Publish: In the final phase of the project students worked with relevant stakeholders such as sources and key administrators to revise and finalise the report. In addition, the college’s first report was audited by a team of graduate students studying accounting. Finally, the team’s leadership worked with an external firm to design and publish the report.

What were some of the challenges? 

Finding answers to all of our research questions was our main challenge. We found that the systems for collecting much of the data we were seeking did not yet exist (i.e. waste metrics). Another challenge was developing buy-in from data sources—some of our sources found it challenging to make time to fulfill our data requests, or didn’t understand the concept of sustainability reporting.

This was a volunteer project that many students took on in addition to part-time jobs, rigorous coursework, and other demanding activities. Given these circumstances, there were times when responsibilities such as enforcing deadlines and motivating team members was difficult. However, the lessons learned during production of the first report helped facilitate smoother operations in year two.

How was your experience using the GRI framework (especially since it isn’t specifically geared towards education?). Any tips for others looking at using these in their report?

Using the GRI G4 guidelines helped build our team’s awareness and understanding of the concept of materiality, along with a variety of social, environmental and economic metrics. GRI isn’t geared towards educational institutions, however its focus on materiality helped inform our process. The team performed several stakeholder engagement sessions to pinpoint material issues, such as rising tuitions costs and sustainability curriculum—topics that may not have been identified in the GRI framework. It also served as a useful source to cross check that our stakeholders weren’t forgetting any fundamental issues.

GRI also helped the team identify leaders in nonfinancial disclosure—seeing these examples helped us better understand nonfinancial reporting and frame expectations. Although the framework wasn’t a perfect fit for our industry, it was useful for students to gain experience using this framework, especially as it continues to be recognised as one of the highest standards of nonfinancial disclosure.

 

(Part 2 will be posted on Thursday)

 

Student Run Sustainability Events as part of the Core Curriculum – University of Greenwich Business School

Every year the University of Greenwich Business School hosts a full day conference in May which is themed, organised and delivered by the current cohort of full-time Executive MBA students. Unlike many other similar events at other business schools, this one is a key part of the students’ curriculum.

I spoke with Petros Ieromonachou, Head of Systems Management and Strategy and Director of Connected Cities Research Group at the University of Greenwich Business School in the UK, about this student led event.

What is the Executive Business Conference?

For the 13th year running, the University of Greenwich Executive MBA students held a Business Conference to present and discuss global issues/trends and current business topics. To come up with the business conference theme the MBA students brainstormed several ideas concerning today’s business environment. Topics such as sustainability, globalisation and technology frequently appeared as hot topics for discussion. Looking at recent changes in politics such as the proposed Brexit and the US elections, students realised that they are living in an uncertain world that is not easily predictable and changes are becoming more rapid. These changes bear opportunities and threats for businesses and are important considerations for Responsible Leadership. It was important to all MBA students that the business conference theme should evolve around these topics.

How is the event organised?

The event is completely organised by the current cohort of full-time Executive MBA students as well as those studying the second year part-time Executive MBA programme. The students appoint a conference committee, decide on the conference title and theme and organise all of the marketing and logistics over a three-month period. The students also invite and coordinate presenters for the conference as well as develop their own presentations around the topic to be delivered at the event.

How is the event embedded into the curriculum?

The University of Greenwich Business Conference is integrated into the MBA programme as a core component which serves to build on each student’s leadership and professional development. It is a side-event of the Leadership and Professional Development course. Apart from being part of the organising committee, all students in the programme need to present. Students are also expected to provide a written reflective report on their learning and professional development as a result of the experience which is graded.

Tell us about this year’s event

After much thinking, the Greenwich MBA students choose the theme “Shaping business opportunities in a world of uncertainty.” The business conference took place on March 11th 2017 at the University of Greenwich in London. Full and part time Greenwich MBA students as well as guest speakers from industry and academia presented. Keynote speeches were given by Professor Victor Newman – an Industrial Fellow at the University of Greenwich Business School, Chief Innovation Officer at the Milamber Group, and Innovation Adviser to Erisa together with Peter Bonish- Chairman of Kage Strategy.

MBA student presentations topics included: ‘The future of energy markets’, ‘Is there a sustainable future for small charities?’ ‘Is the future sharing?’ and ‘The future of solar energy in Saudi Arabia.’ Most of the MBA students presented a topic that was closely related to their professional career or a business they want to pursue. This gave students an opportunity to put together a professional presentation and present it to academics, professionals, and other students of the business school. Also, during the breaks and the networking event there were opportunities to receive feedback, giving the MBA students different ways of thinking about their business ideas and subjects.

How has the experience been received by the students?

One of the key skills needed by executives is ‘communication’. Together with ‘creativity’ and ‘project management’ the Business conference allows students the opportunity to showcase these abilities in front of a wide audience of business professionals and academics. Layla Mohammad, one of the MBA students reported: “By being a member of the conference committee who organised and co-ordinated the whole event, I watched the MBA students form their ideas, practice weekly and professionally present on the day. It was amazing to see how MBA students that started from thinking they could not put together an interesting topic or present confidently on their own, to delivering some of the most captivating and professionally delivered presentations I have ever experienced.”

Each year students remark on how they have developed as a result of this experience. Often, students remark “I now know what you meant at the induction when you said I would be a different person by the end of the MBA“.

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

Start early, hand over the responsibility for success to the students and provide continuous mentoring and support to help them realise their capacity and skills as well as future responsibilities in the ever-changing world of business.

What’s next for the initiative?

The department and programme leader are considering extending the business conference to other post graduate programmes and organising a faculty wide conference with different break-out sessions focusing on a variety of themes.

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