Interdisciplinary Teams Developing Solutions for a more Sustainable City – Kemmy Business School

Developing more sustainable cities require interdisciplinary solutions. It is this mindset that has framed the Heath Futures Lab, a five-week long interdisciplinary unit focused on ‘Innovations in Health and Well-Being for Limerick City’. The lab utilises design principles to organise the interaction between 14 recent graduates across a range of disciplines including Economics, Marketing, Architecture, Engineering, Interactive Media, Product Design and Occupational Therapy. The researchers were guided in their work by a team of academics representing each of these disciplines, as well as regular input from representatives from local and regional authorities, business chamber, charities etc.

By tackling local issues as opportunities & problems and harnessing social capital, within and outside the University, the five weeks aimed to explore how the combining of disciplines could bring about new perspectives as well as thoroughly achievable innovative solutions. I spoke with Dr Annmarie Ryan who co-led this unit with colleagues in the design faculty of the University of Limerick.

How did it work in practice?

The participants were all recent graduates (within two years) from either undergraduate or postgraduate courses and were integral members of the trans-disciplinary teams bringing specialist expertise and perspective to the challenges. The structure of the HFL followed a Design Thinking Process or a Design Process where the main focus is on making things, testing and iterative development and embodiment of ideas. Those operating within the process must be open to change, comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity as the process itself is non-linear and in continuous flux. Reflection, critique and constant questioning ensure all ideas are robustly tested and refined ideally leading to the emergence of one or a number of solutions that best address the challenges under exploration.

The Lab was deliberately held in an unused city centre industrial building as it allowed for a physical and emotional connection with the city, the civic society and the stakeholders in the project. The facilitators chose the building as it had the added benefit of anchoring the participants in a new physical space which was unfamiliar to them. This encouraged the development of a new set of norms and working practices which would have been less possible in the University environment.

This centralised location enabled the researchers to access the field easily whilst also allowing stakeholders and interested parties to ‘drop-in’ and see the work in progress. Through this engagement we enabled key stakeholders (education, public sector, community and the sponsor of the event Johnson & Johnson) to co-imagine and create solutions for the betterment of health and well being in Limerick.

What were some of the results from the Lab?

Three important proposed themes emerged from the project: a new initiative that tackles the growing obesity epidemic through innovative technology and health promotion to prompt a permanent and personalised cultural and lifestyle change (Saol Nua); A service to ensure timely and aggregate flow of information through a persons life as they interact with the health system (LifeBase) and a city-wide policy to introduce preventative measures and increase resilience amongst grassroots organisations that focus on mental well-being (Minding Minds). Each of the propositions offered independent, but interconnected, ways to address pressing issues around Health and Well-Being experienced by citizens of Limerick.

The final output of the HFL was a pop up exhibition where large scale posters explained the detail of the three proposals. These were tied together with a floor-based timeline that highlighted key moments in a fictional person’s life. The stories of these moments explain the pivot points where interventions offered by one, two or all of the proposed solutions might have prevented or lessened the impact of challenges an individual might face as they journey through their lives. The outcomes of the HFL not only proposed a bold future vision for health in Limerick City it also offered a detailed roadmap on how we might get there.

Was the impact of the lab measured in any way?

The academic team was very keen to understand the experience of graduates working in a new inter-disciplinary team, in the context of a ‘live’ project. An ‘Ethnographer’ was employed as an independent researcher to record the processes, follow the ideas and observe peoples actions and behaviours. The participants were interviewed at various intervals throughout the process. The data was then mapped and analysed to identify key themes and trends. Through this unpacking process the facilitation team and the partners (including J&J) began to understand how it could be modified and applied across longer-term projects that are situated in different research areas. A key emerging insight was that for high achieving, high performing graduates becoming part of a team with people outside of their discipline was a real challenge for them. In order to work well as a team they had to be able to articulate the value added of their knowledge and discipline specific expertise. This required a kind of objectified understanding of their discipline and how it might be different in terms of values or approach to others; for instance how can an occupational therapist and an architect find common ground? How can a marketer inform an engineer about healthy lifestyle choices? These were the day to day challenges and opportunities afforded to the group.

What was the role of the advisory board and have they taken on any of the project ideas?

Every week the groups would present their work in progress to a gathered audience. As such the advisory board evolved over the course of the lab as experts were found to match the direction of the groups emerging project ideas. Representatives of the local authority were invited, along with visiting academics, directors of charities and regional representatives of the National Health Service Executive (HSE). Following the lab the HSE representatives along with 2 of the lab’s academic team began discussions to progress Limerick’s application for WHO European Healthy Cities Network, whose goal is to put health high on the social, economic and political agenda of city governments.

Any advice do you have for other schools?

At the University of Limerick we have been modelling a form of engagement with the city that is particularly rich. Of note in the approach is the interdisciplinary and response nature of these engagements. The HFL was a follow on to the IU Designing Policies lab in 2013, and was followed by The IU Culture Lab in 2015 which looked specifically at supporting Limerick’s bid for European Capital of Culture in 2020. The design studio approach supports the interdisciplinary work by giving a framework for each participant to bring their own disciplinary specific knowledge to bear and work iteratively with other disciplines to create a rich knowledge base to support innovative ideas to complex problems. Rather than a single discipline carrying out one piece of research, the lab encourages quick iterations through different pieces of research where the output of one becomes the input to another. For cities coming to their local university for support, this kind of rich but fast, research that they themselves participate in, ensures that the research is meaningful and impactful.

What’s next?

My main goal would be to find a way to ‘institutionalise’ the lab without loosing the spontaneity and sense of ‘getting away’ from mainstream teaching environment.

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

 

Universities Collaborating with Cities Around Sustainability – UWE Bristol

In 2015, the Bristol became the first city in the UK to achieve the honour of being named European Green Capital. The award is given to a different city yearly by the European Commission and aims to promote and reward sustainability initiatives in cities, to spur cities to commit to further action, and to showcase and encourage exchange of best practice among European cities.

UWE Bristol played a key role in the year, not only working closely with Bristol City Council and others in supporting the bidding process for the award, but also as a founding member of the city-wide Bristol Green Capital Partnership (now made up of 800 local organisations). The year provided an opportunity to weave sustainability into the curriculum, undertake focused research on sustainability and celebrate and get people thinking and inspire action for sustainability.

I recently spoke with Georgina Gough, James Longhurst and Svetlana Cicmil from UWE Bristol about the insitution’s engagement in progressing SDG11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities and their involvement in Bristol’s Green Capital year.

How is UWE Bristol engaged in the topic of sustainable cities?

UWE Bristol’s teaching and research mission explicitly supports the development of sustainable cities. We have a number of degree programmes and research centres located across the university academic portfolio that focus on this topic. A few examples include our

World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Healthy Environments which is part of the European Healthy Cities network, the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments which aims to develop understanding of how to achieve places that are environmentally sustainable, socially just and economically competitive: the Centre for Transport and Society which aims to to improve and promote understanding of the inherent links between lifestyles and personal travel in the context of continuing social and technological change; and the Air Quality Management Resource Centre which is widely recognised by air quality and carbon management practitioners, nationally and internationally as a leader in this field. The Bristol Leadership and Change Centre is further internationally and locally recognised for developing leadership practices driven by the vision of sustainable cities and the global sustainability agenda

How was UWE Bristol involved in the European Green Capital in 2015?

Our campuses were buzzing in the Green Capital year. Social media channels were used extensively to connect students and staff and promote activities. Budget allocations encouraged engagement and innovative action from academic departments, professional services, the Centre for Performing Arts, the Students’ Union at UWE and others, embracing research, teaching, music, work in schools, volunteering, internships and extra curricular activities. Over 5,300 staff and students attended presentations/stalls specifically about Bristol Green Capital 2015 including 200 events either led, co-ordinated or facilitated by UWE. Over 3000 students engaged, volunteered, interned or undertook Green Capital projects. We had some 600 students sign up to be part of UWE Green Team working on student-led sustainability projects on campus. This is just a brief snapshot.

What was the Whole Earth Exhibition?

One of UWE’s busiest thoroughfares was transformed into an outdoor art gallery for The Whole Earth Exhibition, a powerful visual statement of the environmental and sustainability challenges facing the world as we struggle to provide for the needs of more than 10 billion people while safeguarding our planetary life-support systems and conserving the non-human lifeforms that make up those systems. The Hard Rain Project and the National Union of Students (NUS), who curated the Whole Earth exhibition, invited students and universities to share the sustainability work that they are doing and approaches they are taking that might underpin future security for all. Embedded in the exhibition were a series of challenges to the university sector. When UWE Bristol opened its Whole Earth Exhibition, the President of the Students’ Union at UWE formally requested that the university publically respond to the University Challenges presented in the exhibition.

What was the MOOC on ‘Our Green City’ and how did it come about?

Our Green City celebrated and showcased UWE academics and Bristol based sustainability organisations to develop public understanding of sustainability issues in Bristol’s year as European Green Capital 2015. Based on a free, open, online course format, c2000 learners signed-up to gain insight into themes of food, nature, energy, transport and resources through a range of video presentations, tasks, quizzes and community discussion forums.

Our Green City featured the work of 14 academics, 24 organisations including The Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol 2015, Bristol City Council and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

We have archived all the materials for future use, including by schools and will soon be creating a series of school engagement and outreach products from the learning materials that will form part of our BOXed project, an outreach programme of STEM related activities aimed at youth aged 11-18.

Did that year change the way the institution interacts and works with the community?

UWE is an initial funding partner of Bristol Green Capital Partnership (BGCP) and serves on the Board of Directors of this Community Interest Company. The 800 organisations who are part of BGCP work together in pursuit of the Partnership’s aim to develop a sustainable city with a high quality of life for all. The research activity of the university supports the work of the Partnership and current activities include Urban ID, a study diagnosing the sustainability issues and challenges in the city region. An innovative multinational Horizon 2020 project ClairCity is exploring solutions to air pollution in 6 cities including Bristol. UWE is actively engaged with and supports (with financial and in kind support via time of students and staff (including very senior staff)) the work of sustainability minded organisations and networks in the city (which in Bristol are many in number!).

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

Delivering enough support, given the extremely high demand for knowledge, research and action, is a key challenge. Aligning the rhythm of the academic year to the needs of the city and its communities can also be challenging at times.

UWE’s activities to support Bristol Green Capital complemented those in and around the city and our commitment was recognised by key Green Capital players. UWE staff have produced a number of research papers and reports on the Green Capital year which are available in our Research Repository.

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

Consider the strengths of your institution and the needs of your potential partners in order to identify the most fruitful project partners. Have an open mind and willingness to work through challenging situations. Commitment to the objectives of the project by senior management is important in working through challenges. A diverse project team is useful for enabling action across the institution.

What’s next for the initiatives?

The Green Capital Student Capital project has formally ended. However, much legacy work continues. The project team continue to disseminate their experience via publications and conference presentations in order to support other HEIs to undertake similar projects. An online portal, SkillsBridge, has been established by the project team to facilitate the development of opportunities for students to support sustainability work of organisations in the city of Bristol. This work is being undertaken in conjunction with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. UWE, Bristol’s sustainability work is ongoing, in accordance with commitments made in our Sustainability Plan.

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

Creating More Sustainable Cities – The Urban Innovation BootCamp

Business Schools looking for opportunities to engage with a range of stakeholders and organisations should look no further than their backyard. The community that the school is part of provides the perfect laboratory to not only test out new ideas but in the process contribute to creating more sustainable cities in line with Sustainable Development Goal 11.

Teams of interdisciplinary students at Universita Ca’Foscari Venezia in Italy are working together to develop new, innovative business ideas to make the region of Treviso more sustainable. I spoke with Alessandra Scroccaro, Program Manager of the Action Learning Lab at the University about this programme.

What is the Urban Innovation BootCamp and how did it come about?

The Urban Innovation BootCamp is a 6-week action-learning programme where 5 local companies and 40 university students and graduates under 30 accelerate 5 innovative ideas. The Social Issues that the students worked on included Urban Mobility, Smart Services, Urban Regeneration, Social Inclusion and Sustainable Tourism within Treviso in Venice. The objectives of the programme were three-fold:

  • Innovate the way of teaching/learning in academia
  • Build the 21st century skills for innovation of students and young graduates across the region;
  • Support the creation of a new ecosystem for urban innovation linking civil society (NGOs), academia, companies and local institutions towards making Treviso a smarter city
  • Integrate asylum seekers and refugees.

The first edition which ran in 2015 resulted in a final demo day at the Palazzo dei Trecento, the seat of Treviso Provincial Council.

What impact has this had on the city?

Treviso City Council approved the initiative right from the beginning and promoted and communicated it in two editions. The Mayor was involved in searching for partners, as a sponsor and in promoting a stakeholder network. They have also been supporting some of the final projects.

What were some of the ideas accelerated through the BootCamp?

There have been 10 ideas accelerated so far through the different editions of the BootCamp. A new bamboo park is being implemented to regenerate an empty green space near the city and give families a place to meet up. The sale of the bamboo canes and sprouts will also represent a new source of income for the Treviso Municipality. Another idea is StarTempo, a new social network that matches organisations that implement projects for positive impact in the city with students and professionals who are looking for meaningful volunteer opportunities within the Municipality of Treviso. Smart Home Treviso reinvents the concept of social housing to address the challenges of modern urban living in Treviso combining technology, smart design solutions and the principles of the sharing economy to offer affordable accommodations and a sense of community to its dwellers.

What have been some of the challenges?

One of the goals of the programme was to integrate asylum seekers and refugees. We collaborated with Treviso Prefecture and different refugee associations who selected five university students and graduates asylum seeker and refugees to be part of the programme. Out of the 5, 3 have decided to continue to study at the university. One of the asylum seeker won a scholarship in Ca’ Foscari University.

Successes?

As a result of the BootCamp, all 10 innovators have moved forward with the development of their ideas. Five of them have reached pilot stage. Eighty-six students have completed the programme and among them more than 2000 interviews have been conducted in the community. We also surveyed the students after each BootCamp and 95% said that the experience helped them build their creative confidence and that they learned new skills and how to work better in teams.

What advice do you have for other schools thinking of organising something similar?

We encourage other schools and universities to organise similar initiatives, putting students at the centre of the learning process, creating and reinforcing network of local and international stakeholders and acting as an impact actor in Global change.

What’s next?

We will be organising the next 6 week learning programme on urban innovation in the summer of 2017 (19th June – 28th July), focused on welfare and social inclusion. The programme will also include asylum seekers and refugees among the 40 young students and graduates from a range of different disciplines. In the next editions we also hope to engage other national and international universities.

 

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

Eco-Innovations in Cities – Warsaw School of Economics

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities and by 2030 it is projected that 6 out of 10 people will be urban dwellers. Despite numerous planning challenges, well-managed cities can be incubators for innovation and ingenuity and key drivers of sustainable development.

In response to SDG 11 and the European Union strategy “Europe 2020” in which sustainable development, responsible investment and green property solutions are the focal points, Warsaw School of Economics in Poland put in place the Eco-Innovations in Cities project between 2013 and 2015 and a resulting specialization based on the project which is still in effect today. I spoke with Prof. Anna Szelagowska from the university about this project.

Why is SDG 11 so important?

Today, we are living in extraordinarily dynamic times of permanent change, fast-paced globalisation and unprecedented pace in urbanisation. New paradigm shifts move with breath-taking speed past eco-city, blue city, white city, clean city, intelligent city, sustainable city, revitalised city, smart city and innovative city train stations. But there are also smog-cities, congested cities, polluted cities, littered cities, abandoned cities, deprived cities, bankrupt cities, heavily indebted cities and ghost cities. Cities and contemporary urbanisation trends differ in particular parts of the world. But the fact remains that every city faces great challenges and such challenges may be formulated into problems which require answers to the following questions:

  • How can we improve the quality of life and wellbeing of city inhabitants (young and old, single households and large families, healthy and sick, poor and rich), visitors and tourists?
  • How can the status of an eco-city be achieved?
  • How should we plan and manage a creative city?
  • How can we discover the city’s potential?
  • What can be done to efficiently regenerate deprived areas of any city?
  • What can be done to enhance competitiveness of a city in the region?
  • How can the best conditions for green businesses be secured in a city?
  • In what ways should innovative solutions be implemented for the benefit of the present and future generations?
  • What strategy for smart and sustainable development is to be selected?
  • How should the above undertakings be financed with the limited resources of a city?

At Warsaw School of Economics we try to find answers to the above questions in our specialization “Eco-innovations in cities”. In October 2017 this specialization will be renamed “Financial and green innovation in cities”.

Introduce the Eco-innovations in cities specialization

The main aim of the project was to strengthen the educational potential of the university in the field of eco cities. One of the results of the project was the Eco-innovations in cities specialization. This specialization includes a blended learning course with a range of up to date case studies about green/sustainable urban projects focused not only on buildings, but also on transportation, society and other issues concerning temporary cities. The course includes lectures on eco-cities, green urban regeneration projects, green project funding, planning and management in eco-cities, new models of urban entrepreneurship and making the 21st Century cities. Half of curriculum of each course is carried out on-line (15 hours) and the other half (also 15 hours) is held in the form of 3 interactive workshops. All MA students that take part in the programme also need to complete a one-month apprenticeship in companies and organisations active in the field of eco-innovations in Poland. Approximately 10% of the best students received internships in related academic research units across the EU. It is the first such educational programme for M.A. students, not only in Europe but also worldwide. 20 academic staff and doctoral students were also involved in the project.

What kinds of partners does the programme work with?

Since 2013 the project has been implemented with support from academics from around the world including Spain, the UK, Austria, Sweden the Netherlands and the USA. Six teams, each including a professor, doctor and Ph.D. student paid 3-month visits to selected universities in Europe and the USA, to exchange knowledge and experiences with our partners in the Project, to prepare e-books and case studies for the courses as well as to continue the academic cooperation.

Apart from the academic cooperation, the strengths of this project and specialisation are companies and institutions in which our students had obligatory internships including a range of businesses (local and international) as well as national and local ministries and municipalities doing projects on eco-cities.

What have been some of the successes?

The project finished successfully with 118 students completing their studies in this field. A range of workshops and case studies were developed with professionals. A group of 40 students also took part in a study visit in Scandinavia (Lund, Malmo, Copenhagen) in which they met with representatives of green companies, eco start-ups and saw the most popular Swedish and Danish examples of eco-innovations.

Six e-books which are included in the academic content taught to students of “Eco-innovations in the urban regeneration projects” program have been published within the framework of the project. These e-books can be downloaded free of charge.

In addition, an International Conference on Eco-innovations in cities was organised in December 2015. Students of our specialization were actively engaged in this conference and presented their best case studies related to the sustainable development in cities.

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

The dissemination of knowledge about city eco-innovations as well as the SDGs related to cities appears to be the most effective, where lasting interactions take place among research entities (such as Warsaw School of Economics, businesses, municipal authorities and inhabitants themselves). The best way to encourage students to study in this field is the international cooperation between universities (the double diplomas) and to offer paid internships in green companies or eco-organizations. The study visits to eco-cities are also essential for success.

What’s next for the initiative?

We are exploring a range of possible options for this project including new undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses (including interdisciplinary Ph.D. courses), distance learning courses. We will be further developing cooperation between universities and companies in this field and engaging employers in the implementation of teaching programmes. Additional career support will be added for students in this field. We are looking into organizing internships and training courses for our teachers and doctoral students in leading foreign and Polish academic and research centres to promote their knowledge in this field.

In my opinion, every graduate of our university should understand a city’s complexity and be prepared to cooperate with local authorities and residents. Only then can business and cities cooperate not only for bigger profits but for higher quality of life inside cities. Therefore our graduates should understand cities and know how to cooperate with their authorities and inhabitants. This is our way of thinking on a topic and it explains why we decided to prepare and implement the project at Warsaw School of Economics.

 

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

Take One Step – Engaging with the SDGs at Monash Business School

The call is out for universities to engage with the Sustainable Development Goals in multiple ways; through research, through curriculum and partnerships. But equally important is to raise awareness and engage individual students on a day-to-day basis. At Monash Business School, an online platform that challenges participants to make an SDG-inspired change in their life and document their progress was launched in 2016. I spoke with Professor Michaela Rankin from the School about this successful initiative.

Introduce Take One Step and how it came about

Take One Step is an online platform developed by Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), Monash University, which aims to engage and educate students about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through social interaction, light learning content and quizzes. The interactive platform plays on student’s competitive instincts and incorporates the use of achievement badges to encourage action. As part of the challenge, students are asked to commit to an action, allocate an SDG that aligns most closely with the action, post updates, take quizzes and read learning content. It also inspires social interactivity through the ability to share, like and follow other people’s challenges.

The platform also provides an enhanced education experience to our students in order to support the School’s commitment to PRME and implementation of the SDGs.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work?

The platform offers practical tools akin to an online social network. Take One Step sets out a challenge for users to commit to an action or ‘step’ in their own lives that would contribute to a more sustainable future. As part of the six-week pilot, participants who signed up were asked to:

  • Sign up to the platform and outline one (or more) sustainability action they planned to take
  • Share their progress on this step to track its completion (through photos, explanations, comments etc.)
  • Earn five achievement ‘badges’ through milestones on the platform including social media sharing, liking other participant’s steps, reading articles and completing quizzes

Those who completed these ‘badges’ would become eligible to attend a celebration event hosted by the School.

What have been some of the challenges and successes? 

In 2016, Take One Step was delivered as a tailored pilot to students in Monash Business School. A total of 239 students took part, 87 actions were committed to and 60 students registered for an end-of-challenge event featuring the Managing Director of L’Oréal, Australia New Zealand who, as an organisation have taken great strides in implementing the SDGs in their day to day operations. An evaluation of the pilot found that 65% of students improved their understanding of the SDGs, while 80% reported a greater awareness of why sustainability is relevant to business.

As a pilot we were overall very pleased with the results and have identified technical areas to enhance its simplicity. One option for consideration is to develop a mobile app to support user engagement and to provide simple ways to share activities and milestones.

Our pilot audience identified strongly with the issues of sustainability, and we received a wide range of recorded ‘steps’ on the site, with a diverse range of SDGs represented in the actions recorded.

We have also received enquiries and positive feedback from constituents interested in engaging with the platform. The importance of mobilising student groups and staff members to champion the project was critical to the success, as well as gamification elements of the platform. While the project experienced some initial engagement issues, particularly with students who had little or no interest in sustainability, it proved valuable to focus on networking opportunities and linking sustainability to future job roles.

What’s next for the initiative?

Following a detailed evaluation phase, a number of recommendations have been identified and we are looking at ways we can scale up the platform to enable it to be shared more widely. There is significant potential for other institutions to engage with Take One Step providing them with a practical tools to enhance sustainability education in both the education sector and corporates.

In the long run, it is envisioned Take One Step will enable students from different countries to interact, share ideas and work on challenges together. MSDI is looking to create a dedicated platform for the site that can be customised with educational video content and collaboration tools.

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

How to Engage Students Around the SDGs – Antwerp Management School

ams-sdg-student-ambassador-tshirtOver the past three years, Antwerp Management School has stepped up its efforts to implement the PRME principles. Apart from having been a Signatory since 2012, they also hosted the Belgium Global Compact Network Chapter. Sustainability is a key focus area of their school, in particular what they refer to as societal consciousness of students in relation to sustainability.

I recently spoke with Eva Geluk, part of the team at BASF Deloitte Elia Chair on Sustainability and Manager of the Competence Centre Corporate Responsibility at Antwerp Management School about one of their newest programmes, the SDG Student Ambassador Campaign, that aims to engage students in sustainability discussions and, in particular, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

What is the SDG Student Ambassador Campaign?

At AMS, we aim to empower students with the necessary knowledge, skills and reflection on societal challenges that will not only help them to develop their own perspective on corporate responsibilities, but also help them by turning these into future business opportunities. As the SDGs are gaining increasingly visibility in the world of business and civil society at large we thought it was time to promote the Goals within our student community and empower them with the necessary knowledge to challenge their peers and faculty. Worldwide her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium is one of the official SDG Ambassadors on global level.

Every year all of our students participate in a one-day programme consisting of an introduction to sustainability in the morning and an interactive and fun experiment in the afternoon. The morning lectures are on ‘Sustainable business = business’, followed by two interactive sessions on ‘Cultures of sustainability’ and ‘The evolutionary basis of sustainable behavior’. The afternoon session is an experiment through which students experienced (un)sustainability in an interactive, integral, and original way.

This year during the programme we launched the SDG Student Ambassador Campaign initiative looking for 16 Student Ambassadors – it is a voluntary initiative on top of their day-to-day curricula work. As there is no course incentive for them it is purely involvement based upon their own intrinsic motivation illustrating that this generation is not only aware of a changing world but also wants to actively contribute to it.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work?

We see the creation of SDG Student Ambassadors not only as a means to promote the Goals within our own schools, both with fellow students and with faculty that teaches on their programs, but also as a means to further empower our students to critically assess the role of the Goals in management education. After all it is them who will be going out into business once they finish their degree and become the leaders of tomorrow. The original idea was to create 16 SDG Student Ambassadors that would facilitate a workshop with companies committed to the SDGs for their fellow students. To our delight the interest was that great that we ended up with 54 SDG Student Ambassadors. This represents almost a third of our total student population in the Full Time Masters division.

This group of SDG Student Ambassadors will be provided with extra information and get the opportunity to participate in conferences and events organized around the different sustainability themes. The best project will also get a prize for their work and we will create visibility for them where we can during their academic year. They have all received a SDG training session provided by CIFAL Flanders – part of UNITAR training centers, based in Antwerp and focusing all its training activities on the SDGs.

What are some of the projects that the students will be involved in?

Because of the success of the programme, we adapted our approach by suggesting a few more projects and letting room for the creation of own initiatives by the students. The result is a multiple of diverse projects:

  • A project where students will conduct a workshop with different companies active on the SDGs for their fellow students
  • a project where students will conduct a workshop on the SDGs in local schools
  • a project that will look at the own footprint of the student community
  • a project that will work guerilla style drawing attention in creative ways to the goals by for example organizing flash mobs in different cities in Belgium
  • a project that will organize a debating night on the SDGs and invite relevant and inspiring speakers
  • a project that will identify documentaries on the different goals and organize a movie night with teaching questions attached to it so that they can be used in class too
  • and a project with Aim2Flourish where students will interview business leaders that started a company with the aim of doing good
  • and finally a project that will look at SDGs in reporting and a project that creates our own SDG You Tube channel

What have been some of the challenges? 

Managing the additional workload that the great interest by students to become a SDG Student Ambassador had created. But this is only a pleasure! It would help to have a fixed budget for this project hence the leverage internally that this project creates is so important!

Successes?

The fact that we got 54 SDG Student Ambassadors instead of the 16 that we were hoping for was a massive success and gives us internal leverage to further promote not only the SDGs but PRME initiatives as a whole.

The fact that there is so much interest from the students is obviously very exciting. It gives not only hope about the next generation of young leaders understanding the importance of sustainable development in a business context but also fulfills our aim of empowering the students with knowledge and critical thinking that they can use with their peers, faculty and future employers. Also the fact that they are actively involved in finding own projects is exciting as it underlines the empowerment approach and shows that it is working. Thirdly, it has the potential to become an important internal leverage for putting even more focus and effort in implementing the PRME principles in all of our teaching, research and activities as almost a third of our students illustrated this much interest in the theme.

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

Do not think too much about it but just do it. We launched it as an experiment, with only the only objective being having 16 student ambassadors and one project so being flexible in what comes at you and have internal support from above is also essential.

What’s next for the initiative?

Now all focus is on executing the different projects and raising awareness on them and the AMS SDG Student Ambassador campaign at large. Early spring we will evaluate and see how we can further build not only the student empowerment programme itself with the overall aim of getting ECTS points attached to it, but also the SDG Student Ambassador campaign and create continuity. Furthermore we would love to share our experiences and the outcome of the projects with other schools as much as possible.

Our approach to responsible management education is supported by the BASF Deloitte Elia Chair on Sustainability – a joint academic partnership by the faculty of applied economic science at the University of Antwerp and Antwerp Management School. For more read AMS’s SIP report.

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United for Refugees – JAMK University of Applied Sciences

image003Support for the continuing education of newcomers is quite broad in Finland, and as a university there is always the consideration for exactly how to support educational needs of asylum seekers and other newcomers at a university level, many of whom arrive with extensive professional experience and are highly educated. In response to this, students and staff at the School of Business at JAMK University of Applied Sciences organized the JAMK United for Refugees project in September 2015. The project is based in a cross-cultural management course where teachers and students develop their own approaches and solutions to supporting the present and future multicultural Finnish society. In response to this, Steven Crawford, a senior lecturer at the School of Business, decided to integrate asylum seekers into the classroom through the Open University system as credit earning students to share their stories and contribute to the course, and to connect students and staff directly to the refugee crisis. I spoke with Steven about this successful and scalable project.

What is United for Refugees?

The JAMK United for Refugees project began at the start of the fall semester of 2015 at JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä, Finland. The refugee crisis was quite prominent in the media then, as it still is, and I initially thought we might “pack a van” with personal sorts of supplies and head to Greece, where refugees were landing in large numbers on beaches. However, when we examined the idea more closely the reality set in that we were too far away from Greece. So my colleague Ronan Browne and I brought the idea of a refugee support project into a cross-cultural management course as a “local response” to the crisis, and offered it to the students as a potential project. They universally embraced the project idea and the development process started from there and is now (fall 2016) in its third semester.

How does it work?

A key feature of the project is that it forms a framework for the cross-cultural management course in which the underlying pedagogical approaches include experiential learning, meaning-centred education, and transformative adult learning. We activated students by giving them a stakeholder role, organized them into distinct task-oriented groups, and gave them the power to make their own decisions about what sorts of activities they would develop and execute. For the initial fall 2015 project semester, the students designed and executed a campus-wide awareness campaign that included and engaged numerous other stakeholders in our community, including asylum seekers. In spring 2016 the project continued in a more directed way so that we could develop a more tangible response to the crisis in the form of an educational game. Now the first version of that game is complete and we are moving into a phase in which we promote the product across Finland and support users, while also training students to facilitate game play.

What have been some of the interesting experiences so far?

At this point over two-hundred students, teachers, administrators and other stakeholders have participated in our project. Many of them have been affected in some significant positive way through their contributions and participation. Two of our asylum seeking students from the spring 2016 semester are now Open University track master’s students, thus proving that education as a path to integration is a primary means through which both newcomers and hosts benefit. Presently, in this fall 2016 semester, among our nine registered asylum-seeking students I believe that most if not all of them have had their residency applications rejected by the Finnish state. And still they press forward their desire to reside in Finland permanently. Our project of course is not involved in the political processes that produce these decisions, which presently lean toward residency application rejection. And so during each phase of our project there are very compelling personal and social situations both above and below the surface. I am concerned at the moment about one Iraqi lawyer from our 2016 spring semester. She lost the immediate male members of her family and brought her eight children to Finland. All children of asylum seekers in Finland attend school, and her children did also. But I have lost track of her now, so I wonder what her status is and how things will turn out for her and her children. This woman brought discussion into our course about the situation and roles of women in Iraqi society, and the resulting dialogue was compelling and constructive for all of our students.

What have been some of the challenges? 

In my view biggest opportunity is to positively affect the attitudes of Finnish people, those who comprise the dominant group that is the “host,” and who control the processes and outcomes of the asylum seeking system. As is the case in most European nations a sizable part of our host population feels threatened by the refugee crisis and its potential for changing things at home. On the other hand, many Finnish citizens see the very positive potential that diversity brings to societies in the global age. There is tension between these two perspectives, and so we seek to learn about and address the needs and concerns of all Finnish inhabitants about their future together.

In our project course the working language is English, and so all of the course students must have at least a conversational level of English. Thus there have been a few prospective refugee students who were not able to join the course but were able to find some kind of education opportunity elsewhere in our city that they could participate in. There is also the question of student assessment, and in this case I chose to employ the option of either a pass/fail grade or a numeric grade. If a student participates fully in classroom, groupwork and development activities I am comfortable in giving them a “pass” grade. If he or she also completes the “academic” requirements, which includes for example reflective essay-based assessments, I have the option of giving them a numeric grade. Sometimes our expectations, norms and “rules” must bend a bit to fit the urgency of a given situation. At least it is my view that educators have a distinct social responsibility to engage and work with these newcomers, and this may require us to change our practices.

Successes? 

All of our asylum-seeking students who participate fully earn university credits at a Finnish university. Perhaps this is not the first idea that comes to one’s mind when thinking about asyslum seekers. Two of our spring 2016 asylum seeking students received permanent residency status and are now taking Open University master’s-level courses. That is enough in my view to conclude that the project is successful. Beyond that, I sense that we have a positive impact across our community in terms of helping Finland to manage its part of the global refugee crisis and to provide unique and particularly socially relevant educational opportunities to the school’s more “traditional” sorts of students such as our Finnish and international degree students, and also our international exchange students. From a pedagogical perspective, the project has provided us with an excellent framework for a course that sets out to help student learn how to manage through cultures, including the approaches needed to activate experiential learning, meaning-centred education, and transformative adult learning. Overall, taking a community-wide stakeholder approach has allowed us to engage a wide range of participants while moving from a local to a national response to the crisis.

 

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

There are many criteria that need to be addressed for a project such as JAMK United for Refugees to form and progress. First, the organizing teachers need support from the highest levels of the school. Our project also has a strong management team which now includes three teachers and quite purposefully includes students, some of whom are earning thesis, internship and project studies credits through their management level particpation. In this way multiple educational agendas converge to form and drive the project.

Bringing the project into a course may support both specfic course and curricular program-level intended learning outcomes. I suggest that a stakeholder analysis be conducted at the start in order to identify those who may be served and those who might help. After that, the students should be empowered through ownership to make the project happen. Engaging outside partners and stakeholders in the project is also essential.

I would conclude this section by pointing out that at JAMK University of Applied Sciences there is a distinct emphasis on projects and practical “hands-on” learning. And so this particular project fits quite nicely for us and also makes the project realizable based on our limited resources.

What’s next for the initiative?

We are presently rolling out our base training product, diversophy® New Horizons, across Finland to teachers and trainers, and our fall semester students are creating additional game content that focuses more specifically on certain topics, such as youth culture, sports, and employability & entrepreneurship. As part of the cross-cultural management course we are training our students how to facilitate our game in multicultural contexts. We are interested in youth culture because we know that Finnish law requires that all children, including newcomers, go to school. And so we know that there is a lot of interaction every day between dissimilar others in schools. We are interested in sports because, I suppose, Finland is a very healthy and sports conscious society. And we are interested in improving the receptivity of Finnish employers to newcomers, and to help newcomers acquire the insider’s perspectives needed to advance their career and business goals as contributors to Finland’s society. There is plenty left to do!

For information about the project visit the JAMK United for Refugees Facebook page.

For information about the the game, visit diversophy® New Horizons.

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