A transdisciplinary approach to business education is what makes tomorrow’s responsible leaders aware and sets students the challenge of understanding and changing the world.
From an interview with Nicolas Tuvi, Grande Ecole student, spokesperson for the winning student group, and Prof. Stefan Gröschl, ESSEC Business School
Likely to change the world
Every year, four hundred or more students from the ESSEC Grande Ecole gather to get to grips with the major issues facing business, society and the planet. This is the Understand and Change the World (Comprendre et Changer le Monde) Seminar, a two-week initiative organised and directed by Stefan Gröschl, award-winning Professor* and Founding Co-Chair Leadership and Diversity, that pits student teams against each other in a competition to innovate a solution to a major ethical, environmental or societal challenge.
The themes for this year’s Understand and Change the World Seminar focused on various aspects of sustainability, including green finance and sustainable campuses. The 423 Master’s students attending the seminar were split into 4 groups and allocated one of the major themes, with each group then being split into sub-groups teams to enlarge the scope of the research and analysis of the issue. In the seminar’s second week, the student sub-groups collated their work to generate a final report and presentation in the school’s main auditorium. Finally, to finish off the seminar in style, “The Most Likely to Change the World” Group was elected by the whole student cohort during the closing ceremony.
Nicolas Tuvi, student spokesman for the seminar’s winning project, found himself given the Design a Responsible Campus sustainable campus theme – all the more relevant given the ESSEC Campus 2020 project, a major refurbishing and development initiative for the school’s historical campus in Cergy-Pontoise. The four sub-topics offered to the students: opening up the campus to the community, social inclusion, waste management, and sustainable catering.
A different perspective on business and society
‘There were several dimensions to the two-week Understand and Change the World seminar,’ states Nicolas. ‘Firstly, days spent in class with our tutors and guest experts to identify the problems and issues relevant to our theme and then search for appropriate solutions. A second dimension was working alone in our project teams – observing behaviours and carrying out surveys among the ESSEC community. This was how we discovered that our waste management solution had to be intuitive – something that led us to think of actually building a physical prototype. And the last dimension featured conference-debates with a kick-off speech by Prof. Stefan Gröschl followed by leading industry experts such as the CSR Director of Total and the HRD of the UNO. The whole experience was beneficial in that we got to hear and speak to a wide variety and levels of practitioners and experts.’ Aware of the move towards responsible leadership in business education, Nicolas identified with the principle objectives of the Understand and Change the World seminar – put a different perspective on business and profit. ‘We have more than one role in our future jobs as managers and leaders,’ asserts Nicolas Tuvi. ‘Towards generating profit, of course, but also that of bringing benefit to internal stakeholders and that of the community, planet and the common good.’
From theory to action
He and his fellow students decided to focus on waste processing. His group’s idea – how can the campus, its facilities, management, geographical location and management impact students to become the responsible leaders of tomorrow. ‘The idea was to do something actionable,’ he states. ‘As a project team, we seemed to have an advantage in that we presented something concrete – and actually in physical prototype mode. We built real dustbins in an attempt to make these waste collection facilities as clear and comprehensible as possible so that the ESSEC population would instinctively know what to do with their waste. The prototype featured clear signage using symbols of objects that everyone can spontaneously connect to and was finalised in the form of a cube with three separate compartments, 3 of them transparent so that here again, people could actually know in a split second where to allocate waste.”
For Nicolas Tuvi, the experience was an eye-opener. “It was a great experience,” he says, “and different from what most of the students had experienced before. Prior to taking up studies in higherEd, French students typically follow what is known as ‘prépa’ – a grueling 1-2 years’ of intense preparatory studies in order to be able to sit the entrance exams for France’s most prestigious private higher education institutions. While the ‘prépa’ was abstract and theory-based,” he asserts, “the Understand and Change the World initiative was practical and very much hands-on. Apart from the tutoring, coaching and lectures from key experts in the field of sustainability, we were also given the opportunity to visit a partner school – CentraleSupélec – at Saclay to benchmark how they renovated their campus with sustainable development as a major concern as well as modularity – for example the possibility to transform the canteen area into a concert hall. That enabled us to build a benchmark for our project – it was great!”
“With these eye-opening experiences,” summarises seminar organiser Professor Stefan Gröschl, “We want to introduce our students early on in their studies at ESSEC to the complex challenges societies and businesses alike are facing, and which can only be addressed in collaborative actions. Conflicting interests of stakeholders, varying short and long-term implications and effects of actions are only some of the many aspects that students learn to understand and consider in their propositions and recommendations to change the world.”
*Prof. Stefan Gröschl was awarded the French Foundation for Management Education (FNEGE) 2018 award for best research publication in the business & society category for a study on Jochen Zeitz, ex-CEO of the global sports apparel company Puma and the journey to sustainability.
- Discover the Master in Management programme at ESSEC Business School
- View Prof. Stefan Gröschl’s academic profile
- Discover Stefan Gröschl’s latest book From the Death Zone to the Boardroom: What Business Leaders and Decision Makers Can Learn From Extreme Mountaineering
- Read prof. Gröschl’s feature article of the CEO’s journey to sustainability, a study of Jochen Zeitz and Puma.
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