When a top international business school gives high school hopefuls business and sustainability expertise: The ESSEC Asia-Pacific Business and Sustainability Case Competition
Bringing Business and Sustainability to Hopeful High School Students by Tom Gamble, Yvonne Tan and Marie-Laure Caille.
Business for Good: Food for thought
Food security is a key concern in many countries around Asia. So too, increasingly, is the issue of food sustainability especially in the key areas of agriculture, packaging, climate and water. The fragility of both was highlighted even more so during the pandemic when the vulnerability of various stakeholders – from producers to supply chain distribution and final consumer – was starkly amplified.
What better, then, coming out of the pandemic, for a top international business school to design a learning journey with the wider community in mind and using food sustainability as the relevant key to unlock business for good? Such was the case with the competition launched by ESSEC Business School Asia-Pacific with its campus at one-north, Singapore.
Aimed at providing top-level business school expertise to hopeful high school students in south-east Asia, the ESSEC team headed by Deputy Dean and Prof. Reetika Gupta and Recruitment, Marketing & Communications Director Yvonne Tan, linked up with Marie-Laure Caille and Avantika Pathare from consulting firm The Human Factor (THF) and corporate partner Confetti Snacks headed by CEO Betty Lu – a mission-led player in the food sector – to run a business case with a sustainability twist.
Adding flavour to the competition
The choice of Confetti, a Singapore-based start-up, added extra savour to the business scenario the high school students would have to tackle. A creative, award-winning and ambitious firm based in Singapore, Confetti competes on the market with a cause – making high-quality, upcycled snacks made from ugly veggies to reduce food waste. Part of its production of nutrient-dense foods is also donated to NGOs working in the Asia-Pacific region to help feed those at the base-of-the-pyramid. Its vision – contribute to ending hunger and malnutrition.
After 3 months of planning and designing the initiative between ESSEC, THF and Confetti, a final blueprint was delivered to then approach high schools in a number of neighbouring countries in Asia. The challenge for students to tackle – make Confetti’s business-for-good brand a household name in the region while promoting its wider sustainable food mission.
A total of 7 workshops were delivered, together with 2 highly interactive coaching sessions facilitated by ESSEC faculty and THF consultants. These dipped young and budding high school leaders into problem solving, the business model and value proposition canvas, marketing in the digital era, entrepreneurship, public speaking and personal impact and, of course, sustainability.
A sprinkle of pedagogy, a touch of creativity
Effectively, one of the key dimensions to the first-in-the-series case competition was to showcase ESSEC’s signature pedagogical approach of “learning by doing”, offering high school students aged 15-17 a unique, challenging and fulfilling learning experience as they got to grips with a first-time business experience. A priority too – that of raising awareness on business and sustainability, in particular in the food industry.
As such, the competition offered students the opportunity to gain direct exposure to a real-life business challenge – that of Confetti breaking out of start-up mode to gain market share – and also provide them with the experience of working with a world-class business school.
On the student side, a key aim was to sensitize them to their wealth – and untapped capacity – for creativity and resourcefulness which in today’s business world counts as a key differentiating factor in fiercely competitive, and innovative, markets. An intended by-product of the event was that by facing the challenge, 15 to 17 year-olds would gain more confidence in their ability to solve real-life business challenges.
An Asia-Pacific reach
Running from August through to September 2022, the competition invite was launched with a whopping 37 teams applying to take part, and 30 finally qualifying to join the competition. Each team was composed of between 4-6 members.
As such, a total of 14 teams came from Singaporean schools – the Anglo-Chinese School, Australian International School, Dunman High School, International French School of Singapore, NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, River Valley High School, School of the Arts Singapore. 11 teams participated from Indonesia-based schools that included ACS Jakarta, BINUS SCHOOL SIMPRUG, Ipeka Integrated Christian School, National High Jakarta School, Sampoerna Academy Medan, Sekolah Pelita Harapan Sentul City, and Sekolah Perkumpulan Mandiri. Wider afield, Cambodia was represented by 3 teams from the Singapore-Cambodia International Academy, China by a team from Northeast Yucai Foreign Language School, and lastly Taiwan with a team from the Taipei Wego Private Senior High School.
Sensitizing teenagers to the UN SDGs
Climate change, climate crisis, climate action, energy transition, social transition – words that we hear every day accompanied by regular media coverage of natural disasters, food crises, and global social or cultural inequalities. Recognising that businesses are one of the most powerful tools to address the problem affecting society and the planet, back in Y2K Global Compact, a UN initiative, was launched in an attempt to harness businesses around the sustainability cause. This gave rise to the 2015 launch of the 17 UN SDGs – or Sustainable Development Goals – a series of key impact areas in which companies and organisations could strive to improve their footprint on society and planet through their responsible business practices.
ESSEC Business School, a top-100 global education institution with campuses in France, Singapore and Morocco is particularly committed to the SDGs both through its teaching, research and initiatives. Famous for its founding stance on sustainability and society-related issues, the school has, since 2011, been following a mission of educating tomorrow’s business leaders in responsible leadership and business practices. This has seen the birth of a multitude of initiatives that range from committing to climate and social transition within the school aligned with the UN SDGs, to initiatives serving local communities, and the setting up of an international alliance – the Council on Business & Society – grouping the world’s leading business schools dedicated to CSR and sustainability excellence through research, teaching and publications. Indeed, in November 2022, ESSEC was ranked 1st in business schools most committed to environmental and social transition.
It naturally follows that ESSEC Asia-Pacific draws from its DNA to launch the business and sustainability case competition which will not only see a second edition offered to high school students in 2023, but will also add Undergrad level students to its menu this year.
Asia-Pacific and tomorrow’s responsible leaders
For the 15-17 year-olds taking part in the case competition, the experience offered a panache of takeways. Not least was higher awareness of the main challenges facing sustainability, as was equipping the students with a clear framework to understand these and how many business and society issues are interlinked.
Food, the backdrop to the competition and duly highlighted as number 2 UN Sustainable Development Goal, sparked many related business, society and planet issues including the sustainable use of upcycled produce, waste management, greener supply chains, and giving back by donating to the wider cause and providing food to the poorest parts of the world.
Moreover, it was also interesting for students to disrupt the stereotype of the entrepreneur and move away from the profit-and-growth-at-all-cost paradigm to the role that entrepreneurs can play and the positive impact that they can have in solving issues around sustainability.
For the organisers, the case competition raised the hope that some of the 15-17 year-olds would be inspired to be more pro-active in taking concrete actions to combat hunger and to tie in business – and their future corporate careers – with a positive societal and environmental impact.
At the very least, it brought students increased awareness of the decisions they make on a daily basis – from simple everyday purchases such as choosing the snack they will eat, to deeper, conscious decisions on their power in how and what they consume. Is it good for the planet? Does it benefit not only me as a consumer, but others too? How? And is my decision to buy a specific product creating a positive impact rather than a negative?
“Trust your own creativity and resourcefulness and the contribution you can make in solving real-life issues,” says Marie-Laure Caille of The Human Factor, as a parting word for the high school participants.
Can business contribute to improving society and the planet? We believe
For ESSEC Asia-Pacific and The Human Factor, the success of the initial case competition paves the way for a bigger, brighter future. The plan is to bring on board more partner companies with competition themes covering the 3 ESSEC strategic pillars of Together (Sustainability and Social Transition), Enlightening Entrepreneurship, and Metalab (Data, Technology and Society).
So can business contribute to improving society and planet? ESSEC Asia-Pacific, The Human Factor and Confetti can be sure that through its food sustainability case competition, an enlightened number of high school students in the region – if not at least aware – now believe.
- Discover and take part in the ESSEC Case Competition for Future Leaders (S.E. Asia)
- Discover ESSEC Asia-Pacific and its portfolio of top-ranked programs
- Download Global Voice magazine for responsible leadership, special Asia-Pacific issue.
ESSEC Asia-Pacific Case Competition winners 2022
Congratulations to the talented Team 19 from ACS Jakarta, comprising students Olivia Tjindra Gunawan, Adiva Nahdi, Kaira Wynette Wibowo, Kelly Faith Tanurahardja, Nicole Huang, and Emily Adrienne Yang. In addition, first runner up, Team 13 from International French School Singapore, with students Julia Sizaire. Aaron Shen, Brooklyn Monod, Claire Harel. And finally, a second runner-up in the guise of Team 15 from Singapore Cambodia International Academy, Cambodia, composed of students Chy Panhavotey, Cheng Chanvatey, Vong Chung Hen, Pen Colin, and Luy Danita.
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
- ESSEC Business School, France-Singapore-Morocco
- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.