Coronavirus, travel, resilience and sustainability

Finally and thankfully, over 100 countries are now following calls by epidemiologists to severely restrict public life, closing schools, universities, cultural institutions, cancelling social events – forcing social distancing as a virtue. A necessary emergency measure with an enormous human cost. This map from The Economist shows school closures, a good proxy for social distancing:

It is worth taking a step back and asking three important questions:

  • How did we get ourselves in this unenviable global mess in the first place?
  • Was it worth it?
  • Did we unconsciously stumble into it, or was it a miscalculation?

The short answer to the first question is that SARS-CoV-2 got a bit of help from an incomparably more powerful force, our own socio-economic system, more specifically the excessive and growing global integration and travel, and the exploitation of animals. Our collective resilience was further reduced by inequality and exclusion, both accelerating propagation. The result: three deadly outbreaks in just 17 years: SARS (2002-3), MERS (2012), and COVID19 (2019-…).

SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is part of a large family of coronaviruses, originating in animals, like SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. It needs an intermediate animal to “jump” from bats to humans, and spreads slowly, from human to human, one at a time, mostly within a very short distance (1 m), floating just minutes in airborne droplets and mostly dying within hours on solid surfaces (more on cdc.gov).

How can a relatively well understood, infectious but slowly propagating pathogen become a global pandemic in only a few weeks, under the watchful eyes of scientists, health officials and governments, in spite of the heroic engagement of doctors and nurses? It is already causing untold human suffering, and requiring the most drastic restrictions to avoid claiming millions of victims.

Globalization and excessive travel: the increase in travel is making the world much less sustainable (CO2, pollution, road accidents, habitat destruction to build roads) and less resilient at the same time. Air travel alone increased almost three-fold worldwide (1.6bn to 4.4bn) between 2002 and 2019, 8-fold in China (83m to 660m), more on data.worldbank.org. For comparison, the Black Death, a more deadly and infectious disease, infected Europe in 7 years (peaking in 1347-1351), in a population much weakened by famine, with no understanding of immunology or any organized attempt to stop infections.

Today’s disease propagation in Europe is about 100 times faster – in spite of all knowledge, awareness, and efforts by dedicated and competent health authorities, and of course a well-fed population, Europe reached a “beyond containment” stage in less than 3 weeks. Data on new infections show European countries following Italy by 6-16 days, more on nrg.cs.ucl.ac.uk/mjh/covid19.

[chart attribution: Mark Handley, UCL, 19.03.2020]

Animals: billions of stressed, unhealthy, exploited animals in close proximity to humans significantly facilitate transmission. Living in harmony with a small number of healthy domestic animals, with the wild populations undisturbed, would have almost certainly prevented all recent coronaviruses.

Inequality and exclusion: poorly nourished, unhealthy people living in cramped conditions are much more likely to catch and transmit the virus, especially if the inability to take sick leave means they continue working.

Individualistic, selfish culture, well illustrated by careless youths bragging about even more travel “Young, Confident and Flying, Virus Be Damned”.

* * *

We have analyzed how and why a relatively harmless pathogen, from a broad historical perspective, has completely overwhelmed all progress in human knowledge, technology, institutions, and dedication of health professionals – spreading the pandemic around the globe in less than two months. Current drastic social distancing is a necessary short-term action. Let’s use this case as final wake-up call, as the next one could be much worse.

Was it worth creating this system with so many dangerous side-effects? Thomas Piketty writes in “Capital and Ideology”, just published, that “what made economic development and human progress possible was the struggle for equality and education and not the sanctification of property, stability, or inequality”. An optimal, low level of globalization helps share knowledge and human understanding, and increases resilience. Past this point, consequences of further globalization create suffering for most life, human or not. The same could be said for energy or resource use, or indeed most aspects of our society.

It is time to replace social distancing with distancing from consumerism, material growth, individualism, fossil fuels, excessive travel, industrial food and all the other things making us miserable – and start building a new society.

 

 

 

 

Author: Sascha Nick, BSL Professor

David Vanni Interview | BSL Careers Office

Our BSL Careers Office interview series is a great opportunity where we reconnect with some of our former students and find out about their personal and professional lives after graduation from BSL. For the next installment of this series, we reached out to BSL alumni David Vanni, who is currently living halfway across the world in Shanghai and Hong Kong as the Digital Marketing Supervisor for the Chinese division of Novartis Pharmaceuticals. 

David achieved his Master in International Business at BSL in February 2019 after successfully completing a 6 months exchange at the Renmin University  School of Business of China. This proved to be a pivotal factor in carving out the next few years of David’s professional career. We chatted with David to find out more about his career path.

david vanniWhat product or service does Novartis Pharmaceuticals offer?

Novartis is a worldwide leader in innovative medicines, focusing on several disease areas like cancer, cardiovascular, immunology and dermatology, and ophthalmic diseases. Novartis is also a leader is gene and cell therapy that will revolutionize medicine. Gene therapy is the introduction, removal or change in the content of a person’s genetic code with the goal of treating or curing a disease. Cell therapy is the transfer of intact, live cells into a patient to help lessen or cure a disease. In my digital marketing role, part of the Business Model Transformation team in China, I work with the team on initiatives to build local partnerships with Chinese technology companies to enable better patient access to our medicine and better treatment adherence through digital platforms and tools in order to support better patient outcomes. Novartis is determined to change the practice of medicine and our team in China is supporting that by reimagining the Chinese healthcare industry with data and digital.

What got you interested in studying business and how has studied through BSL helped you in your career?

My Bachelor’s degree was focused on business, more specifically in marketing. During a diverse work experience of 4 years before BSL, I went from private banking to a sales role in commodity trading, and then to a cost analyst position. I believe it gave me a taste for acquiring diverse knowledge and skills, which is increasingly important in today’s fast-changing business world. It is this mindset that pushed me to enroll at BSL. It has a great diversity of people from different backgrounds and a focus on smart and sustainable business practices. I picked the Master in International Business course as I wanted to have a broader understanding of doing business internationally, and because I wanted to leave Switzerland for a few years after graduating to pursue my career. I jumped at the opportunity provided by BSL to enroll for a 6 months exchange at the Renmin University. It was really a pivotal moment in my life and today I am still living in China and working there thanks to that decision.

Which subjects and professors stood out to you most?

Arash Golnam from Systems Thinking

A highly knowledgeable and unconventional professor teaching a way to frame issues through models and how to solve them by understanding the relationships between different factors.

 Tim Connerton from Strategic Leadership

A very experienced mind in business that brought his real-life experiences with a very sharp aptitude on a topic that I felt enthusiastic about.

 Kelly Kretz from Marketing

She told me I have ‘an eye for marketing’ which inspired me further. She guided me to listen to people’s needs and wants, and to offer them value through innovative products and services. Her class was made for me. 

 And last but not least, André Delafontaine from Entrepreneurship

He supervised my Master thesis and we share the same passion for entrepreneurship and startups. I learned a lot in his class and it resonated with my views on proactive thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset, whether you are in a corporate setup or if you have your own company.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your studies?

How much you gain from a class is really up to you. If you are able to study for the educational value and not for the grades, your experience will be so much more enriching. When you understand that you are doing this to have a positive impact on your life and to society itself, it is very empowering. I also learned to care for everyone and that everyone had something to say. If certain pieces of information don’t necessarily match with your current interests now, they will often do so in the near future – so don’t dismiss anything. If you listen well and build relationships you will be able to let yourself be positively surprised by the synergies you will find along the way from the people you met.

In your current role, what are the biggest challenges you have faced?

Novartis pushes us to have proactive behavior, to seek solutions ourselves, and to take ownership of our decisions. It is a challenge in a way, but an amazing enabler as well as it empowers you to trust yourself and to be humble enough to acknowledge you cannot succeed alone and that you often need support from others. 

What have been your biggest wins in your career and what would you attribute them to?

I believe I can access people rather easily. I speak several languages, I traveled a lot, and I am curious by nature. This enables me to rapidly find common topics of conversation with people and build relationships. My biggest win so far is receiving the trust of others in business initiatives. In particular, when top management entrusts me with implementing a project. For example, I have organized a startup pitching competition in Beijing with 10 of the most innovative local healthcare startups, over 150 people attending and many honorable guest speakers. This was the very first Novartis startup event in China and only the first step in our commitment to increasing our footprint in local innovation and startup ecosystem while promoting entrepreneurship and creating a flow of exchange between startups and the corporate world. Building on that success, we will now lay down the strategy to open our very own startup incubator in China next year.

What is your vision for your career going into the future?

I plan to be based in China for the next 3 to 4 years, working in the business model transformation in applying digital technologies to business processes, changing the mindset to an active learner and promote a more agile corporate structure. In our industry, the importance of big data is rising and impacting all the units of the business. The same data that can be gathered from patients in order to tailor treatments to people’s very specific needs and improve the treatment outcomes with the support of technologies forming a digital therapeutic solution around the conventional medicine. China is a great country to test new technologies and iterate quickly from one solution to another.

Do you believe that studying through BSL has provided you with a competitive advantage among your peers?

Yes definitely. I really thank BSL for two things: first, the quality and diversity of the BSL professors’ backgrounds. Many (if not all) of them have practical business experience which made the courses so much more ‘real world’. Second, their partnership with the Renmin University of China, School of Business, which exposed me to an environment I previously knew nothing about and changed my view of life forever. I am now ready to embrace change and different ideas.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to other budding entrepreneurs and business-focused students?

I have been involved a lot with startups in Beijing as it was the focus of my Master thesis. I understood the importance of testing your ideas as quickly as possible. This is what is called the MVP (or minimum viable product). I truly believe in it for startups but I see also in larger corporations that it is becoming a priority. It is the acknowledgment of a customer-centric approach: you don’t build a product for the customer but rather with the customer. That means you will test your product or service as early as possible with your target market so that you can use their feedback to quickly make modifications. You do this many times until you reach a point where your product or service will fit to the market needs. My advice is to not be afraid to share your ideas and test them with other people, don’t be afraid to have it stolen as it will change so many times anyway. The worst is to work for years and launch a product that has no market traction, even though it can be a good product by itself.

How do you think business and business leadership will change going into the future and how do you believe businesses can prepare for the change?

New technologies, changing demographics and geopolitics have pushed the world in a speed of change like never before. Leadership is adapting to this by empowering employees and giving them ownership of initiatives. Ideally, businesses should not react to change nor get ready for it but be the change themselves. The best way to anticipate change is to be the change agent yourself. Speed of decision needs to be prevalent in all aspects of the business, and this can only be done by empowering employees and allowing them to take part in certain aspects of decision-making that was previously in the hands of the middle and top management. New technologies are supporting and accelerating these organizational changes. It will also give people a stronger sense of belonging and a hard-working mentality.

David is clearly passionate about what he does and what he has achieved in his early career. We hope that the next few years of his growth will see him furthering his achievements and advancing his ideas to the benefit of his team. Onward and upwards, David!

BSL alumni Richard Fyk brews entrepreneurial success

For the next installment of our BSL careers office interview series, where we get an insight into the lives of our business and entrepreneurial graduates, we caught up with BSL alumnus Richard Fyk, owner of SYC Brewing. Based in Alberta, Canada, SYC Brewing brews and distributes craft beer to various suppliers across the country, including bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. SYC Brewing officially opened its doors in January 2019 and has received a warm reception from the craft brewing savvy public in North America. BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)

Richard owes a lot of his initial business success to his formative grounding and the business knowledge he acquired during his MBA at BSL. “My thesis paper really helped me galvanize my plans to start my own business. I put all that I had learned at BSL into practice and it gave me first-hand experience in how to piece everything together and create something from scratch. It was very helpful – so much so that I immediately put my teaching into practice to start SYC Brewing”. 

Richard’s thesis also focuses on finance. Although far removed from the craft beer industry, Richard insists that BSL equipped him with the tools to pursue any career in any industry or sector. “Once you understand how each cog in a business mechanism operates, you soon realize that the possibilities for starting your own business are endless”. 

It was a conversation from an unlikely source that helped Richard make the decision to study his MBA at BSL. “I was working in a bank and had progressed very quickly through the ranks. I had an informal career coaching discussion with my manager where I informed him of my intent to progress even further within the organization. He told me to give it another year to have the conversation, which made me quickly realize that he didn’t have my best interests at heart. Directly after that conversation, I began researching online the best places to do my MBA and BSL was on the top of that list. The next thing I knew I was enrolled and on my way to attend my first class”. 

What really impressed Richard from the onset was BSL’s focus on entrepreneurship. He always knew he wanted to create a business for himself but he didn’t have the skills and know-how to progress his ideas into action. When the idea for opening his own craft beer brewery was solidified in his mind, the next step was to learn the necessary business skills to make it work. “After I graduated from BSL with my MBA I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but more importantly, how I was going to do it. Suddenly the thought of starting my own business wasn’t a daunting idea because I knew exactly what I had to and how I was going to do it”.

BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)2Richard enlisted the help of a friend to get the business off the ground. Together they began brewing a range of different variations of craft beer until they settled on what they wanted SYC Brewing to taste like. The next step was marketing the product. “I knew branding was crucial in the beer industry, but when you deal with it first-hand you realize it’s a lot bigger than you initially think. You have to make sure that your beer quality is great and that your branding is almost better. I learned a lot about marketing a product during my MBA and that really gave me the upper hand when starting out. I knew what to expect and how to execute my ideas into action, and it worked”.

Due to Richard’s product being alcohol, getting started is not an easy thing to do. The alcohol industry is highly regulated and so brewers have to go through every single level of government to acquire alcohol manufacturing, selling and distributing licenses. Richard had to go through the federal government for permission to make beer. Then he had to get allowances from the provincial government to allow him to brew while still having to deal with his local municipality for rules and regulations regarding the specific location of his brewery. “The entire process takes a long time because you’re dealing with all forms of government and each department’s processes and regulations, including their waiting periods. This is of course not great for entrepreneurs needing to get ahead of the competition”. However, Richard managed to get all the required licenses quickly through his dogged determination to get his business off the ground. 

BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)3

As Richard will tell you, no amount of studying and theoretical framework can sufficiently prepare you for the real thing – but it can certainly help. Having gone through the channels of his MBA at BSL to starting his own business, what advice can he give to current and future entrepreneurs hoping to create their own businesses in the future?

“Knowing what you want to achieve from the very beginning is crucial. Being willing to always learn from either your own or others’ mistakes can save you a lot of time, energy and money – so be aware of those who have come before you. You have to make sure you are agile and that you have the ability to make quick and important decisions. These can come along rarely, or twice in an hour – so be ready.  If something is not working, change it up. Make sure it’s working for you. Being a small startup we’ve done it multiple times. If something wasn’t working, we made a decision the same day and before we knew it the next day it was working. I’m a big believer in not saying ‘sorry’. If you are selling a product in a higher price range it’s because you believe in the quality, and so you’ve got to sell your vision. But perhaps the big one is to just work hard. It’s amazing what you can do with a 100 hour week. I work 100+ hours and I don’t get tired because I love what I do and what I am creating. It’s not about the number of hours – it’s about what you do with your hours that makes all the difference”. 

Well done on your amazing business achievement, Richard! We are very proud to see you and your brewing business flourish. Although it is still early days, we are sure you will create something truly remarkable that will send waves of inspiration through our classrooms as an example to all our future entrepreneurs that anything is possible with the right skills and mindset. We look forward to charting your success from across the pond and hopefully soon SYC Brewing will be a household name in both Switzerland and the world.

Finding a new kind of energy: how one BSL graduate’s journey is taking him to Oxford

We are celebrating the success of BSL alumni member Armen Danielyan. Armen is a born leader with a wealth of knowledge and the world at his feet. He not only graduated from our accelerated BBA program but has since been accepted into a first-of-its-kind MSc program at Oxford University. We took some time to catch up with Armen to find out how he was able to get the most out of his time at BSL. 

Tell us more about your time at BSL?

I enrolled in BSL’s accelerated BBA program in 2017. It was a unique study opportunity that made it possible for me to complete my Bachelor’s degree in only two years. The course was more intensive and required me to do five courses per term. During this period I was an active member of the student council and also worked as a tutor, organizing study sessions to help others prepare for subjects like accounting and statistics. 

What do you think has been your most valuable lesson or experience as a BSL student? 

There have been many valuable lessons during my two years at BSL, but I really value the ability to apply the theory I have learned to practical situations. I’ve always been interested in a broad variety of subjects and disciplines, and I was able to discover ways to apply what I learned at BSL to my interests, making my studies more relevant to my future.BSL

What was one of your greatest achievements and how do you feel you were supported in achieving this?

One of my greatest achievements would definitely be my involvement in the Business Innovation Week. BSL traditionally organizes the event to bring BA and MS students together and facilitate communication. There was also an opportunity for students to compete against each other and showcase a summary of everything that they had learned at BSL, through making startup prototypes and financial plans.

However, BSL and our professors encouraged the Student Council to organize the Business Innovation Week under their supervision and guidance. We could contact and invite guest speakers and plan activities like peer-to-peer teaching modules. I was one of the students involved and hosted an Excel class. I think it was a success because students were able to teach one another skills that would complement our BSL studies and help us become more prepared for professional life.

Could you give us an example of how you’ve been able to apply the theory you have learned from your time at BSL to engage with your interests? 

Being interested in many topics and skills has sometimes made it difficult to focus on one thing for too long. I realized that due to BSL’s small classes and more individualized approach, I would be able to often tailor study content and approach subjects in a way that allowed me to focus on my interests from several viewpoints, ensuring I didn’t have a one-dimensional, boring experience. This was different from previous university experiences where I couldn’t receive a flexible learning experience due to the high ratio of students to professors. 

Could you tell us about your upcoming opportunity to study at Oxford? 

I’ve been accepted to study a Masters in Energy Systems at Oxford University. I spent a long time looking for Masters programs where I could delve into this subject, but they were often limited to people with a background in science or engineering and made it difficult for people with my background to study further in this field. However, this program is Oxford’s first energy systems-related program that allows people with varied backgrounds to take part in this field. 

image1Why did you choose Oxford specifically? 

There were several factors that drew me to Oxford. This question was actually asked during the interview I had in the application process. While there are, of course, aspects like the university’s reputation and connections, I viewed Oxford differently than other ‘prestigious’ universities like Cambridge or Harvard, even before I applied. I think it happened naturally over the last couple of years, as I began to listen and read many individuals who taught there either before (such as C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien) or now (prof. John Lennox). So it just happened by chance that I became more engaged with Oxford over time, and how it became my goal to get there. But most importantly, it is the nature of their Masters degree program was what ultimately drew me in. 

How is the Oxford degree structured and what are some of the subjects you’re excited to tackle? 

Oxford’s MSc in Energy Systems is a brand new program, so I’ll be in its very first intake (probably also to be experimented upon as a guinea pig). The program will have a small intake of 10 full-time students from various backgrounds, and the idea is that we will teach each other our respective disciplines and how they relate to energy. There’s a significant aspect of peer-to-peer learning built into the structure of the program, and this was what separated it from other masters programs that I looked into. We will also be taught by professors from different departments on pretty much everything that relates to energy, from its science and various technologies to the markets and regulations. After three terms of studying, I will have to deliver a thesis by the end of summer, so the whole program is about a year long.

The idea is to prepare a specialist with broad (as opposed to narrowly specialized) understanding of energy, who would be able to integrate its various aspects and aid in making general decisions. I’m especially excited to see the new technologies that are currently being developed in a world-leading university and will be in the market in the next 10-20 years.

What values, expertise or lessons do you think you will take from your time at BSL that will help contribute to these programs? 

During the application process, I was asked to prepare a presentation about the energy system implications for new legislation put forward by the Balearic Islands, aiming to have a 100% ‘clean’ energy supply by 2050.

I had to approach the topic by talking about the implications this decision will have on all aspects of society.  My BSL experience enabled me to apply my knowledge of corporate social responsibility, public perception, and the supply chain to help make people think about how these areas will interact with energy. 

My relationship with my professors also helped when it came to the physical applications, as BSL students can enjoy a close [professional] relationship with their professors. When it came to requesting letters of recommendation, it was easier to get strong and individualized commentary from people who knew my capabilities.

 

What are your personal values and vision for the future? Do you have a message for prospective BSL students?

I would like to keep my horizons broad in terms of my plans. I would like to stay in Europe and learn more about energy because it is a very relevant topic and I think there is a need to approach it from every aspect. In the long term, I would like to be more involved in energy solutions across Europe and eventually in Armenia.  

My message to prospective and existing students is to make the most out of the freedom of a small business school where you can take the initiative to implement your own ideas and clubs. BSL continues to encourage students to create their own journey. So, take full advantage of every experience. 

BSL Alumnae, Ola Kayal, keeps it cool with Nabati a plant-based ice cream startup

For the next installment of our BSL careers office interview series, where we take a look at the post-BSL lives of our business and entrepreneurial graduates, we chatted with Ola Amro Kayal, founder of Nabati, an ice cream business with a twist. Based in Florida, USA, Nabati (meaning ‘plant-based’ in Arabic) is not your typical ice cream shop. It offers plant-based, organic, unrefined ice cream while sending an environmental message. All of the 100% plant-based ice cream, toppings, sauces, and desserts are served in biodegradable packaging. It is also a concept store, and they often collaborate with like-minded brands for various green campaigns.

OlaKayal_AtNabati_1_ByMelanieOlivaWhat degree did you received from BSL?

I graduated with a Bachelor in Business Administration with a focus on sustainability. I think we were the first group at BSL to do the switch to Sustainable Business as a subject. 

Which subjects and professors stood out to you most?

BSL was a very unique experience for me. I remember most of the content from my classes and, of course, all of my amazing professors. It was such a personal and hands-on learning experience, something I had never experienced before. I loved that all the professors were actually working in the industry they were teaching. What sticks with me the most is a class I had with Arash, Systems Thinking MIS. I also remember solving big problems with the fishing game simulation which was fun and informative. 

What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your studies and how have they helped you in your career? 

The case study approach left a mark on me as it made me realize that every situation in life is different. Of course, it’s always good to have a plan but it is also important to be adaptable to change. But I think the most important takeaway from my degree was that my education embedded in me a strong sense of sustainability in my lifestyle, actions and business decisions. From all that I learned at BSL, the question I still ask myself to this day is “What is the most sustainable way to operate?”. This keeps propelling me forward in my personal and professional life.  Nabati_Storefront_ByMelanieOliva

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in beginning your business?

What I learned from the outset is that every day brings a new set of challenges. Due to Nabati being based in Miami, USA, I faced a lot of challenges with acquiring the various permits for construction. Everything in this city requires a specific permit and costs a lot of money. Finding good quality workers and making sure they are satisfied is another challenge in itself. This continues to become a challenge, managing everyone’s personal needs and problems. Setting up standards and controlling them is something that is difficult to balance at first, but gets easier with experience. Delegating tasks is always tough when you are a perfectionist, so letting go of certain things and allowing others to handle them has been a point of personal growth for me. Marketing and getting my brand out to the public has also been challenging. The market for organic foods in the USA is already rather saturated, but plant-based ice cream is a unique offering. So getting the public to be able to know and differentiate the product is difficult, but we’re making headway!  

What have been your biggest wins so far and what would you attribute them to?

We have been fortunate enough to have numerous articles and publications favorably reviewing what Nabati is all about. There has been a lot of interest in us being the first 100% plant-based ice cream shop in Miami that is also plastic-free. We have recently been officially recognized by PETA which is amazing.

Nabati_OwnContainer_ByMelanieOliva

What is your vision for the business and your professional career going into the future? 

My dream is to have Nabati franchised in the USA. From there, I would love to open stores across the globe. We are now working on our wholesale capabilities with the aim to supply restaurants and shops in the USA. 

Do you believe that studying at BSL has provided you with a competitive advantage among your peers?

I think studying at BSL gave me a full overview of business administration with a real-world perspective. Gaining experience from industry professionals really helps you understand all the various and complex elements of running a business. It is cool to get the chance to put your theory into action. Like anything rewarding, it is challenging but also so exciting. If you have drive and passion to start your own business, then I would highly recommend BSL to gain valuable real-world experience.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to other budding entrepreneurs and business-focused students? 

I don’t only have one piece of advice, I have many! Have a plan but remember to be creatively adaptable. It’s important to know everything that is going on in your business, even if you are delegating something you should know how it is done to know what to expect. Finally, don’t be scared to make mistakes, that’s how you improve your business! And perhaps my most sage piece of advice: work hard – nothing good in life comes easy. 

Thank you for your time, Ola! It was truly insightful getting to know more about how you started your business and how your studies at BSL helped equip you with the necessary skills and perspective to create something of your own. From all of us at the BSL Careers Office, we wish you and Nabati continued success. Next time we’re in Florida we’ll be sure to try some of your delicious plant-based ice creams!

Swiss Education, Global Connections.

One of a very select group of Mauritian students (currently numbering one!) that has studied at BSL, Ravi Pariah joined the full-time MBA program in 2014. With a background in architecture, he took the decision to add to his practical abilities with business and management skills. Following a relocation to Switzerland, he enrolled at the school keen to build both his career and connections in a new part of the World.

MBA alumni pic“I was aware of the small class sizes before I enrolled and that was a big plus for me as the interaction between classmates promised to be a great benefit. I was also pleasantly surprised at the level of contact we had with other students across all classes as well. Of course, it was mainly fellow MBA classes that enrolled in the intake before or after mine, but the School as a whole has such a warm family feel that you soon get to know most of your fellow students.”

However, it is not only the camaraderie and connections that occurred during the study but also after graduation contact remains strong between BSL alumni. “It is a wonderful thing really, the global nature of the student body means that you can usually meet up with BSL people wherever you are.” He continues. “A few years ago I was traveling to Thailand, a country I did not know well at all. I reached out to the School to ask if they had the contacts for any former BSL students who were in the country. They were kind enough to send out an email on my behalf and through that, I was able to connect and meet socially with Alumni. In fact, one had graduated back in 2001 but still kept in touch with the school via newsletters and the like. It was great to meet up and compare notes of our experience.”

“I am also part of a WhatsApp group chat that is made up of MBA students from the spring and fall intakes of 2014 and some of the guys who started in 2015 also; there are over 30 people in there so there is always someone who is around. In my last role, I was traveling to LA quite often and decided to reach out on one occasion to see if anyone was going to be in the area. By coincidence a graduate from a later year from Germany was going to be there on Business at the same time, so we met up for dinner.”

In his new role, Ravi will be based solely in Geneva, but is still keen to ensure that he keeps his BSL connections “I understand one of the BSL group members has just opened a hotel and resort in beautiful coastal surfing areas in Costa Rica, so it may be time to connect!”

Empowering the societal transition

Impossible transition?

The daunting scale of societal transition we face in the next decade or two, to avert major disruption or even collapse of our complex civilization, makes most of us feel helpless and discouraged, leading to denial (Trump & Co), action paralysis (many European governments) or over-simplistic “solutions” with marginal impact (please recycle your PET).

How can we positively engage citizens and corporations to act with the required speed and determination?

The recently concluded BSL course “Implementing Sustainability Strategy”, as a mini-trial, offers hope. With nine participants, at least as many nationalities between us, a guest speaker, and myself as a learning facilitator, our management experience ranging from basic materials and finance to software and humanitarian operations – we co-created a 3-day piece of this journey together.

Preparation

To prepare, a few hours of reading and thinking before class helped participants catch up to the latest knowledge and insights. Additionally, answering a few questions helped crystalize one’s thoughts. Finally, in the classroom: rearranging furniture so we are all seated around one big table; then sharing interests and expectations.

Discovery

We quickly moved beyond alarming images showing the climate or biodiversity urgency, air or plastic pollution, and scientific papers explaining the foundations. It was important to put current developments in a proper context – which is the basis of any serious understanding.

We went on a “discovery journey” from the Big Bang (looking into energy, entropy, and life), the evolution of homo sapiens (power of storytelling, oldest remaining human civilizations, agricultural revolution, enlightenment, industrial revolution), economics (concept of GDP, neoclassical, environmental, ecological and other flavors, need for growth, the myth of decoupling, rebound effect), technology (coal, oil, Haber-Bosch, green revolution, absolute and practical limits, technology as master or servant?), finally reaching societal changes (poverty, consumer society, industrial food). Interestingly, most fundamental questions like “What’s the purpose of society” are rarely asked and almost never collectively answered.

Barefoot economics

A useful tool on this journey is Manfred Max-Neef’s “Barefoot economics”, which the author himself condenses in 5 brief yet deeply insightful statements:

  1. The economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy. 
  2. Development is about people and not about objects. 
  3. Growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth. 
  4. No economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services. 
  5. The economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.
BSL post

Process of Personal Transition, John Fisher, 2012

Application to business

Back to the classroom, back to the companies we work for: it was time to apply this broader understanding. After the usual impact, materiality and lifecycle analysis, we tried a novel approach, asking the questions “Why does this product exist at all?” and “Which human needs does it satisfy”, based on Max-Neef’s Fundamental Human Needs model. A lower-impact solution is then sought that satisfies the same needs. This iterative process works best if part of a broader employee and management engagement process, which we also practiced.

Additionally, our guest speaker Mark Posey shared his extensive experience of how this all came together in real life at Schindler. The discussion lasted three hours including lunch, time very well spent.

Throughout this intense course, to keep everyone engaged, we tried to maintain a good rhythm, alternating videos, reports, class discussion, scientific articles, teamwork and presentations, short explanations, and individual reflection.

Ecosystem services experienced first hand

Ecosystem services are benefits humans derive from biodiversity, such as provisioning (food, medicine), regulating (flood protection, climate), cultural (meaning, heritage, relaxation) and supporting (soil formation, nutrient cycling). Every class day, just before sunset, feeling totally exhausted, we went for a 40-min restorative nature walk. As a result, the long evening group assignment went until 21:45, yet we were fully motivated. What better way to experience the value of cultural ecosystem services?

Feeling empowered

If we could somehow combine a deep understanding of the current situation and how we got there, a humanist vision of society based on human thriving over generations, a determination to experiment in different local contexts, a shared success metric based of high human development and minimal environmental impact, and finally inspiration of past cases of mobilization to face big challenges (example: a short BBC video) – we might actually feel empowered to start the transformation.

This is precisely what we did on a tiny scale at BSL.

Sascha_NICK Author: Sascha Nick, BSL Professor