BSL journal: My amazing experience in China

To top off an already exceptionally rewarding studying experience pursuing my Master’s degree in International Business at BSL, I decided to head to China for one semester as an exchange student at the Renmin University of China in Beijing. I would soon realize that this would be one of the greatest decisions I ever made.

Changing my environment, leaving my comfort zone in Switzerland and moving halfway across the world for 5 months to study in a University of 25,000 students proved to be a unique experience which also turned out to be a very profitable adventure for me. As for my courses themselves, I took 3 classes per week during my 4 months which were similar to the ones in Lausanne. The biggest difference was the environment: Beijing is an impressive sprawling metropolis with 21 million people living together in the heart of the world’s soon-to-be primary economic powerhouse. I understand that everybody will have different experiences in this remarkable country, but I made mine a successful one by getting involved. I gave myself the goal to leave China with more than with what I arrived with.

bsl student china experiencesource: David Adrien Vanni via Techstars Global Startup Weekend Beijing

Thanks to my thesis topic about startups which I completed during my exchange, I have been fortunate enough to find myself involved in the startup world in China. Beijing is one of the most active startup centers in the world. I participated in a 54-hour creative weekend workshop where strangers meet and work together on an innovative idea and pitch it to a panel of professionals by the end of the weekend. My team was awarded 2nd place out of 12. From there, together with two members of my team, we decided to push our idea further and I integrated their startup 3 months later – an educational platform providing consulting and tutoring services to Chinese high-school students willing to enroll in top US and UK universities. I am now the Director of Business Development and a shareholder of a fast-growing startup with revenues in a $2 billion market.bsl student china

source: David Adrien Vanni via Techstars Global Startup Weekend Beijing

Life has so much to offer when you are genuine and committed, so don’t miss out and go the extra mile, it’s beautiful out there.

Author: David Adrien Vanni, BSL MIB Alumnus

Marco Piermartiri: a BSL Alumnus appointed COO of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce

marcoMarco Piermartiri, one of our EMBA Alumni, was recently appointed as Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, after an exciting career going from consultancy and entrepreneurship to telecom and digital transformation. Marco had already valuable touch-points with Chamber of Commerce, having collaborated with them as a Telecom and Digital transformation expert respectively in 2003 and in 2017. A professional marriage that was meant to happen?

Graduated from Business School Lausanne in 2000, Marco is a seasoned B2B and Digital transformation expert with a background in engineering who started his career with Swisscom when the company was still State-owned, climbing to the Director position of Enterprise Solutions in 1999.

Throughout his career, Marco covered executive roles as well as the role of entrepreneur: In 2005 he was Vice-President of Integrated Solutions (a local IT services company), selling the company and running the executive operations of the bigger buying firm, Business&Decision, where he managed to raise the numbers by three times (revenues, profits, collaborators) and to open subsidiaries in various cities throughout Switzerland. An important milestone in his career that set up the foundation for his own business consulting firm, ONDACO, which saw the light of the day in 2012.

Since a few weeks, a new chapter of his professional career has started, taking the lead on the business operations of the Chamber of Commerce in Geneva. The most exciting challenge is for him to transition from consulting to action, this new position will be a great way to provide tangible help to established companies, as well as recently launched enterprises and young entrepreneurs. Considering that the Geneva Chamber of Commerce is an absolutely independent and private economic association, although having a non-profit status, it actually operates as any private company does.

BSL congratulates Marco on this new adventure, being positive that once again he will keep our flag flying high.

Dani-Linkedin-300x300Author: Daniele Ticli, BSL Head of Careers and External Affairs

Learning Design for Millennials Measuring learning: are final exams relics of the past?

One of my father’s recurring nightmares is sitting a geometry exam. He has told me about it several times. I also have similar nightmares, very recently I dreamed the final exams period had started and I was not ready. Even when I woke up later, I could still feel the tension in my body! The gap between my father, myself and my students spans across four generations. I believe there are certain aspects of the educational system that have been taken as given for long, we neither question them nor try to change them. Final exams are one of them. “The thought of a final exam still gives me and my father nightmares, and I have not seen many students who are fond of the idea, neither have I seen a teacher who is keen on correcting exam papers, so how come they are still around?” I thought to myself a few years ago. I had always been reflecting on the effectiveness of final exams as a means of evaluation and finally decided not to give final exams anymore in the courses I teach. “But, how do you manage to measure learning and grade the students?” you may wonder.

I will give you a very recent example. This fall, I taught a course on Systems Thinking at Business School Lausanne, where the students did not have to take a final exam. Instead, they collectively created a blog that summarized and synthesized the most important lessons they had learned from taking the course. You can find their blog here https://bit.ly/2K0KRen.

BSL students

40% of the students’ grade came from the work they did on the blog and every single one of them received the maximum grade here. I will now outline here why I was convinced they all deserved it.

They spent much more time on creating the blog than they would have spent on preparing for the final exam. I asked them to create an activity log that captured what everyone did and how much time they spent doing it. As this was a publicly shared document and everyone including myself had access to it, there was no chance of free riding. The moment someone claimed they have completed a task, but was, in fact, incomplete or was done by someone else, others would have reacted to it. Towards the end of their work, we collectively decided it would not be necessary to keep track of activities as everyone thought the contributions were equal.

A friend of mine who was part of a rowing team, once told me that a competition was approaching and her team had to prepare for it. The team met at 5 a.m. every other day for six months. “There was no way to stay in bed and ignore the alarm. My other seven team members would be there waiting for me,” she said. Perhaps, this was something every member of the team was thinking and it was difficult for all of them to get up regularly at that early hour for such a long time, but the team spirit made them get up on those mornings and put in that effort. She later said that they won the championship that year and she regarded this as one of her best experiences. A similar situation happened in the case of my young bloggers. Almost all my 17 students met outside class hours, sometimes on days, they did not have any courses at Business School. They did not want to disappoint their friends. They all managed to put in the effort. At the end of the day, some ended up doing more than others, but those who did less did much more than they would have otherwise done, had they been faced with a final exam.

Teaching is the best way to learn. I made it clear that the blog should be written for those who were completely new to systems thinking, with no technical background. Achieving this meant that learning the course content became a secondary challenge. As a guitar player, once I heard a valuable advice that if I am not able to play a part, I should try playing something that is a bit more complicated, even if I keep on failing at it. After a while when I go back to the original challenge, much to my surprise, it is not a challenge anymore. The same thing happened with my students. There are so many ways that the way they presented the content in their blog can be improved, but here the blog was not an end, it was a means, a transitional object, and a vehicle for learning the course materials.

In their journey to create the blog, they developed various soft skills, such as working in teams, writing, creating short tutorials, project management, etc. Based on my experience, I have realized that the best way of designing for learning soft skills is as a by-product and in an emergent way. Such skills are not best transferred in a direct and intentional fashion. They should emerge as a result of carrying out other tasks. In addition, my course was the first occasion for many of these students to meet. The blog they created provided an opportunity for them to get to know one another and made them closer as classmates. Their collective effort resulted in the creation of cohesion among them as a class. It made the whole class a very well-functioning, self-organizing team.

In retrospect, there was no better way I could have directed them towards learning and internalizing systems thinking concepts than having them create the blog. There were a few technicalities involved in how this happened.
– I gave them the choice between creating the blog and doing the final exam. I could clearly see that anything that exempts them from doing the final exam would be a joy for them. In other words, in their view, nothing can be worse than a final exam and avoiding final exam served as a good incentive for them to create the blog.
– I told them that we can skip the final exam only if they do a great job with the blog. I even told them that their work will be evaluated by how many readers they can attract to the blog.
– I followed their progress on a continuous basis, tracked the changes they made and met with them outside course hours to give them feedback to improve their work. I wanted them to feel that what they are doing is important to me.
– Another acceptance condition I put forth was that everyone should know all the contents of the blogs since it would not make sense if an author is not aware of the contents of what he/she has created.

My final question for all learners and learning designers: are final exams relics of the past? What other components of the current educational system can be replaced, modified or improved?

Stay tuned for the next blogs in this series and Keep on Learning!

Learning Design for Millennials is a blog series capturing Arash’s experience as a learner and an educator.

Profile Pic_ArashAuthor: Dr. Arash Golnam, BSL Professor

 

A tribute to Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-general

Kofi Annan

I was saddened this weekend when I heard on the Swiss TV about the death of Kofi Annan, who died on Saturday, August 18, 2018 in Bern, Switzerland at the age of 80.

Born in 1938 in Kumasi, Ghana, Kofi Annan started his UN career at the World Health Organization in Geneva at the age of 24. He moved rapidly within the international organization and became deputy director of UNHCR. He was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1997.

In his opening speech as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan spoke about his agenda and already mentioned fighting poverty and AIDS as well as addressing global warming as priorities for the United Nations.

During his mandate, his life-long commitment to peace was recognized worldwide when he was co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with the UN in 2001.

He left his position at the UN in 2006, but continued working with the same energy for the enhancement of peace through his engagement with the Elders, a group of former diplomats founded by Nelson Mandela, whose members regularly meet and plan discreet interventions in world conflicts.  In 2013, he succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu as Chairman of this group. The list of members, including BSL Doctor H.C. Mary Robinson, can be found following this link: https://theelders.org/

The intense collaboration of these people and their close friendship is reflected in the words of Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and Deputy Chair of The Elders:

“We are devastated at the loss of our dear friend and fellow Elder. Kofi was a strong and inspiring presence to us all, and The Elders would not be where it is today without his leadership. Throughout his life, Kofi worked unceasingly to improve the lives of millions of people around the world. While we mourn his passing today, we resolve as Elders to continue to uphold his values and legacy into the future”.

There are now numerous obituaries and tributes in newspapers, websites, etc. all justifiably insisting on Kofi Annan’s crucial role for a better world.

I don’t intend here to cite all his achievements, which would be incredibly difficult,  I prefer to develop reflections related to three points: the launch of the UN Global Compact, the Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation (https://www.kabsf.org/) and the strong links of Kofi Annan with our country, Switzerland.

UN Global Compact

Personally, I was very impressed by the fact that Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the UN, launched the UN Global Compact. Kofi Annan announced it at the World Economic Forum on 31 January 1999, and the Global Compact was officially launched at the UN Headquarters in New York on 26 July 2000.

It was truly visionary, in particular for someone who dedicated his career to diplomacy and was used to dealing with governments, to understand the crucial role that companies of all sizes from SMEs to big multinational corporations should play in the development of a better world.

Mr. Annan asked corporate leaders to commit publicly to Ten Principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment and anti-corruption, encouraging businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation.

The UN Global Compact is now the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative with 13’000 corporate participants in over 170 countries. It supports the broader UN goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Joining the UN Global Compact in 2006 and taking part in the activities of the Swiss network was a first step in the sustainability journey of BSL.

The Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation

The aim of this Foundation, a part of the larger Kofi Annan Foundation, is clearly explained on their website: “The idea behind the Foundation is to facilitate access to Masters and MBA education at leading business schools for those from Least Developed Countries. The aim is to provide opportunity for talented and motivated individuals from these countries, who do not belong to a privileged class and lack sufficient financial means to graduate with a degree from an international business school. Upon return to their home countries (a condition of the Fellowship), the Fellows are expected to contribute to the strengthening of entrepreneurial capacity and the fostering of a stable market economy as an effective catalyst for their country’s development, job creation and poverty alleviation”.

 What is very interesting in my opinion in this statement is the snowball effect it implies. If the scholarships help talented students to reach their goals, by coming back to their home country these educated people can contribute to the development of Least Developed Countries.

BSL sponsored a few students from African countries over the past years.

The links of Kofi Annan with Switzerland

In 2006, Kofi Annan was awarded the “Prix de la Fondation pour Genève”. In his speech as the recipient of the prize, Mr. Annan reminded us of a few facts: He was a student at the “Institut Universitaire des Hautes Etudes Internationales” in the early 60s and started his UN career at the WHO whose headquarters are in Geneva. He also met his second wife, Nane Lagergren, in Geneva.

In his speech he also mentioned that no other city in the world counts as many international organizations and institutions.

When he left the UN in 2006, Kofi Annan chose to settle in Geneva.

Among the Swiss personalities who made public declarations after Kofi Annan’s death, I would like to mention Jean Ziegler, who was a student at IUHEI at the same time than Kofi Annan and remained a friend of his. Jean Ziegler was chosen by him as the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in 2000.

Dr. Joseph DeissDr. Joseph Deiss at BSL, when he was President of UN General Assembly (2010)

I would also like to mention Joseph Deiss, a former President of the Swiss Confederation and another Dr. H.C. of BSL. Joseph Deiss insists in an interview published in Geneva based newspaper Le Temps on how welcoming Kofi Annan was towards Switzerland and how he alleviated his hesitations to ask the Swiss population if they wanted to join the UN. Dr. Deiss also believes that Kofi Annan increased the confidence of his compatriots in the organization. In fact, the adhesion to the UN had been rejected by 75 % of the Swiss population in 1986, but in 2002, it was accepted by 54 % of the population and by 12 cantons against 11.

If Switzerland was only the 190th country to join the UN, it was the first one to do it as the consequence of a popular vote.

We, the BSL Community, are truly and deeply saddened by this news. Our heartfelt condolences go out to all his family and friends. This world will never forget your significant impact and we are all honored and blessed to have been alive during the time you brought such significant change, which touched the lives of so many. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and may your soul rest in peace.

 

 Author: Philippe Du Pasquier, President of the Board

Knowledge Café – insights discovery

Peter Jacsman and I attended Gurteen’s Knowledge Café master class in Bern last year and had some great insights.

Many people have pointed to the power of conversations and the importance of being present in the moment. Gurteen’s perspective is very similar. It is about the conversations that take place and not the harvesting of conversations, nor the outcomes that may be written down. It is what the conversations spark in people and leave with them to take forward; whether today, tomorrow or in six months. Like me, many participants were focused on what to do after the conversations.

V.S blog

What Gurteen emphasized is precisely not that. Gurteen asks us to stay away from writing what it is that we are talking about because it takes away from the moment. This brought me back to the concept of presencing which is found in in Presence by Senge, Jaworsky, Flowers, and Otto Scharmer, best known for the Theory U and U Lab.

Lessons learned

It’s about:

  • The Journey – the process over the product
  • Connection before content
  • Listening – learning from silence
  • Developing and building trust; building relationships
  • Creative destruction of structure: breaking down structure
  • Democratisation of group conversation
  • Bringing out the Potential in people
  • Avoiding distractions such as pen and paper to write or take notes
  • Conversations that are personal and social, that come with emotions, behaviours and so much more
  • What works best with a group that gets together to discuss common interests, which comes together voluntarily as a stand-alone “tool”

In an organisational environment the knowledge cafe is one tool amongst many and could be used in a problem-solving or decision-making process.

More information: David Gurteen 

Author: Véronique Sikora, Professor at BSL

Retrospect – Make your Impact as a Creative Leader Event

When I think of unleashed creativity, I think of the great artists and savants who have changed the world, and I tend to place them in the category of “superhuman”. At the “Make your Impact as a Creative Leader” event, we were all challenged to think otherwise. Creative leadership is attainable, but unlocking that potential requires us to go through the path less travelled – the path into ourselves. We are so busy looking outside for the right circumstances that we ignore the internal barriers that sabotage our potential. “Break your own rules” was the first lesson Elaine Frances taught us that afternoon. Break the rules inside your head and the rules in your life by listening carefully to thoughts that tell you “cannot”, “should not”, “must not”. The path of the creative leader starts with self-compassion, because there will be many opportunities to fail. With self-compassion, we can always learn, grow and see our failures as progress. Therefore, be kind to yourself, and set a framework where there are no bad ideas and all perspectives are valuable.
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Action Calls against Prejudices and Labels against Women as Powerful Competitive Brand Positioning

More and more brands discover the power of taking positions for a cause as strategic brand positioning statement. After Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign  (watch the video here) and its Self-Esteem Fund, a CSR consequence of it, Vitoria’s Secret’s “Love My Body Campaign”, and HNS (Healthy is the New Skinny) that promotes “women with real curves”, it’s now P&G’s cosmetics brand PANTENE that launched a “Be Strong and Shine” campaign to raise awareness of wrong labels against women, particularly in Philippines:


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Reflections on authentic communication

Following a special training given by Yiftach Sagiv, Professor and Trainer in Leadership & Communications at BSL, I felt like sharing a few thoughts on authentic communication.

The way you communicate is not the result of your culture nor of your language.  Rather, it is the result of the style you adopt – by choice or by default.  Do you have heated discussions or conflicts with your friend, your mother, your neighbour or your brother?  Do you wonder why your best friend sometimes does not understand you? Continue reading