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

12 Images of an effective learning environment

For quite some time, I have been thinking about the characteristics of an effective learning environment. My objective was to compile a list of ideas in response to the question “What makes a learning environment an effective one?”

Recently, I read the book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert. First published in 1980, this book includes Papert’s arguments in favor of using computers as a learning tool in an educational setting. Being an education theorist, Papert characterizes the essential properties of an effective educational system. I was amazed at how close the ideas presented by the author were to my experiences as an educator. Therefore, I thought it was time for me to present the twelve images that characterize an effective learning environment as seen by Papert and experienced by myself.

  1. In an effective learning environment, learning occurs naturally as a byproduct of the learners’ interactions with their surroundings, without the need of structured teaching (e.g. lectures, presentations), similar to the way a child learns to talk or walk. In such environments, learning occurs through embodied experiences that engage a full range of human sensitivities in an interactive and spontaneous way.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the educator focuses on creating personally meaningful and intellectually coherent learning experiences for the learners. In such environments, learning is not separate from reality. The learners are thereby not left alone in making sense of what they learn and are guided by the educators in their journeys of reconciling, accommodating and assimilating new knowledge within their existing intellectual structures.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners and educators both challenge themselves by venturing into the unknown and going into a space that is out of the boundaries of their comfort zones. They give themselves permission to fail and learn from their failures. In such environments, exploration, failure, and discovery are key ingredients of the learning process.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners make the newly acquired knowledge and ideas their own. They deconstruct what they learn into fundamental ideas, reshuffle and combine them in new and innovative ways and generate a personalized way of applying and communicating what they have learned.
  1. In an effective learning environment, theoretical knowledge is a means to amplify and expand the learners’ intuitive understanding of their surroundings. In such environments, not only does theoretical knowledge not oppose the intuitive insights of the learners, but it also serves as a mechanism through which the learners can enhance and refine their intuition, and subsequently their creative capacity.
  1. In an effective learning environment, interaction, communication and collaboration amongst the learners and between the learners and the educators are facilitated and enriched. In such environments dialogues are viewed as a free flow of meaning and knowledge is viewed as a means of creating harmony between the learners and their surroundings.
  1. In an effective learning environment, measuring learning provides an opportunity for more learning, rather than hampering it. Therefore, the learner’s understanding of a subject matter is not merely judged as “right” or “wrong” but considered, by the educator, as a powerful starting point and a foothold for designing further learning.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learner and the educator’s roles are interchangeable. In such environments, learners learn from their peers, realizing that the educator’s role is not exclusive to the educator and that they themselves can be sources of inspiration when it comes to knowledge acquisition and development. Educators also realize that to be an educator is synonymous with being a lifelong learner.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the learners learn from the educators not by “what they say” but by “what they do”. In such an environment, the educators are the embodiment of the ideas that they want the learners to encounter, and they look sensitively for conflicts between what they preach and what they practice (i.e., their stated and revealed preferences).
  1. In an effective learning environment, both the learners and educators think about the ways they think and learn about the ways they learn. In such environments, every topic provides the learners and educators with an opportunity to become a better learner and thinker by reflecting upon their assumptions, mental models and cognitive heuristics and biases.
  1. In an effective learning environment, learning is an interdisciplinary undertaking. Meaning that, boundaries between different disciplines fade and that learners and educators are encouraged to transfer insights from one field of inquiry to another. In such environments, the focus is on creating connections between seemingly different ideas.
  1. In an effective learning environment, the fundamental assumptions underlying what constitutes an effective learning environment are continually challenged and critically reflected upon. In such environments, education is viewed as a fluid and ever-changing phenomenon that should dynamically adapt to cultural, pedagogical, scientific and technological developments.

I hope these 12 images can give you a bigger picture of an effective learning environment. While compiling this list, I quickly realized that each of these 12 images deserves a more in-depth treatment. Therefore, my intention is to elaborate on every point and exemplify it with instances and cases from my own learning design activities. So, stay tuned for the next entries in this series. Meanwhile, if you think some more ideas need to be added to this list, please do not hesitate to leave a comment. I would also be happy to know which of these images resonated most with you.

arash golnamAuthor: Dr. Arash Golnam, BSL Professor