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. 

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

An exotic Internship between BSL & Sumba Hospitality Foundation

In 2017, Business School Lausanne (BSL) and Sumba Hospitality Foundation (SHF) in Indonesia co-created an Internship program tailor-made for BSL students called Sustainable Development Internship.

You may wonder, what is Sumba? And what do they do? So, let us share a brief presentation of this Foundation. SHF offers a vocational training in hospitality for Sumbanese underprivileged youth. The holistic education program provides students with general courses and enables them to graduate in Culinary, Food & Beverage Service, Housekeeping or Front office. To allow the students to apply and train their skills, SHF has opened ten luxury guest pavilions, a SPA as well as a restaurant & bar to the public. Education, environmental awareness and sustainability are the three most important principles of the foundation. It is in the belief of the foundation that tourism can be a positive force in poverty-stricken regions particularly when its community is involved in the process. The goal of the foundation is to assist in providing viable employment to Sumba’s young inhabitants and break the cycle of poverty while also protecting the environment and their culture.

A large part of the campus is dedicated to the growth and maintenance of a sustainable, organic farm, created with the precepts of the burgeoning field of permaculture in mind. Produce from the land are used in the restaurant and the students are taught current farming methods with guidelines to better cultivate their land. SHF aims to raise the students’ awareness of their environment. The school is powered entirely by solar energy allowing SHF to be completely off the grid and re-uses wastewater for irrigation.

One of our BSL students on Sumba Island, Morgan Manin, is doing his internship as part of his Capstone Project (Master of International Business); I took the opportunity to ask him via email for a preliminary description of his internship, to share with our community.

BSL internship

“Reading about SHF on the website and social media made me choose it to do my internship, as my values match perfectly with the foundation’s values and I believe that I will be learning a lot during my Sustainable Development Internship. After the first week, I have identified areas where I could be helpful and learn, which I can summarize with three main tasks and responsibilities. The first one is to analyze the financials at SHF and therefore create a budget for each department meaning the actual school, the administration, the hotel, sustainability and the F&B, including an indication of Capex by departments. I will also guide the SHF finance team towards greater transparency and define cost improvement initiatives.

The second main responsibility I have is to create a Triple Bottom Line Reporting (TBL). TBL is a progressive mode of reporting and seems suited to the SHF. Sustainability centric practices are deeply entrenched in the DNA of the SHF business model. Environmental and social responsibility sit at the core of daily practices and this alongside the true cost of these operationalized initiatives must be reported. I will then gather information to facilitate understanding around the social, environmental and economic practices of SHF. I will conduct research into TBL, using these understandings and research knowledge, with the aim to create a presentation that highlights sound reasoning and justifies or rejects TBL as a means of reporting at SHF. If TBL is found to be preferred mode of reporting, the presentation will include a step-by-step guide detailing a prescribed pathway toward the implementation of TBL reporting at SHF, and then create the strategy that details how to implement TBL as the reporting mechanism for SHF. In the event that SHF management decides to implement TBL as their primary mode of reporting, I will then begin the process of implementation.

To finish, I will be the IT ‘go-to’ person for the team, helping everyone out on Excel, Word, etc.

I will also consider improved ways of using IT for communication for the SHF team.

Before I arrived here, it was planned that I would have to formulate a business plan to be shared with others wanting to duplicate the model of the SHF. I will, therefore, formulate a business plan, constructed in such a way that it has the capacity to facilitate like-minded operators wanting to duplicate the SHF model.

In addition to my primary tasks and responsibilities, I will have ad-hoc tasks set by the Executive Director, I will take care of the students during their study hours and exams as well as shepherding them at night and being in charge of sport activities for the students; also, I will monitor Community English classes for young Sumbanese children living in the neighborhood.

I strongly believe that I will learn so much through this experience, being in a different environment, living in this community, having multiple tasks matching with what I have learned at BSL, and matching the BSL values”.

Morgan, we are all proud of you, we wish you a great experience and let’s see if we can come visit you at some point on that amazing island!

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

Is sustainable finance becoming mainstream?

The Swiss newspaper Le Temps published a very interesting article on June 20 by Emmanuel Garessus on the topic of sustainable finance.

Based on a study published by Morgan Stanley the day before, sustainable investments worldwide reached a total amount of 22’800 billion dollars, and can no longer be considered a niche market. This means that a quarter of total investments made by professionals are following ESG (environmental, social and governance) criteria.

The annual growth rate of sustainable investments currently amounts to 11.9 % and continues to grow.

The majority of institutional investors, such as pension funds, foundations, insurance companies and sovereign funds, are now investing in this field, which used to be a niche a few years ago. Hedge funds are an exception to this trend.

Europe (12’000 billion dollars) and the United States (8’800 billion dollars) are major players in this field. Theme wise, climate change occupies the top position, ahead of inclusive growth and gender diversity.

Risk mitigation and potential return on investment are the main reasons why professionals invest in sustainable finance.

When I read the article in Le Temps, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is very encouraging to see how quickly sustainable investments are increasing all over the world. On the other, we should remain aware that there are different levels of commitment from investors with regards to sustainable investments. A first level is exclusion (we just choose not to invest in the tobacco industry or in casinos, e.g.). A second level is the so-called “Best in class” approach where we decide to invest in company A instead of company B, because the former one has a better rating according to ESG criteria, even if we invest in non-renewable energy sources. The third level is impact investing where we select companies, which bring a real progress to the world, by addressing environmental or social issues and contributing to reach the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t give any indication on the way the total amount of sustainable investment is shared between these different levels.

My personal opinion on this topic is that a shift towards more progressive and impactful levels of sustainable investments is as important as the total amount of these investments.

For that reason, the world needs more and more finance professionals with a solid background in sustainability, both at investing companies or institutions and at rating companies.

Philippe Du Pasquier, President of the Board

Appreciative Inquiry, Business Innovation and the SDGs – A winning combination

For the first time in September 2017 Business School Lausanne designed a case study course that used the UN Global Goals as a lens for students to take a step closer to business innovation in their community, exploring companies that are both profitable and doing good in the world.

In Part 1 of the course students needed to research a company they believe are doing work related to the SDGs. The students job was to help the company to uncover and reveal an important story that has happened to them related to a recent project where clearly “good for the world” was created, sometimes even unintentionally.

To find out whether their discovery was valid, they had a wealth of information available to them on the Aim2Flourish platform regarding the sustainable development goals and corporate innovation. Once a company and a contact person had been identified, students reached out through the power of our professional networks to connect, explain their intention, and set up an in-person interview with the specific business leader. The interview was prepared beforehand in class using the appreciative inquiry method. Based on the information interview and their additional research, students then wrote their stories and we went through a few rounds of revisions before submitting them to the AIM2Flourish platform. From the outset students knew they were part of a competition for the most innovative stories and that there was a possibility that their story would be chosen the following year as one of the best-of-the-best stories.

Early April I received a message from Aim2Flourish requesting confirmation that all the information in one of the stories written by a student was valid. I reached out to the company in question and liaised with the press department, made some modifications and on April 16, 2018  was advised that the story written by Karim Albekov had been awarded one of the 17 Flourish Prizes, based on the Promoting Gender Equity story he had written about the organization: IKEA.

This business’ story was selected as one of the 17 best stories exemplifying how business is a positive force for good and demonstrating progress towards the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) published on the AIM2Flourish platform in 2018.

AIM2Flourish is a UN-supported global learning initiative where students discover and celebrate untold stories about business innovations for good, using the 17 SDGs as a lens. AIM2Flourish is an initiative of the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at the Weatherhead School of Management – Case Western Reserve University.

Please join me in congratulating Karim Albekov for this excellent accomplishment and to all the other students who submitted their stories;  Alexandros Katsidonis,  Anna Iskanderova, Arsen Amanbayev, Lisa Foffano and Ana Cristina Junquira Ottoni. Give them all a big round of applause at graduation this summer for being the first to try and the first to succeed!

This year, Aim2Flourish will celebrate all of their 2018 Flourish Prize winners in a week-long, virtual celebration from May 7-11. During this time Aim2Flourish will host a global, multi-day celebration via our social channels on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, and Zoom Video Conference with the hashtag #FlourishPrizes2018.

 

Author:

Nadene Canning, BSL Professor

 

Innovation at BSL: MEDICLY – A transparent blockchain healthcare system

Edited by Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers, Gap Frame Week designer and orchestrator

Student Group 1: Mariam Rawashdeh, Alexandra Gritsenko, Abdulkader AL Muhaidib, Andre Linney, Edoardo Danisi, Conrad Zawadzki, Mathieu Feltzinger, Grigory Klyuev, Tarek Talaat

DAY 1 – Ideation

Here we go, dear Readers; we are starting our Spring 2018 Gap Frame Week journey and this is our blog. Our group experience began with everyone introducing himself or herself and sharing personal insights. Out of the 8 members of our group, we had 7 different nationalities. This diversity helped us to get many initial ideas (80, to be precise) and different points of view.

We then discussed personal stories from our countries in connection to the health topic that we had unanimously chosen. What emerged is that health is certainly a multifaceted issue with many issues that need to be addressed. For example, we found during our research that even in developed countries, abuse and misinformation linked to use of medication is prevalent. What do guys think ? Is this a real issue?

While we talked, project ideas started to take shape, such as creating a transparent block chain healthcare system in which hospitals and pharmacies worldwide would be able to access the health background of virtually any patient. We discussed the pros and cons of a concept we called MEDICLY whereby any medical center or pharmacy across the globe could have access to an individual’s health record. The idea seemed appealing but we debated about the challenges of applying such an idea worldwide. For example, we established that there would be knowledge and communication barriers. Since we realized that applying this idea worldwide would be an immense challenge, we decide to stay at a country level, and to focus on Poland.

DAY 2 – Flexing of ideas

Let’s start the second day ! Our first task of the day was to identify relevant stakeholders. We then had to decide on some strategies to explore the feasibility of our Day 1 ideas.

The stakeholders we researched were Customers of companies, Cities & communities. Financial institutions, Consumers, Government and Regulators.

Customers of companies

We interviewed a pharmacist who was delighted with the idea and told us he would agree to take part in such a the project if it were launched. He found it simple, obvious and beneficial not only for the pharmaceutical business but for the entire health-care system.

Cities & communities

For cities & communities we sent an email to a local commune asking them about their opinions regarding the project, whether they would implement it in their commune and whether it is beneficial to them ? We also asked how it could work with local and Swiss regulations (knowing that in Switzerland, each commune is different).

Financial institutions

For financial institutions we interviewed an investor. The interviewed person said that he is observing a tremendous shift in technology and a tendency towards dealing with finance in very different ways (such as cryptocurrency). Medical health-care is an important aspect of human social existence and well-being. In his view, inefficiencies in the healthcare system inevitably translate into big problems for society. The investor we interviewed said that he believes in our idea and could see a future scenario where it may be possible to introduce it.

Consumer

For a consumer perspective, we interviewed fellow students of BSL and staff. The questions we asked were:

  • Do you think the current system of medical prescriptions is fair and functional?
  • Have you ever had any issues in trying to retrieve your or others medical records?
  • Do you know your blood type? If yes, do you have the blood type card with u at all times?
  • Do you know you if you have any allergies?
  • Do you think medical prescriptions are currently too easy or hard to get?

We concluded from the interviews that we had identified a problematic issue. People thought the idea was good but that there would probably be issues to solve regarding the handling of personal information and cloud safety (cybersecurity).

Government and Regulators

For governments & regulators, our team member contacted the Polish Health Ministry. We are still waiting for an answer….oh well…..you can’t win them all!

DAY 3 – Prototyping our concept

Today, we presented our project to all the students and faculty in the main auditorium. We got questions on how could we safely store patient data, and we had an interesting discussion around the block chain idea. Later in the day, we moved on to prototyping our idea. First, we carried out more research to get data that are more concrete and we decided to focus on the U.S. rather than Poland. Second, we shared all the information that different members of the team had been working on, combining and structuring our resources.

Back in our innovation space after our lunch break, we started working on the 10-prototyping criteria provided. We also made some decisions about what our slogan should be. Options we considered were: “partner in life”, “accessibility”, “partner for health”, “private health directory”, and we settled on the latter.

Once we finished the answers we went over the work done and refreshed everything for the opportunity we would have the next day to share our ideas with others and build on them (we call this session the “Frenzy”).

DAY 4 – Refining our prototype

Dear Readers: Here is the last part of our Spring 2018 Gap Frame Week blog!!! On this – the 4th day – we started organizing and planning for the Frenzy. We created posters and finalized the presentation, We even spoke with one of the other groups working on a health challenge also. We discovered that we had synergies and that seeking a partnership with the other student team might even make sense.

During the Frenzy we gave each other feedback. Our fellow students were highly engaged and gave many positive comments.

However, other students really wanted to understand how to ensure a sustainable flow of funding for the project once the program is sold to, for example, the government. We definitely need to focus on the funding model at our next Gap Frame Week in the Summer of 2018.

Once we integrated the feedback, we finished the presentation by adding our draft financial plan.

Phew…..we were finally done! Our team presenter rehearsed in front of everyone as, on the Friday – final day – we would only be allowed an 8 minute presentation. Wish us luck!!

 

BSL Gap Frame Innovation Week, Spring 2018: Is the world all set for MySet?

Blog by Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers with video blog by Student Group 2: Anastasiya Markova, Armen Danielyan, James Polit, Julia Bogle, Mathis Chailleux, Napat Suttaponga, Umar Kalanov, Vasily Zhuraviev, Victor Marinescu.

As promised, this is the first of several blogs relating to student output from our Spring Gap Frame Week 2018 prototyping exercise. We want our readers to share in the “buzz” that these weeks create within BSL. And we hope to inspire some of you also. Please refer to this article to understand more in detail what the BSL Gap Frame Week is all about. The short explanation is that the Gap Frame Week is an opportunity for our students to work on prototyping solutions and even start-ups addressing some of the world’s most formidable sustainability dilemmas. In Spring 2018, the students tackled social issues.

Of the eight groups that presented early prototypes of solutions to world social issues, an expert faculty panel on Day 5 felt that Group 2: MySet ticked many boxes in terms of the potential outreach and impact of the idea, if marketed carefully and in the right way.

So what is the concept idea that was prototyped, MySet, all about? In innovation, the best place to start is always with the problem the solution is trying to solve. Group 2 decided to address Education as the social issue worthy of their attention. Their research indicated that students in developing countries often do not have enough seating in their school classrooms. Small children often squeeze into cramped desks, several at a time, or even have to sit on the floor to attend their classes. India is a case in point where 75% of schools in rural areas have this problem. This leads to difficulties concentrating and learning, and even to longer-term physical problems since students are forced to sit in unnatural positions.

What proposed solution did Group 2 come up with? The MySet concept proposes an affordable, light, adjustable chair set made from recycled material. If marketed to the right target audience (obviously, since parents are too poor to afford such a solution, charitable foundations, NGOs and aid agencies would be an interesting target), MySet has the potential to be an interesting proposition. Clever idea. Let’s see how Group 2 does in developing this early prototype into a full blown start-up ready to attract investor interest, with a corresponding exhibition space during our next GFW in May.

The video blog produced by the Group 2 students listed above gives an idea of the journey they took to arrive at their final prototype. Click HERE to view; enjoy!

 

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Gap Frame Week designer and orchestrator

BSL and innovation: Does BSL’s Gap Frame Week create value for society?

At Business School Lausanne, we are proud to offer a highly dynamic Gap Frame Week (GFW) experience to our students four times a year. What does this mean, and what happens during these weeks? Well, you might be surprised to learn that our students work in teams to co-create solutions to the world’s most problematic social, environmental, economic and governance issues. Ambitious: yes!  A tough call: yes!  But no one ever said business school should be easy. As the GFW designer, I incorporate a variety of co-creative techniques including World Café and Collaboratories to get our students thinking “out of the box”, but I have also designed the week with a strong red thread of design thinking processes throughout to encourage open innovation and create an inspirational learning context.

Click HERE for a short video of our students in action during the BSL Gap Frame Week.

Design thinking is a process whereby we seek primarily to understand the people for whom we are designing products or services. Design thinking helps us to question “norms” or fixed mindsets, challenge assumptions about “what they want”, change levels of understanding in the innovation teams, and redefine problems in order to find a better fit between “the problem” and “the solution”.  Design thinking is not only a solutions-based approach to solving problems, but also a whole way of thinking and working in itself. It is a good choice for our BSL GFW innovation week because it is so useful in helping to tackle problems that are not very well defined or are even unknown. And since during the GFW, we are tackling problems that the world’s best minds have not yet resolved, we need all the help we can get!

During each Gap Frame week, our BSL students generate new matches between solutions and needs that truly create value for society. And who knows, maybe some will carry a brilliant business idea out of BSL and create value in the real world! We encouraged our students to write blogs recounting their experiences during the last GFW in Spring 2018, so that you too can have a taste of what the students achieve.  Some great examples will be showcased in a series of blogs leading up to our next GFW from 14 to 18 May, 2018. Keep reading our blogs over the next 4 weeks!

 

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Gap Frame Week designer and orchestrator

The man who could not move, but moved many: Professor Stephen Hawking

On 14th March 2018, the world sadly lost not only a brilliant and respected scientist who courageously triumphed over his own debilitating handicap, but also a highly valued sustainability ambassador and guide amongst the general chaos of thought leadership today. In learning this morning of Stephen Hawking’s demise at the age of 76, I recalled a favorite quote that is often attributed to him (but not proven to be something that he actually ever said):

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Even if this great man never said this, it is a fine reflection of the underlying principle of his work and teachings. Nowadays, propagating an “illusion of knowledge” is a risk that all business schools need to take seriously. We live in an age when “fake news” is being purposely fed into information feedback loops, even by world leaders of democratic societies (I am purposely not mentioning any names!). We are witnessing an unprecedented era where truthful news outlets and honest agencies are easily undermined with accusations of fakery capable of sowing seeds of societal doubt around even scientifically proven facts. Indeed, fake news proliferates in today’s avalanche of information, creating an illusion of knowledge whereas in fact, we are sometimes being kept in ignorance. How can we see the wood for the trees? How do you fight against the “illusion of knowledge” enemy? We need to be ever more vigilant about developing skills in our BSL students that help them to critically assess content that uses new media forms, determine deeper meaning to events and language, properly “join the dots” and understand the world around them based on expert exploration and observation of facts, not fiction.

The vision and purpose of BSL is built around a pragmatic view that there are scientific and social realities – fact, not fiction – that the business world, and thus business people need to catapult to the top of their strategic priority list. Climate change mitigation and adaptation, for example, are amongst these critical realities. When the United States dropped out of the Paris climate agreement, Hawking was one of many credible voices to react, armed with the sheer weight of his own profound scientific knowledge. He wryly observed that Trump’s actions would certainly cause damage to our beautiful planet, and would ultimately bring humanity much closer to a tipping point where the Earth’s systems would break down, disabling humanity’s existence, and ultimately coming to resemble the inhospitable system of planet Venus. Remember that Hawking was a harbinger of doom, suggesting in 2016 that humanity would ultimately have no choice but to find an alternative planet to live on within the following 1000 years. He controversially modified this projection to 100 years just six months later, saying that escalating conflicts, development of militarized technology, weapons of mass destruction, threats from artificial intelligence and general geopolitics had massively increased the likelihood of collapse.

The objective of seeking another host planet for humanity is squarely on the agenda of one of the world’s most recognizable business figures today, Elon Musk, who also suspects that humanity may be doomed for the same reasons outlined by Hawking. His project to colonize Mars has the laudable aim of creating a safety net for humanity (preferably making money, and lots of it, at the same time….). However, the best hope for survival of humanity is still to act on the looming threat of climate change right here and now. For Hawking, we had already reached the eleventh hour, but it was still not too late. As he said in 2017: “Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now. “

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant ambassador for the thousands of scientists in the world that have placed their knowledge about the reasons for, effects of and solutions to climate change at the disposal of the business community. He knew that the illusion of believing that climate change was not happening was a force to fight against. Despite his own physical immobility, he also knew he could mobilize people by using his credible and highly respected voice. He exercised that power responsibly and sensitively. We join with many in the academic community that mourn the loss of such a spokesperson in a world where true and authentic leadership is increasingly rare and questioned.

 

Ionescu-AileenPICTURE-150x150Author: Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Active in thought leadership, consulting, applied research, teaching and supervising DBA candidates in sustainability & responsibility.

Philip Morris International & Sustainable Change

Sustainability is a highly complex concept that, at times, might be hard to integrate in a business environment. However, even companies that were not built with a sustainable focus in mind can turn the leaf and make a real change. A great example illustrating sustainable change is Philip Morris International, which BSL’s Master in International Business students visited on 16th January 2018.

The morning started with warm greetings from Huub Savelkouls, Vice President of Social and Economic Affairs. After a short coffee break, Mr. Savelkouls took us through what the future might hold for PMI’s stakeholders in our first presentation: “Transformation and Sustainability within Philip Morris International”. An interesting fact he mentioned was that, while the world population is growing, the number of smokers remains constant. This represents a great opportunity for Philip Morris to reevaluate their strategic focus. Mr. Savelkouls also tackled common misconceptions, suggesting that contrary to what people think, the tobacco industry can have an important role in solving the smoking problem. This is one of the main points within PMI’ sustainability strategy – convincing people to switch to less harmful products, such as the newly released IQOS device.

The release of this “reduced risk product” allowed Philip Morris International to publish their first ever Sustainability Report in 2016. One of the striking figures in the report is the fact PMI now allocates approx. 70% of their R&D spending on the development of smoke-free products, even though this segment currently only represents 12% of their net revenues. Their overall emphasis on the development of technology-driven, smoke-free products is a great example of sustainability being at the core of a major company’s strategic pivot.

Numbers aside, most students that attended the visit at the Philip Morris International Headquarters in Lausanne were pleasantly surprised by the overall work environment and culture. The free of charge gym, with provided gym attires, and motorsport-themed “Paddock” smoking area were the two favorite workplace perks among the BSL Master students.

To conclude, we would like to thank the people that made this visit possible and PMI for sharing with us their long-term vision on sustainability – hoping it will allow them to leave their competition in a cloud of smoke.

Author:

Ana Maria Login – MIB Master in International Business, Spring 2017 Intake