Innovation at BSL: Going solar with shacks – Improving living conditions in developing countries

Edited by Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Blog Post by GFW Group 4 BSL students: Abdullah Albawardi, Christopher Palermo, Eduard Mazhinov, Emma Chang, Eric Illick, Guan-Quan Tan, Stefany Solorzano, Tomy Ndakana, Victor Semenov

Living conditions all around the world have been consistently improving since the 20th century. However, many people in developing countries have not yet attained anything like the relatively luxurious standard of living of citizens in more developed countries. For this reason, our group dedicated its efforts towards a solution aimed at correcting and changing some aspects of the quality of life of people in developing countries, while tackling no less than FOUR Sustainable Development Goals (see illustration). Click HERE for our fun video showing our fantastic team moving through the prototyping steps during the Gap Frame innovation week. And if you are in the mood to discover more, read on:

Poor people in developing countries, whether in urban or rural settings often live in squalid conditions, in what are commonly termed “shacks”. A shack is a roughly built hut or cabin that is usually extremely flimsy, increasing the vulnerability of people, especially under severe climatic conditions, or earthquakes. Playfully adapting this term to our concept idea, we came up with the idea of the “Solar Shack”. We chose to focus our efforts specifically on prototyping cheap and sustainable housing for underprivileged, poverty-stricken people in areas where shacks are the most common form of housing.

To achieve this, we felt that whatever we designed needed to be self-sustaining (or self-maintaining, if you will). Thus, we focused on the provision of solar powered houses, with water filtering capabilities. Additionally, because of the limitations of available cash resources in the target countries concerned, the price and feasibility of the houses were a priority focus in our prototyping. We considered that having an individual house price of <$1,500 would be optimum, assuming that every unit can hold and sustain five people. Furthermore, such a low price could make the house proposition far more attractive to, for example, sponsoring or donor organizations.

We then expanded our idea to a concept of complexes of approximately six shacks, to form a solar compound within which a community could live. Each unit in the compound would have a chargeable battery of its own that would require minimum maintenance. Each house would also have a water collection and filtration system with a water tank. Furthermore, every compound would have a central battery and tank that will function as a backup charging and filtering system that all houses would draw from and contribute to when not in use.

We then brought the concept to yet another level with the idea of connecting compounds. We envisaged a solution whereby compounds are connected to a central battery and tank that all can draw from but also contribute to when not in need. The goal is to have layers of redundancies so that even if an entire compound ran out of water and/or electricity, the outer central tank would be able to support the “needy” compound in emergencies. Then, both the inner compounds and the larger grid would also have windmills generating electricity that would further contribute to actively charging the central batteries.

For our prototype context, we decided to choose a location that was a less obvious choice than most and where we could have significant impact. We thus narrowed our focus location to Madagascar, often a less “popular” choice for developers, and where poverty is extreme. Specifically, we focused on the smaller northern Malagasy town of Antsohihy rather than the capital. One of our own group members was from Madagascar and so we had some level of expertise and knowledge in the team who could report on the country’s complicated affairs.

The climate of Madagascar is quite humid and it rains very frequently. Since it is an island away from the mainland coast, it is frequently exposed to typhoons. As such, we have to design houses that can withstand torrential rain and very high wind speeds that can whip up debris that can possibly damage the houses. With these considerations in mind, we decided against using wood in the construction of the shacks because wood tends to become soggy and weak when continually exposed to strong winds and torrential rain. While possible to reduce the problem with more expensive and higher quality wood, our budgetary restrictions led us to reconsider our choices.

Assembling our materials in Antsohihy would be a logistical challenge but still doable. As Madagascar is an island, acquiring the materials and moving them to where we need them would be a potential challenge because of the geographic isolation of the location. As we decided to source the majority of our equipment from affordable sources from China, it would be extremely costly to have our materials flown in. Mahajanga is the closest port to Antsohihy (6.5 hours by road). As such, it would be the most appropriate location for us to offload our goods. From there, we could use trucks to transport the cargo over land. From there, our local contractors can supervise the transport and subsequent construction of the shacks.

When the group discussed the overall structure of the solar shack, we had a dilemma. We wanted to choose the appropriate material to hold our shack together and possibilities we discussed were to either have the walls made of bricks, or recycled plastic bottles along with concrete to support the structure. We have yet to really resolve this issue.

We went a long way to defining and even designing our prototype (click HERE for a first cut of the cool design). The week involved looking at multiple aspects of our prototype, not all of which can be detailed here. We just wanted to share our exciting idea with you in this blog. The questions are: How feasible is the concept? Can we really develop this into a viable start-up during the next Gap Frame Week from 14-18 May 2018? What transformations will we have to make to the product and business model in order to assure success? Let’s see how we do as we bring the project to the next level!

Innovation at BSL: GAME OVER? – Transforming the lives of the elderly

Edited by Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Blog Post by GFW Group 3 BSL students: Alexander Svetlitskiy, Amin Riaziat, Andrea Sacco, Deem Almuhaidib, Dmytro Kovtoniuk, Luis Miguel Becerra, Valentina Korobeynikova, Victor Gladskoy

Today, we are neglecting our elderly more and more as a society. Moreover, current retirement homes are not responding to the basic human communication needs of the elderly. There is also a need to incentivize the elderly to remain healthy as long as possible in both mind and body.

As Group 3 of 8 student groups overall during the Spring Gap Frame Week, we selected the “Quality of life” area of focus on Day 1 of the Gap Frame Week so that we could design a useful solution for the future. Our research on Day 2 provided us with significant insights into the “pain” of our stakeholders. By addressing the pain points identified, we felt we could provide an additional choice for the elderly to spend time in retirement, using a mobile application and developing a specialized community center for the elderly. During the rest of the week, we had a challenging time developing an early prototype of our concept, but it was a lot of fun at the same time. Click HERE to view our fun team video so that you can get a sense our positive collaborative spirit!

Our research revealed that many elderly people are suffering from loneliness. In many cases, the elderly have limited communications with other human beings and over time, they may engage in increasingly limited activities. Often, the highlight of an elderly person’s day is simply reading the newspaper. Retirement for many represents a “long wait for the inevitable”. We want to change all that by introducing an easy to use application, supported on all mobile platforms, called “Game Over?”. Our innovation aim is to create a tailor-made application that is extremely user-friendly and easy to navigate. The app would provide several functions – newspaper, TV, a net-working and communication platform, games, activity schedules and plans, with related activity sign-up sheets. Our idea is to provide an easy to use platform where the elderly can engage in a favorite activity such as reading the newspaper but also try other activities. For example, on the Game Over? App, the elderly will be able to play games especially designed to be beneficial to the health of the elderly. Playing video games increases brain stimulation, reduces arthritis, lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s, improves memory and attention, slows down the aging process, improves hand-eye coordination and helps with depression. To appeal to the target group, the design and interface of the App games will appeal specifically to the elderly.

We also discussed including a concept of related Game Over? community centers.  The idea is to provide a room for elderly citizens to enjoy gaming experiences and for those not yet initiated to gaming, provide an introduction class to new technology. Exploring our ideas further, we felt that the “Game Over?” community center could cover other aspects of elderly well-being. It could also have a meditation room and garden to hold meditation and or light yoga sessions with a meditation instructor. This would help elderly citizens learn the art of relaxation and good breathing techniques but also help retain a certain level of physical fitness. We also had the idea of equipping the community center with an emergency treatment room. Another idea was to provide a system whereby the elderly will be able to tutor young students for a profit, depending on their skills, potentially with the profit being used for our platform subscriptions. As we discussed and worked on our prototype, plenty of new ideas came up.

With the target market of elderly (aged 65+), our group felt that the App and linked community/activity center will not only make the lives of the elderly more meaningful but it will change and improve quality of life.

With Game Over?, we are reintroducing a selection of elements that complement and enhance quality of life. In our view, Game Over?, if developed fully,  has the potential to create a new found purpose in life for isolated populations of the elderly in Switzerland and outside. During the next GFW, we will be developing this prototype further, into as feasible a start-up idea as possible in order to attract the attention of potential (albeit hypothetical – for now) investors. Watch this space.

 

Innovation at BSL: Beep Saved – Technology empowering ordinary people to save lives

Edited by Dr. Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Blog post by GFW3 Spring 2018 Group 6 students: Alexandra Sommer, Alexandre Watry, Anastasia Morozava, Aswin Babu, Diego Dimartino, Kamran Hatam-Zada, Konstantin Goldenberg, Theodore Martorell, Volodymyr Kovalchuk

“One right beep – one saved life”

We are proud to invite you to read our blogpost written during the Spring Gap Frame Week 2018, when BSL students focused on coming up with solutions to some of the world’s most challenging social issues.

Many people with chronic illnesses die each year having collapsed in the street or on the way to hospital due to the lack of first aid knowledge amongst people passing by. Our research revealed that 150,000 lives could be saved in Europe yearly if passersby were able to provide effective immediate first aid. We were interested to learn that St John Ambulance research shows that 59% of interviewed people would not feel comfortable providing first aid on the street due to their own lack of knowledge (The Guardian, 2010).

In Russia, many people suffer from diseases such as epilepsy, diabetes and chronic heart disease. The overall number of Russian people with these diseases is actually 32.5 million. Therefore, there is a high risk of people collapsing on the street on a daily basis, and not receiving critical and appropriate first aid from passers-by. After our preliminary research, our Group decided to focus on providing an effective solution to this issue in Russia, a country where victims of heart attacks or other problems have a high risk of not receiving primary first aid on the street. Frequent long delays in ambulance arrivals exacerbate the problem and makes it even more important for passersby to have high awareness and good knowledge about how to act in case of emergency.

Our team came up with an idea of a wearable technology – Beep Saved – that would allow people with health conditions to be attended easily and safely in case of an emergency. Our wearable technology – worn on the wrist much like a watch – provides a panic SOS button, which identifies the emergency, immediately calls for an ambulance using GPS technology, makes a recognizable sound/alarm to attract the attention of people nearby, and provides the passerby with tailor-made first aid tips depending on the person’s health condition. The screen carefully guides the bystander through minimal step-by-step instructions to ensure that the person has as optimal a chance as possible of surviving the episode (CPR, positioning of the body, etc). Click here for a demo to show the operating principle.

To test whether we had a feasible concept, we decided to explore the perceptions of three different groups: customers, doctors, and investors. That meant that we needed to get out into the external environment and meet stakeholders so we carried out interviews in three different locations: the city center of Lausanne, the university hospital (CHUV) and at Business School Lausanne.

We prepared three different questionnaires based on qualitative and quantitative data. Afterwards we divided our group evenly, to carry out the interviews. After carefully reviewing the results, we noted that all stakeholders provided common feedback: acceptance and interest in the concept.

We enhanced our prototype ideas as a result of our research (an interactive screen, GPS for ambulance, SOS button, heart rate checker, and speaker to let passersby know that the person is in need of help). We also added the monitor idea, to show first aid tips to perform in advance of the arrival of an ambulance.

After pitching our idea to the other student groups and faculty, and receiving feedback, we came up with the final technology software prototype. Our group decided to locate this business in Russia and to produce the technology in Latvia due to the costs and legal aspects. We decided not to produce in China as wanted to create a sustainable responsible business and did not feel that outsourcing to China aligned with that vision. We carried out a competitor analysis, looking at the three most well-known similar companies from an international perspective. We focused our analysis on price, strengths and weaknesses. The most well-known comparable concept is Medical Guardian which asks for a subscription price in the market and offers simple technology; followed by Lifefone, which has similar characteristics, but expects a long term contract commitment from customers. Bay Alarm Medical is the most expensive existing solution. It offers wide customization choices and is more than seventy years in the market. Our differentiation from these potential competitors are one-time payment, no contract requirements, free delivery and installation of software, and the fact that it would be the most interactive device on the market. After the competitive analysis and examining the possible target market, we defined our product as a high quality one-time payment product.

We had an opportunity to present a draft version of our concept prototype mid-week, to share what we had learnt from other groups. Our idea received overall positive comments. To illustrate clearly the problem we were trying to solve, we showed a social experiment video filmed in Russia that demonstrated the level of ignorance and even indifference of passersby in case of someone obviously not feeling well or collapsing in the street. This video emotionally connected with many viewers and stakeholders and illustrated well the high social importance of introducing our product to the Russian market. Once other groups had commented, we reviewed the remarks made by our BSL colleagues and implemented their feedback in the development of our prototype.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” Martin Luther King Jr.

We believe that in today’s world it is crucial to reduce ignorance and encourage the notion of people and communities helping each other on every level. Our device will not only potentially save lives, but it can also have a substantial impact by improving behavior and increasing empathy. Our concept will reduce the level of ignorance and, we feel, raise awareness such that more people will want to help each other in the long run.

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 wonderful world of online education

I am a big fan of online learning and have done many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) on Coursera (www.coursera.org).

Last year I participated in an online course in « Negotiation & Influence » at Yale University (http://sg.emeritus.org/management-certificate-programs/negotiation-and-influence/) thanks to the faculty development fund of BSL. It was my objective to update myself on these topics, because I teach a class on Business Ethics and Negotiation at BSL.

In addition to learning new fun stuff, this course helped me to put myself in the shoes of my students. I realized that I couldn’t always answer all questions in the weekly quizzes even though I had listened attentively to all the video lectures. This reminded me not to be disappointed when the same thing happens to my students. You just cannot expect students to remember or understand everything that you said just once in class. Of course, everything is crystal clear to you as a teacher, also because you are deep into your topic and have given the class before. Forgetting this is a common “déformation professionelle” of teachers. You always must try harder, repeat, document, and check if students have understood, let them repeat what the task was, be patient and never take it personally.

Besides this more general lesson in self-awareness, this course was extremely useful to get new ideas for my own course.

On the other hand, I was a bit skeptical: Can you really teach a highly interactive skill like negotiating online? Of course, in negotiation you must learn basic concepts like how to prepare for a negotiation, how to haggle, or how to close a deal, but in the end, you always learn the most if you actually negotiate. I was curious to find out how you could run role play negotiations in the virtual space.

It turned out that negotiating online is no problem at all. My fellow students and I met on a special online platform, or we negotiated via WhatsApp or Skype. Every week during this two-month course, we were assigned to classmates that were in our time zone. Of course, it was different from face to face negotiation, but I found it almost as good. Furthermore, in today’s world many negotiations do take place on the phone, on Skype or via email.

What I really liked about the course was its broad focus. As the title “Negotiation & Influence” implies, it went far beyond simply trying to get the biggest piece of the pie. Indeed, negotiation is so much more! It is basically a decision-making process that you need every time you cannot achieve your goals alone (this nice definition comes from the godmother of negotiation, Leigh Thompson, and is the foundation of the course I teach). In today’s business world, it is virtually impossible to achieve our goals alone. This is why negotiation is so important.

If we look at negotiation like this, it is also clear that things like relationships and trust are key. According to research, the “subjective value” of a negotiation (i.e. did I have a good relationship with my partner, did I feel treated with fairness, did I feel good during the negotiation) is even more important than the objective mostly monetary value I achieve in a negotiation.  Even if the objective value one gains from a negotiation is positive, this “victory” is not sustainable if you felt uncomfortable with your negotiation partner, or felt rushed or treated with disrespect.

However, if the partners both enjoyed the interaction, they have a great foundation for the future. One study even shows that job applicants that experienced positive subjective value during their salary negotiations were more likely to like their job and stay in their job one year after the job negotiations (http://web.mit.edu/curhan/www/docs/Publications/Curhan_Getting_Off_on_the_Right_Foot.pdf).

You did not only learn theoretically about this concept of subjective value in negotiations, but even found out how your negotiation partners experienced you with respect to the subjective value you brought to the table. After every round of negotiation, we filled out a questionnaire (http://www.subjectivevalue.com/) about how we felt about ourselves and our partners during the negotiation, and so did our partners. That way, we received a highly individualized feedback on how we were perceived as negotiation partners in comparison to how we experienced it ourselves.

Another highlight of this course was learning how to deal with difficult negotiation tactics like stonewalling, threats or insults. Here the key is not to succumb to the impulsive reaction of either surrendering to these tactics, mimic them or quit the negotiation. Firstly, you need to avoid emotional reactions and try to look at the situation with detachment. This strategy is called “going to the balcony”. It takes some practice, but once you created this kind of emotional distance it is much easier to either simply ignore the mean tactics or deflect them by either asking smart questions (Please explain to me why the price is suddenly so important?) or naming the game (We came here to negotiate with respect. You do not need to insult me. Can we please continue differently now?). We had to apply evil tactics in one of our role plays and this was especially eye-opening as we changed roles: First my partner tested all kinds of difficult tactics with me and I had to try to stay calm, detached and reasonable. Then we switched roles. I must admit that continuing to be evil was pretty hard, because my partner did a great job in staying calm and reasonable!

In conclusion, online courses are a great way to update yourself on the state of the art of your field, you get new ideas for your own teaching and you stay in touch with the students’ experience. I am already looking for my next MOOC.

 

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

How does it feel to teach at Harvard University?

I have always resisted the temptation to create my bucket list but surely, if had to create one, I would have in it the participation to a Harvard course. I am passionate about education and I am passionate about American movies, so I guess you can explain why this would make it into my bucket list. Thing is, I would have never thought I would participate as an Instructor!

If you are reading this blog you may know that Business School Lausanne is self-organized since two and a half years, using Holacracy as an operating system. I participated last year to a conference on self-organization in Amsterdam organized by HolacracyOne where practitioners could exchange their pains and gains in the transformation journey that self-management brings. This is all very new for the business world and still today, I can’t make a clear distinction between self-management and self-organization so please bear with me when I juggle between the two terms.

At the conference, I met Mike Lee who was completing his PhD at Harvard Business School studying new forms of organization and their limits. Holacracy has been a great part of his research and he has run an important empirical study at WAC that is a Governmental agency in the US working with Holacracy. Mike and I had several chances to exchange thoughts and some glasses of wine. There was a common idea we shared that started to emerge. We both strongly believed that organizations operating at the innovative edge with systems such as Holacracy are learning while practicing with some very powerful and novel set of organizational processes. What is new in these organizations is not only newly designed processes, but also self-management practices that people in such organizations are able to adopt. Why is this interesting? Self-management promises to be an important tool to respond to the challenges that the current Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world brings. Self-management brings flexibility, responsiveness, agility, autonomy, all things that are needed in a VUCA world. Well, at least self-management promises to bring all this. What Mike and I were reflecting on was on the opportunity to bring all these great advantages into traditional companies that are still functioning with structured hierarchies (99% of the companies is my estimate) and have no interest in adopting self-management at a large scale. Could it be possible? Can we translate the great and innovative practices from these pioneering companies like HolacracyOne into a language that traditional companies can hear and welcome? We jumped unto this challenge, and excited about the idea of creating a training on this topic, approached Harvard to see if they would be interested in making space for such an executive course. Indeed Mike’s network with Harvard was the key to open the doors to this opportunity.

What we discovered fast was that there was a huge appetite for this course and executive education. Quickly the Harvard marketing team (what a great team they have!) could fine-tune the title for the course based on their research and so our new baby was ready to come to life. The course name was (and still is) “Collaborative Leadership: Building the Organization of the Future”.

Now that we had a title, the real work started and we had to face the challenge of putting together what we believed could serve the need we had identified in a 2-day course. How do we help today’s companies to build their next version of themselves? What is the bridge that takes them from where they are today to where they will want to be in the next 10 years from an organizational design perspective? Great challenge!

Mike and I loved to discover our complementary skills, experience and knowledge. Mike can unpack very complex topics, fill them with solid research-based arguments and still explain them with a disarming simple language that makes it very hard for anybody not to understand them and believe him, what a gift! I am great at putting the cherry on top of the cake (easy one), with sense-making, as well as creating and designing overall learning experiences. So I could contribute 🙂

Having to write a course for Harvard can put you under strong pressure as you think that whatever you are doing well, you should try to do better and this is not easy to manage. My experience of working at self-organized BSL, alongside Mike’s knowledge and research, eventually took us there and the result has been interesting. We ran this course for the first time on March 14-15 and of course we were ready to expect the unexpected. Firstly, we received the list of participants two weeks before the course and had 16 of them, which was a good number for a new course. The following week, the number became 28 and, with only one week to go, we had to readjust parts of the course including buying a new set of puzzles that we used for an interactive session. Just as we thought we were ready, just 3 days before the course, we received a warning that a snowstorm was approaching Boston and it was not clear what this would mean. Both Mike and I made it to Boston on Monday and our flights were probably the last ones that made it, at least until Wednesday when the storm was gone. Harvard University closed down on Tuesday (on Wednesday our course would start), so did the airport and most other things that were simply submerged by over a meter of snow. The tireless team at the Harvard Division of Continuing Education did not stop working though it and started sending us updates. Our course participants started to go down to 22, then 16, 14, 10 and eventually settled at 12 by the Tuesday evening. Given the trend, we were happy we could still run the course, as many other courses had to be cancelled. Oh well, did you think teaching at Harvard would just be easy and smooth?

I will share more about the content of the course in a future blog, and what we learnt from it. For now, I’d just want to share the actual teaching experience. So let me tell you what it means to stand up in front of great participants from all over the world who expect a Harvard-quality level of education! Believe it or not, I felt ready and fully confident. At Business School Lausanne, we approach education differently and focus on transformative learning. Such attitude has taught me to keep the learner at the center of what I do as an educator, and this is what I did during those two days. The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive and here are some quotes:

“Carlo has great facilitation skills, sensing where the participants are, and creating a more personal connection”

“Energy, managing the learning flow, translation to daily practice”

“He is an excellent summarizer and synthesizer”

“Carlo led the discussions deftly and his real-world experience with self-management was invaluable in exploring these concepts” 

“This is a unique program!”

So, how does it feel to teach at Harvard? Definitely, it gave me great sense of recognition and sense of prestige. It‘s like playing for the football National Team but in education. At the same time, it made me once more realize how important is the work we are doing at Business School Lausanne. Our approach to education as a transformative experience is what the world needs. We had participants standing in a circle in our course at Harvard, sharing their deepest concerns and reflections. We had them engaged in a World Café and in a guided meditation. We do this every day at Business School Lausanne, and now I can confidently say that I am proud I have been teaching at Harvard as much as I am proud I work at BSL!

 

Author: Carlo GiardinettiActive in Program Development, Holacracy and directing the E/MBA programs Business 

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.

It’s International Women’s Day! And BSL has its finger on the pulse

Aileen Ionescu-Somers, André de la Fontaine and Jacques Billy

It is March 8 and it is also… International Women’s Day. And what a year it has been! With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements coming in quick succession to each other since International Women’s Day 2017, it seems that women’s rights and equality issues for women are riding a wave of global interest but also, hopefully, transformation and change.

Did you know that in the early 20th century, the trade union movement started marking this day, first using it in 1907 as a springboard to highlight the poor conditions of women workers in the clothing industry sweatshops of the time in the United States? In a case of “early globalization”, the day had been adopted far outside of the U.S by 1911. Today, March 8 day symbolizes the opportunity for women to share their equity struggles and celebrate breakthroughs on women’s rights worldwide. As we write, women’s marches are actively taking place across the globe, from Spain – where the mantra of the march is “If we stop, the world stops!” – to multiple other #PressforProgress March 8 initiatives – are an indication of an increasingly strong global push for gender parity.

Given BSL’s aspirational vision and purpose, BSL is keeping a finger on the pulse on developments that relate to the role of women in the workplace. In late 2017, Professors Aileen Ionescu-Somers and André de la Fontaine started work on a teaching case study related to the challenges of ensuring equal salary for women in companies. Did you know, for example, that women earn up to 18% on average less than men in Switzerland? Sensing this was a “hot topic”, Aileen and André asked themselves the question: How hard can it be to apply a fair wage policy between men and women? Surely that is both good for the company, but also for the well-being of the men and women that work there? It turns out that it’s not so black and white and there are plenty of obstacles, amongst which are lack of transparency and accountability, as well as fixed mindsets and attitudes.

So Aileen and André decided to carry out research and interviews with a view to providing a highly interactive solution-oriented case learning experience for our BSL students. The case study is currently being finalized and will soon be available for use in our classrooms. We need our students to know about and understand the ways and means of overcoming obstacles to equity between men and women, and certainly in cases where both are doing the same job. And since, “knowing what you didn’t know” is a first step to changing mindsets and achieving change, we look forward to deepening our students’ understanding of this topic. Watch this space for more news about our exciting case study!

But the real elephant in the room is the invisible “glass ceiling” preventing access to senior decision-making management and Board posts. Women are just not breaking through fast enough. Changes to the statistics are incremental at best. Our BSL Finance Professor Jacques Billy is Treasurer on the Board of Novertur International SA. NI launched a site www.business-monitor.ch in 2016 that published an insightful report this week on gender inequality in Switzerland. The report, published with the support of PwC, highlights sobering statistics on the status of women in Swiss based companies. Less than 24% of corporate decision—making posts are held by women. Less than 17% of Board posts are held by women. How can women break through this glass ceiling? Now that’s a good question for our students to get their heads around! Judging from global developments in these last months, women seem determined to get answers and close the gaps.

 

Bachelor students successfully simulate Summit Conference

Conventional theories are presented and explored by our first-year students in the Bachelor of Business Administration macro-economics class. However, a substantial aspect of it considers alternative approaches to macro-economy.

The crowning of this wide-ranging approach took place during the last class of the semester, in which a global conference on sustainable development, along the lines of the United Nations Rio +20 conference, was simulated. Country representatives met in different task forces to demonstrate critical thinking and generate new ideas for solving the world’s economic challenges. Here is the inspiring outcome of their hard work.

The countries participating in the morning conference simulation were Switzerland, the Netherlands and the USA. The task forces on special topics, made up of country representatives, agreed on the following proposals:

  • Foreign Aid to reach the amount of 0.7% of GDP as proposed by the United Nations, achieved by raising the corporate income tax and re-allocating the public spending budget. Focus on food security in sub-Saharan Africa, including programs to educate farmers, because poor post-harvest handling and storage loss leads to a 10% loss of production.
  • Knowledge Transfer between MIT (USA), EPFL (CH) and Delft (NL), three science-based universities interested in innovative solutions to real-life problems. All knowledge shared will be protected by an agreement regarding Intellectual Property Rights, and the Erasmus program will be used as the framework for the exchange. In another program, knowledge could be shared on modern public transportation (from NL), space travel (from NASA in the USA) and nuclear research (from CERN in CH).
  • Climate Change to be firstly managed by increasing the use of renewable energy in the three countries mentioned above for transportation – Swiss Solar Impulse will work with Boeing (USA) and Fokker (NL) on solar-powered airplanes, and trains/buses will be promoted in the countries; secondly, by the introduction of Carbon Capture and Storage technology, developed in CH to collect CO2 emissions before they are released into the air and to re-use the stored CO2. In addition, society will be made climate-proof by being prepared for the harmful effects of climate change, e.g. flood protection.

The countries participating in the afternoon conference simulation were Chad, France and Canada. The task forces agreed on the following proposals:

  • Foreign Aid to achieve four objectives: firstly, Canada and France to channel more humanitarian aid to Chad to help feed and house the 300,000 refugees from Sudan, as well as to fight the outbreak of hepatitis E in the country. Secondly, ease visa requirements from Chad to France and Canada in order to improve work opportunities for Chadian workers – the three countries share the French language. Thirdly, France to build training bases for the Foreign Legion in Chad, which will create jobs and provide excellent training conditions for the Foreign Legion. Lastly, Chad to receive military support from France – a military school – and Canada – military equipment – in order to improve security in the region where there are numerous conflicts.
  • Knowledge Transfer to firstly raise the literacy rate in Chad from 40% today to 80% by 2030, with a program to recruit, prepare and retain teachers led by France and Canada; at the moment there are only 2 teachers per 1000 residents. Secondly, to extend the current exchange program for University of Chad students and French universities, running since 1971, to include Canadian universities. Thirdly, to install 100 MW of solar energy production by 2030 in addition to the 60 MW planned for 2020, because a good return on investment can be anticipated.
  • Climate Change agrees three objectives to deal with the serious desertification in the country and the drying up of Lake Chad, which some estimates claim has lost 95% of its water, all of which has raised tensions between the three countries making use of water from it. Firstly, to reverse the desertification, plant two million trees in addition to the 1.5 million planted by the UNHCR and use the French charity Friends of the Earth to clear away the silt in water channels. Secondly, use the Canadian charity Wateraid to improve access to clean drinking water and reduce waterborne diseases. Thirdly, to use the French charity Action Against Hunger to improve irrigation systems in the area.

The objectives and policies are marked by being linked to specific and concrete facts about the countries as well as to existing organizations and programs. Thus, the results of the simulation present an inspiring vision of what could be done for our collective future, while being practicable and realistic.

Author:

Benjamin Wall, Professor