An integral part and pioneer of INSEAD’s mission of business as a force for good, we take a moment to honour the legacy of Hans Wahl – a dear colleague and friend and an exceptional human being - on his one year passing.
What is a life well-lived? An elegant, optimistic and resilient gentleman showed us it was embracing life and its adventures with open arms and a warm smile, while having an unwavering hope in the goodness of humanity.
Hans Wahl dedicated over 35 years of his career to inspiring impact where it was needed – from political development, human rights, capacity building in 50 countries and for paralegals in post-conflict settings in Africa, to establishing the UNESCO Poverty and Human Rights programme. His calibre saw him at various senior positions at Amnesty International, Penal Reform International, and numerous community development organisations. Continuing the impact, Hans also launched several social ventures, including a sustainable tourism organisation in the high Caucuses of Georgia.
When Hans joined INSEAD as the Director of the INSEAD Social Impact Initiative in 2007, he continued his duties with enthusiasm until his retirement in 2020. Regardless at which point people interacted with him during his extensive career, his humility, warmth and kindness serves as a special and luminating thread that brings everyone together to honour him. He was well-known for his generosity of knowledge, his passion and compassion to leave a better world for future generations, including his own, and for his distinct and resonant radio-voice.
His optimism remains a quality seen by many. Professor Craig Smith said, “I cannot recall him ever being negative and his positive outlook was always uplifting for those around him. He was also the epitome of modesty and understatement which masked quite considerable achievements.” Sharing a similar sentiment, Professor Ludo Van der Heyden mentioned his office neighbour was “always smiling,” and “found the right ways to manage entrepreneurial initiatives at the school and his profile and experience were perfect for a responsibility that he filled beautifully to the benefit of the school and his students.”
Hans co-directed the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme (ISEP) with Professor Jasjit Singh. The programme ran for 15 years on the Europe and Asia campuses for 28 sessions, enabling a globally community of 859 entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs globally to maximise impact.
Recalling his own experience with Hans, Professor Luk Van Wassenhove said, “Hans joined the INSEAD Social Innovation Centre (ISIC) from the start and was instrumental in creating and running the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative. He managed to steer the programme through difficult waters when support or funding were hard to get, and single-handedly created a large and vibrant community of social entrepreneurs.”
Supporting entrepreneurs who were striving to create positive environmental and social impact was an integral part of Hans. Many may not be aware of his contribution to the award-winning social enterprise, Gorilla Conservation Coffee, where he played a key role in its creation. Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka first met Hans through the Ashoka network, and he encouraged her and her husband towards their full potential, supporting their work with the endangered mountain gorillas and local communities of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
To honour Hans’ legacy and to continue supporting entrepreneurs, the school has created the INSEAD Hans H. Wahl Impact Entrepreneurship Programme. This new Executive Education partner programme is geared to help impact venture leaders develop their leadership and management skills to support a growing social enterprise or impact venture. The programme will launch in May 2023.
Leaving behind a legacy of adventures, gumption and empathy, all the lives he touched will continue to build on the foundations he laid. As impact investing expert Martine Mettgenberg-Lemière shared, “I wish all of us the power to carry forward his personal stance of kindness, relentless openness and enthusiasm, and translate it into encounters and professional ventures that bring out the best in people and change the world.”