“During my year at INSEAD, I decided to work for the common good, to consider all this wonderful education as a new responsibility, and to use everything I learned to make the world a better place."
These were the words spoken by Santiago Lefebvre MBA’15J, in his acceptance speech at the INSEAD Alumni Recognition Award ceremony March 2023. He was in London with his business partner and co-founder Kevin Tayebaly MBA’15J, to receive the Force for Good Award for their efforts to launch and grow ChangeNOW, the world’s largest event of solutions for the planet. Santiago and Kevin are 3rd and 4th from the right in the group picture above.
According to Kevin, “ChangeNOW is about shaping a new narrative about the role businesses and institutions play in building a sustainable world. INSEAD has not only played a critical role in our story, it is also a major contributor to this new narrative”.
A Summit to Scale Solutions
This is a familiar story at INSEAD. Brilliant business minds join the MBA programme and discover a passion for business as a force for good. After they graduate, they start a venture that delivers positive social or environmental impact. In the case of ChangeNOW, there is huge potential to deliver both.
Each year, the ChangeNOW summit convenes innovators, investors, thought leaders and policymakers for the largest event of solutions for the planet. ChangeNOW aims to inspire, identify promising solutions and connect resources needed to scale solutions.
Now in its sixth year, the 2023 edition of ChangeNOW brought together more than 35,000 participants and 400 visionary speakers to discuss how to accelerate change in line with global sustainability goals. The INSEAD Force for Good Award recognizes the potential for positive impact enabled by co-founders Kevin and Santiago.
A Conversation with the Co-Founders
To better understand how INSEAD inspires and empowers leaders to launch a social enterprise like ChangeNOW, the Hoffmann Institute sat down for a conversation with co-founders and INSEAD alumni Kevin Tayebaly MBA’15J and Santiago Lefebvre MBA’15J. An edited summary of our conversation is presented here.
What initially motivated you to launch ChangeNOW?
When asked about their motivation to launch ChangeNOW, Kevin and Santiago recalled their time at INSEAD. Santiago had been in finance and entrepreneurship in the tech industry. He was looking for something new and started TEDxINSEAD to promote game-changing ideas in the INSEAD MBA community. Kevin had a career in strategy consulting and set up his first social venture in 2008. He worked with tech start-ups and launched a second social impact venture. At INSEAD, he was interested in a new type of mission-driven business, companies that combine purpose with a viable business model. After graduation, he wanted to scale up responsible business.
Santiago recalls the frustration with lack of support and no viable funding ecosystem. And then the inspiration from industry events like CES for the electronics industry and Cannes for film. They needed to create the largest event for positive impact in the world. So, in 2017 they co-founded ChangeNOW.
Can you share particularly inspiring or high impact solutions or stories you have seen over the years?
Santiago and Kevin thought about this for a moment before launching into an overview of ChangeNOW. No other event gathers so many stakeholders with concrete solutions. We work across four pillars – planet, biodiversity, resources and the human factor. Everyone must be involved and has a place in the transition.
When pressed, the two share specific projects that have stood out from past editions of ChangeNOW. They recall Alain Richard Donwahi, former Minister of Water and Forests of Côte d'Ivoire and now President of COP 15 of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. He used drones to restore deforested areas and established an alliance with the Great Green Wall to rejuvenate ecosystems in the Sahel, a partnership that started at ChangeNOW. Another solution born at ChangeNOW is Swen Blue Ocean, a fund totalling over 100 million euros and dedicated to ocean preservation and regenerating ocean health. Just two examples of the kind of innovation and funding that is unlocked by getting the right people in the room.
What was your reaction when you heard INSEAD’s focus on business as a force for good?
The conversation turned to INSEAD and the school’s role in sparking this social venture. Both Santiago and Kevin agreed that INSEAD is ideally suited to lead on sustainability and the transformation of business. They highlight the school’s international culture and humanist approach as a catalyst for collaboration. Since the early days of ChangeNOW, the Hoffmann Institute has served as academic partner for the summit, a partnership forged by the school’s commitment to business as a force for good.
How has your INSEAD MBA shaped your mission, prepare you to lead ChangeNOW and be a force for good through your work?
When discussing their learning journeys, Santiago and Kevin credit INSEAD for opening new perspectives and building on their strengths. Santiago mentioned that INSEAD helped him discover those strengths and his weaknesses, and how to focus on what he is good at. Kevin credits INSEAD for expanding his understanding of how to achieve social purpose with a viable and scalable business model. For these two co-founders, these important lessons enabled them to undertake an effort as large as ChangeNOW. Santiago also says that “INSEAD keeps things global”. This is something he and Kevin have brought to ChangeNOW – a collaboration space to work on global challenges without feeling constrained by geographic or cultural boundaries.
What advice do you have for INSEAD MBA students interested in pursuing a career with positive social impact or fellow alumni looking to be a force for good?
As our conversation came to a close, we asked Kevin and Santiago for advice for those to combine social impact and business. With inspiring words, they showed us why they received the Alumni Recognition Force for Good Award. It is something every business leader should think about when considering how to have a positive impact.
To be a force for good, you don’t need to be perfect to act. We can’t afford to be perfect before acting is a lesson learned from ChangeNOW. There is a lot to do in a limited time, and many challenges are also opportunities to take action. Environmental pressure, conflict and crisis, and unexpected events require us to go beyond business as usual. We cannot wait. Let’s go for it now and let’s do it together.
The Hoffmann Institute would like to thank Santiago Lefebvre MBA’15J and Kevin Tayebaly MBA’15J for the ongoing partnership with ChangeNOW. We also want to thank INSEAD Advancement for organizing the Alumni Recognition Awards and recognise all alumni who are leading on business as a force for good.