For a third year in a row, the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society and INSEAD student clubs, with support from Accenture Strategy, held the 3-day SDG Week to understand how business can drive the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All sessions are available for viewing.
In 2019, the Hoffmann Institute held its inaugural SDG Week and never expected that in 2020, the event would move to a full virtual setting. As the world continues to find its footing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, over 1,700 people around the world registered for the 2021 SDG Week, which with some optimism, held its sessions in a hybrid setting.
In his opening address on Nov 2, Dean Ilian Mihov highlighted the 2021 SDG Week was taking place at a crucial time of COP26, and “as the business school of the world, we have the responsibility to contribute towards this debate.” Continuing the session on impact management, INSEAD Professor Claudia Zeisberger raised the question on drawing boundaries between ESG and impact investing, and whether there is a distinction between the two, alongside Mike McCreless, Sunita Grote, and Unmesh Sheth.
Continuing into the second session of the day to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Bianca Bax spoke of proactive allyship and while DEI are different, they are fully interdependent. Also part of the session was Beril Çelikmen, MBA Student from the INSEAD Women in Business club. Sharing their club’s takeaway on allyship, they stated it was a strategy that could be executed by everyone at any point. “An example of proactive allyship would be publicly acknowledging people for their ideas and contributions and giving them credit in situations where they are and aren’t present.”
As SDG Week progressed into day two, National University of Singapore Professor Lian Pin Koh spoke about the importance of nature-based solutions, highlighting them as “an integral part of the solution.” MBA student from the INSEAD Environment and Business Club, Alexander Hoffmann, cited the club’s key learnings as Asia Pacific being the “most promising area worldwide, with a potential carbon absorption rate of 20 MtCO2 per year, largely due to mangrove forests in that area,” and how nature-based solutions can be classified according to the “carbon rainbow.”
In a similar vein, Paul Polman spoke of how non-sustainability professionals can advance the cause within their organisations, and shared his practical new handbook for businesses in the next session. Also from the INSEAD Environment and Business Club, MBA student Hayley Moller explained how Polman’s “definition of sustainability isn't just environmental: it encompasses addressing inequality, racism, the erosion of democracy, and corporate taxation. He insists that companies must go beyond having a neutral impact and strive to have a net positive impact on every stakeholder and every issue the business touches.”
Discussing systemic change, how business can catalyse it, and how capitalism is in danger of destroying itself and our world, INSEAD Professor Mark Stabile and Harvard Professor Rebecca Henderson, explored all this in an in-person session on the Fontainebleau campus. A book signing was also held with Henderson at the end of the session. Nhi Dao, MBA student from the INSEAD INDEVOR club gathered her club’s key insights, and detailed that while capitalism has brought prosperity, it “has brought us to the verge of breaking down with environmental challenges and social inequality. The private sector can catalyse the systemic change by adopting a “shared valued” mindset, rewiring finance, and industry-wide self-regulation and cooperation.”
The final day of SDG Week began with an Accenture Strategy panel and workshop on the journey to become sustainable, with Cyrus Suntook explaining how the principle of Sustainability DNA delivers behavioural change throughout the organisation. Gwendoline de Ganay highlighted the importance of the multi-stakeholder approach since businesses are unable to make changes in a vacuum. The following session uncovered Gender Lens Investing (GLI), where Virginia Tan stressed the need to “see women as economic drivers.”
Discussing another gender-based challenge were Caroline Jane Kent and Grace Armstrong, as they spoke about the future of Afghan women’s education, with Kent revealing, “The women we serve have very little education, 95% in the past 20 years have no formal education, 85 % have no writing or reading skills.” Master’s in management (MiM) student from the Funds for Good initiative, Céline Lange, highlighted her club’s learnings stating, “As governments do not yet undertake bilateral conversations with the current regime, their power is quite limited, giving civil organizations an even more deciding role. Using one’s power to bring marginalized people to the decision tables of this world, hearing and respecting their perspectives and ideas, will create long-term change.”
Wrapping up the SDG Week was the in-person session in Fontainebleau with Marc Le Menestrel, Alain Becker and Katell Le Goulven conducted in French. The panel discussion explored the Sahara and human adaptability to climate changes, the learnings from the First Peoples, and how we can look to the past to inspire solutions to contemporary issues. This session was supported by an on-campus exhibition open to the Fontainebleau community, which was especially curated for SDG Week 2021 from the Becker collection of the Association Arts Premiers de Peuples Minoritaires based in Saignon.
With that, the three exciting and robust days of knowledge, learning and engagement were drawn to a close. While INSEAD’s SDG Week is conducted for a few days, the Hoffmann Institute will continue the conversations around achieving the SDGs and smart new ways of doing business that are good for people and the planet.