SDG Bootcamp puts MBA students at the intersection of profit and purpose.
In today’s dynamic and often unpredictable global business landscape, businesses often struggle to strike the right balance between profit and social purpose. With deeper scientific understanding, the world is waking up to the possible negative impacts of business as usual – degradation of our environment, rising levels of income inequality and myriad more social issues. This is an inflection point for development.
Businesses can no longer be myopic in their objectives. The private sector must move quickly to consider societal impact and, even better, function with social purpose at its core. Some businesses are already ahead of the curve, making positive contributions to societal progress, but more needs to be done.
INSEAD, the business school for the world, aims to empower and encourage leaders to be more conscientious. It is part of our mission to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. With this in mind, INSEAD recently launched a mini-elective ‘SDG Bootcamp’. The Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society welcomes this new focus on the SDGs.
In January 2016, the United Nations Development Program revealed 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. This set of aspirational goals – developed collaboratively by nations of the world – is designed to address some of the world’s most pressing problems by guiding policy, investments and development work through 2030.
The ‘SDG Bootcamp’ was an intensive two-day, experiential course aimed at students who are interested in the intersection of profit and purpose, providing them with skills and tools to find entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial solutions to the SDGs. With a focus on purpose, students worked in teams to choose one specific SDG that they felt passionately about, outline a problem related to that SDG and design solutions to address that challenge.
The course followed a self-directed, gamified format, where teams progressed from framing a problem, to ideating solutions and prototyping their ideas. At the end of the course, teams pitched their ideas to panellists who helped them think through their solutions. The students chose their own winners via peer feedback. While the challenges were familiar, the solutions were innovative.
One team took on SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities. They were keen to address insecurity faced by inhabitants of slums, also known as favelas, in Brazil. Favela residents live with constant uncertainty regarding safe, continued access to housing. They identified affordability and financing as root causes of this uncertainty.
While some financial mechanisms are in place, favela residents lack banking service and cannot securely finance housing. The team proposed an impact fund relying on collective payments and guarantees, as well as affordable modular housing, to reduce the risks related to financing. Such a fund would create the needed peace of mind to address the problem's root causes in an entrepreneurial and innovative manner.
Another team felt passionately about SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth. They were deeply concerned about data that shows unhappiness experienced by the workforce in Singapore. They diagnosed that the issue is rooted in the observation that while Singaporean students are equipped to fare well in standardised tests, they are not equipped with knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions about their jobs and career. This team proposed giving school students a glimpse into the rewards and complexities of a career path through a virtual reality game. This solution would use technology to simulate real-world decision making.
Based on the small but promising sample number of students who attended the SDG Bootcamp, the future is in good hands. Purpose versus profit is a tricky dilemma, as businesses navigate an era marked by new risks. But by bringing a bit of passion and looking at challenges through the lens of purpose, INSEAD students were able to make profit happen.
As the trend of consumers demanding that the private sector generates economic value while creating shared value for society intensifies, INSEAD graduates can lead in creating a sound business case for purpose.