Weaving Sustainability into the INSEAD MBA Curriculum

Published by Gabriel Szulanski & Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society on 30 Mar 2022

In a conversation with the Hoffmann Institute, nine MBA 22D students share their passion for sustainability, and what they hope to get out of their INSEAD MBA.

Business schools should and do have a role in embedding social and environmental responsibility in its students, as extensively covered in the Responsible Business Education special issue recently published by the Financial Times. As they make abundantly clear, embedding sustainability in the curriculum of a competitive business school is not without its challenges. INSEAD’s efforts accelerated with the founding of the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society in 2018. In addition to integrating sustainability in its operations, the school also looks to steadily weave sustainability into its curriculum.

According to the 2018/2019 through 2019/2020 INSEAD sustainability report, the school includes sustainability into 12 of 15 core, and 19 of 75 elective courses of the MBA curriculum. It also conducted (and continues to do so) bi-annual Master Strategist Days allowing MBA students to put their learning into practice for real-life impact organisations, while additionally driving seven open programmes with business responsibility and sustainability components for over 700 executive education participants. Building upon this, INSEAD continues to review its curriculum to further add sustainability into our students’ education experience.

One such effort is the new sustainability quiz recently implemented in the Introduction to General Management (IGM) course, conducted during the welcome week by INSEAD Professors Gabriel Szulanski and Felipe Monteiro. The purpose of the quiz is to raise awareness to the many facets of sustainability such as carbon footprint, sustainable investments, renewable energy, natural regeneration and what is needed to realise the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was developed and fine-tuned with the help of experts such as Professor Lucie Tepla - a specialist in sustainable finance.

Explaining the importance and intention of this quiz, Professor Szulanski said, “The 35-question interactive, multiple-choice quiz which incoming MBA students take during the very first formal class at INSEAD, aims to spotlight essential knowledge about the MBA and highlight emerging trends to our graduates.”

Speaking to nine of the highest-scoring MBA 22D students from the 120 students who took the quiz, the Hoffmann Institute tried to understand their expectations, and what it means to them to be future-ready. Coming from professional backgrounds as diverse as their cultures – broadcasting, chemical engineering, conservation, banking and more, they all displayed a strong motivation to continue learning ways of integrating sustainability across industries.

With previous experience and interest in social governance, social policy and how to utilise satellite data to help with sustainable agriculture, Kang Xi shared his desire to continue building his sustainability journey after INSEAD with the hopes of “joining an MNC in healthcare to focus on orthopaedics, tackling an aging society, and other related global health issues.”

Echoing a similar interest was biomedical engineer Vrinda Dharmarha, who acquired knowledge on sustainability topics through reading and her professional and personal interest in the space. An active member of her organisation’s team to reduce carbon footprint, she wants to continue working in the healthcare space, and hopes her INSEAD MBA will strengthen “the importance of doing the work sustainably, especially as we scale globally.”

Sven Bottesch’s understanding of issues in the societal, political and public health sector gave him a “very clear goal and understanding that as future leaders, we cannot regard this topic as optional.” With the MBA, he hopes to solidify his understanding of the business case for sustainability to bring it to organisations, so it stops functioning as a marketing tool and is implemented as a business case.

Seeing it as an integral part of future businesses, Maansi Vohra highlighted how “the movement of the best minds in business has been moving to address system level problems, with impact and investing converging and not sitting in separate flows of capital.” Convinced that future businesses will have sustainability at their core, her expectations of the MBA are to learn the skills to “evaluate ESG from an investor lens.”

Bringing the rare lens of conservation and wildlife preservation to the discussion, Victor Van Dooren selected the INSEAD MBA so he could “see how biodiversity and conservation on the whole are intricately linked, and how they need each other to have a long-term survival or prospect.” He also is looking forward to learning more about “how to incorporate them into decision-making and operations.”

Self-proclaimed tree-hugger and environmental policy graduate Mattijs Van Miert expressed his pleasant surprise to have the quiz as the starting point to his business education journey at the school. Mentioning he is curious to “learn about the change management aspect of sustainability, and getting laggards on board,” he hopes to build a bridge between the business and tree-hugger world,” while also having more debates about how business can create social wellbeing and preserve the environment.

Supporting a similar view, architect Juan Gomes Lopez-Viota brings with him extensive experience in heading business units across continents that work with large corporations. In addition to gaining knowledge about the theory and the know-hows of operating sustainable businesses, his leading reason is a personal motivation of “to be a better manager for the future, and to be better in sustainability for society in general.”

Not forgetting the realities, challenges and feasibility of implementing sustainability within businesses, Sander Van Gemert comes with the hope of his generation being able to resolve the energy transition, but not without any trade-offs. “People underestimate trade-offs,” and he comes with the expectations to learn more about the “downsides and upsides to everything, what people across countries think about the energy transition, energy sources and to gain a more comprehensive, global and diverse view of the space.”

David Morin also underlined his strong interest in questioning assumptions and looking into trade-offs. In addition to unpacking what sustainability truly means for businesses, he hopes to challenge the assumptions of growth in countries and economies, by questioning the status-quo that every company should have production growth. Other questions he is eager to raise is, “Who is responsible? Is it appropriate to expect corporations to bear the burden of sustainable development, and what is reasonable to expect and how should that be taken forward?”

Highlighting the importance of such conversations and weaving sustainability into the curriculum, Professor Szulanski said, “As of today, awareness of sustainability is perhaps most urgent as in many industries such challenges surface in every meeting. We’ve found that the quiz, delivered as an entertaining kahoot, stimulates conversations that continue in the corridors long after the class ends, helping us understand what is most salient to the students, what they know and what they don’t (e.g., which city in the world has the lowest carbon footprint), and identify those of them who are sustainability champions.”

Closing the conversation, Hoffmann Institute Executive Director, Katell Le Goulven, pinpointed the diversity of sustainability, and the interwoven nature of all the students’ stories and aspirations by adding, “It’s not either or in terms of career choices. To align with sustainability, we do not need to give up what we do. We can continue doing what we do well and striving for ways to include sustainability right where we are.”

As the institute responsible for driving and integrating sustainability at INSEAD, we look forward to be inspired by our students to review and inform our curriculum, and support them to be future-ready to practice business as a force for good.

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Category:  Learning

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