INSEAD contributes €4 million in project value to charities through community projects worldwide

As INSEAD celebrates 60 years of excellence, we look at a 12-year partnership that is leaving a lasting legacy for future generations

Middle East, Asia, Europe
15 November 2019

Circular saws and drills are perhaps not obvious tools to teach business students about leadership and operational excellence. Yet, this is generally the first taste of how business is taught at INSEAD for all MBA students and many of those on its Executive Education programmes.

Participants are set intensely practical challenges to seemingly impossible deadlines, to benefit some of the most vulnerable people in society. Create a sensory garden for elderly people with Alzheimer’s in a day; complete an adventure play area for children in wheelchairs before dusk, these are real-life projects set out for INSEAD students who must venture out of their comfort zones, confront hard truths about the world and themselves – and rethink what they thought they knew about business.

A 12-year partnership going strong

In 2007, Splash Projects began running projects with INSEAD, initially with some of its Executive Education programmes participants and then, from 2012, with all its MBA students.

To date, more than 9,500 INSEAD participants have worked on over 90 projects benefiting more than 30 charities and thousands of vulnerable adults and children. The value of these projects is estimated at  €4 million in donated materials and saved labour costs.

Each January and August during launch week, 530 MBA students take part in a Splash project: 80 a day over four days in France and 70 a day over three days in Singapore.

Typically, they are briefed the night before about the project – from mountain bike courses to edible gardens to miniature play villages, and everything in between. Then they have a day to complete their phase of the project, before handing over to the next team.

No leaders are assigned so initially it feels like a crisis scenario. They have to adapt, step up and learn to be a team. They may have to create a wheelchair-accessible sports facility to exacting standards, without ever having done DIY, let alone attempted a mitre joint.

The projects in Singapore and Fontainebleau run simultaneously so when both are complete, campuses share films of their experiences with one another. The post-project debriefs dig deep.

Being your best

Team-building is a vital skill in an international business school like INSEAD where ‘everyone is a minority’, just as it is in business,” says Urs Peyer, INSEAD Dean of Degree Programmes. “One of the key challenges in business is bringing out the best in people and diversity is a good environment for learning how to do that.”

Until 2012, MBA students bonded over a more traditional ‘outward bound’ task, before it was decided they needed a tougher, more creative challenge.

Splash projects are designed to be achievable but participants are set up to fail initially. INSEAD Affiliate Professor of Economics Loïc Sadoulet, who has been running one-day Splash projects on his executive programmes for 12 years, explains: “During the project, things go wrong and we make sure they do go wrong. We purposely allocate them to silos – but they won’t succeed if they stay there. They will have to interact and redeploy resources.”

INSEAD has engaged with senior executives from companies such as Vivendi, Orange, BAE Systems, SIBUR, Sonepar and Heineken. Sadoulet is a strong believer in organisational transformation being about individuals taking personal responsibility for the change they want to see in business.

We ask: why did you behave collaboratively in this very ambiguous, constantly-changing environment?” says Sadoulet, “How do we replicate this in your organisation? You were at your best on the Splash project so how can we change your organisation so there are more moments when you are at your best?

Splash Projects Managing Director Simon Poole, says that his team set great store by ensuring the project is positive for everyone, from charity liaison to logistics, site preparation to safety. ”A top priority for us is helping people realise they’re capable of so much more than they ever imagined,” says Poole. ”Doing their very best for people in need and leaving a lasting legacy is highly motivating – and being in an environment which challenges you physically and emotionally helps drive the learning home.”

The bottom line

For INSEAD, mission is intricately intertwined with impact, as articulated in its vision of business as a ‘Force for Good’, a driver of societal transformation.

The business community’s record to date has been mixed, says INSEAD Deputy Dean Peter Zemsky. “One of the criticisms aimed at global organisations is that they have not engaged enough locally. We have to be citizens of the world who are responsible and engaged locally.”

At a basic level, Splash projects enable INSEAD students to give back to their host communities. Equally, it’s about helping students relate business ambitions to measurable impact on real people’s lives. Some students describe the experience as ‘life-changing’.

The impact on the charities and those they care for is immense. The Ellen Poidatz Foundation, for example, has welcomed several INSEAD-Splash teams to its sites in Île-de-France, which support young adults with complex disabilities and their families. The new leisure and rehabilitation spaces the charity can now offer are as precious as ‘INSEAD's trust in us’, says Foundation spokesperson Céline Cunha. “This commitment is invaluable to us.

MBA students in France working on new relaxation and growing garden spaces for the Centre hospitalier du Sud Seine-et-Marne. 


Likewise, two Salvation Army projects in Singapore, both supporting young people with challenging backgrounds, have new play areas, including bike tracks and climbing walls. Head of The Salvation Army Haven, Peter Khoo, says the benefits are not just concrete: “The interaction with staff and students from INSEAD is very valuable in raising awareness of what we do, and the children feel valued too.

Business has much to learn from the social sector too, Sadoulet insists. “These are people who may be working for less than the minimum wage,” he says. “They have few resources and they’re dealing with kids with extremely complex needs. These are what mission-driven people look like. It makes you think: is innovation about producing more products or solving big social problems?

Splash projects have taught me that having a real purpose builds resilience and enthusiasm is contagious.”

As INSEAD celebrates 60 years of excellence, Ilian Mihov, Dean of INSEAD, Dean of INSEAD, discusses what role the INSEAD-Splash partnership played in our history: “It is a valuable experience because our students use their time and skills to create positive impact for the community. This engagement reminds them how important our communities are and it teaches our participants lessons that they will remember for life. I am proud of the work we have done together as this partnership underpins INSEAD’s vision of business as a force for good, while making a long-term positive effect on communities around the world.


Download Appendix – Quotes for media from participants and organisations.

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About Splash Projects:

Splash Projects is a UK-based company that delivers innovative experiential learning programmes through real-life community projects. We help our clients and partners achieve business objectives while helping charities and community organisations.

Our leadership team consists of former British Forces, professionals and specialists who have led relief projects and corporate development programmes around the globe.

We collaborate with learning experts from the world’s most prominent institutions to design and deliver team building and leadership development programmes. Our projects have ranged from building adventure playgrounds in deprived areas of London, classrooms in China or delivering training and water points to African communities in need.

Leveraging our unique Project Delivery Model, participants are invited to strategize, plan and execute in an unfamiliar environment - offering a spectrum of challenges and development opportunities for new employees and senior-level managers alike. 

About INSEAD, The Business School for the World

As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. Our research, teaching and partnerships reflect this global perspective and cultural diversity.

With locations in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore), the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), and now North America (San Francisco), INSEAD's business education and research spans four regions. Our 165 renowned Faculty members from 41 countries inspire more than 1,300 degree participants annually in our MBA, Global Executive MBA, Specialised Master’s degrees (Executive Master in Finance and Executive Master in Change) and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD Executive Education programmes each year.

INSEAD continues to conduct cutting-edge research and innovate across all our programmes. We provide business leaders with the knowledge and awareness to operate anywhere. Our core values drive academic excellence and serve the global community as The Business School for the World.

Contacts for press:

Chris Howells
Tel +65 6799 5490
Email: chris.howells@insead.edu

Aileen Huang
Tel +65 6799 5552
Email: aileen.huang@insead.edu

Ilan Goren
Tel: +33 6 78 04 25 77
Email: ilan.goren@insead.edu

Cheryl Ng
Tel +65 6799 5490
Email: cheryl.ng@insead.edu

Linda Furtado
Tel + 971 2 6515309
Email: linda.furtado@insead.edu

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