Education is critical for the next generation of business leaders to understand how to balance purpose and profit. Around the world, universities are coupling research with curriculum to help students build not just knowledge but also the skills required to tackle social issues in a business environment. 

ESADE, in Spain is ranked in the top 25 Global Full-Time MBA Programs by The Financial Times. Their program was also recognised for the inclusion of topics related to corporate social responsibility, an area in which they ranked #6 worldwide.
I was fascinated to learn more about their program and how they are equipping leaders of tomorrow to take action on the issues that matter. 

Rambla Innovation

I had the opportunity to meet with with Oriol Llop Sarsanedas, the Director of Rambla Innovation. His passion for building the leaders of tomorrow through innovation was infectious and we had a fantastic chat about the impact of his work. The Rambla of Innovation Lab brings together six learning labs that combine education with innovation and experimentation. It is a circular path that runs from the conception of a new idea (Fusion Point), to researching and testing the feasibility of the idea (Decision Lab), to the manufacture of prototypes (Fab Lab), to the definition of a business model (EGarage and Finance Lab), and finally to the creation and implementation of a company (EWorks). 

Each stage has its own building which is tailored for collaboration and creation. For example in the decision lab, they have booths as well as open areas so the students can workshop the feasibility of their ideas with professors and other students. ‘Collaboration is a really important part of Rambla Innovation. We have students from over 100 nationalities so the opportunity for them to provide new perspectives to build a global mindset is extremely beneficial for our students.’Oriol explained. 

In Spanish, Rambla means a ‘dry creek’ and the main street in Barcelona is called La Rambla as it was previously a creek bed but is more commonly known as an avenue or boulevard. The Rambla of Innovation is the ‘main street’ in the campus, with the 6 labs lining the street. 


The Rambla of Innovation at the ESADE campus in Sant Cugat, Barcelona

Oriol organised a global experience for me as well. He organised a meeting with 10 students from various degrees and 7 different countries to share their perspectives about social innovation and the future of business as well as how ESADE is equipping them. The students varied from undergraduate courses to the MBA and each of them had a strong passion for making a positive impact through their work and study. 

Student Clubs and Associations

All of the students in the room were involved in a student club or association that had a positive social impact. It was interesting to learn how they are using their networks and studies to create a movement of people who are committed to investing their time to create social and environmental change. Here were some of the clubs: 

The MBA Energy Club

One of the students led the Energy club which was designed to equip students who want to get into the energy sector to understand the relationship between energy and the environment. He shared how they made their mission a reality. ‘Our overall aim is to help students understand the energy transition required to curb the impacts of climate change. To do this we started off with a survey to our group to understand the areas they wanted to focus on. Then we organised a series of events including industry networking as well as excursions to understand different topics in more detail.’ 

Another student shared ‘One of the biggest lessons we had was about timing. We had a great event but hardly anyone showed up because it was close to exam period. Studies obviously come first, so events will not coincide with exams anymore.’ They also shared how the community has grown from about 10 to 25-30 students. One of their most popular events was going to the Zone of Hope, a virtual reality experience showing the impact of climate change up to 2093.

Check out the Planet B Insights review of the Zone of Hope experience here

Other MBA Clubs

There are a range of clubs for students in the MBA program from the environment to health and wellbeing. One student from Germany  spoke about a few events she has experienced that had an impact. One was having a pub trivia night about sustainability. ‘It is important to make sustainability fun and interesting. So we had a trivia night where all the questions were focused on sustainability. The winners got shots and it was a really fun time where we also learnt something.’ It is these innovative approaches that help to embed sustainability and social impact into the culture of the University. 

Another experience through their MBA club was a sustainable eating challenge. The challenge involved students sharing their sustainable eating tips through instagram hashtags and in their WhatsApp group. Many of the recipes were vegan and locally produced. ‘It was really powerful to have a bit of competition that started a new conversation about how we eat.’ A student shared. 

Oikos

Oikos is a global network with a chapter in Barcelona. These city chapters have students from various universities all working together to create positive change. Oikos’ global mission it to transform economics and management education by empowering student change agents, raising awareness for sustainability opportunities, challenges and building institutional support for curriculum reform.
Change agent’ is the perfect word to describe the 3 students who attended the meeting on behalf of Oikos. Their passion and drive to solve social issues was incredibly inspiring. After the session I spoke with one of the Oikos members extensively about the challenges of agriculture and how to incentivise people to work in this field. It is a challenge in Spain and Australia alike, where young people are leaving regional communities to pursue careers in big cities as a career in Agriculture is unappealing and limited. He spoke about the systemic cultural and economic challenges in this space as well as how to shape society to embrace agriculture as an important and viable career. It was great to hear the way students are thinking about these complex social, economic and environmental issues. 

Oikos in Barcelona focuses on events, conferences including a sustainability careers fair. They also empower their network to create positive change on their campus, with campaigns for better recycling and eliminating coffee cups. ‘We want to make our campuses a place that has a minimal environmental impact. There are sometimes challenges with the mindset to change, however we believe that in time we will see a shift.’ One of the students shared.

This is an ongoing theme I have seen in Universities from Sweden to Spain. Students are putting into practice what they are learning by shaping the environment about them through lobbying for policy change. When I was in Sweden, I attended a few student events at a local University where students were coordinating their efforts to petition for banning of single use plastic. 

No matter if it’s on the campus or in the office, a small group of dedicated people can do great things! 

CEMS Club

This is another global network of over 30 schools that prepares responsible leaders contributing to a more open, sustainable and inclusive world. ESADE is a founder member and the only representative in Spain. The global CEMS academic and corporate network collectively develop knowledge and provide education that is essential in the multilingual, multicultural and interconnected business world. In ESADE, they have some electives including social entrepreneurship, sustainability in the 21st century: rethinking the corporate value chain, climate policy course and simulation. 

The CEMS coordinator for ESADE shared that the value of being a member is having access to global networks who can disseminate the latest research and insights about social impact and sustainability focused curriculum. Further, their network has activities and events for students to continue to learn in other countries. 

ESADE’s Unique Approach

I asked the students why they think ESADE is unique and their responses ranged from the social networks to the curriculum. In particular, many of the students spoke about the opportunities they receive to learn from industry leaders as well as from other students from around the world. At the end of the session, the students (many of whom didn’t know each other) exchanged details so they could keep in contact and help with the various sustainability initiatives. It was evident that the culture of the University focuses on empowering students to take opportunities that feed their own learning and careers. 

Students sharing their insights and reflections

The students also spoke about the ‘club and association’ culture which is unique in Spain. Having coordinated and empowered groups to drive sustainable initiatives is something that many students discussed as an important feature of their learning experience.  

Curriculum is Key

The students also reflected how their passion for social change is not confined to their extracurricular activities. ‘The lecturers are all really passionate about helping us to become future leaders, so we are always learning about the latest in corporate social responsibility and how business can play a positive role in society.’ One student said. As I looked around the room there were posters of the Sustainable Development Goals with commitments from the students about how they are solving the goals through their studies. There is an elective in the MBA dedicated to the Sustainable Development Goals which helps students understand the social issues and how to solve them in a business context. 

The culture of inspiring future leaders seems to be embedded in the curriculum, activities and behaviours of the students.

Overall 

It was an inspiring experience to be on the campus in the Rambla of Innovation hearing students share their experience of bringing social and environmental issues into business practices. It was great to share with them the importance of bringing social and environmental issues into business practices as well as sharing some of my reflections from the trip. I received a few emails from students after the meeting sharing that they are now re-energised to focus on their clubs and extracurricular activities next semester. The students’ passion and desire to drive change through their course, clubs, daily lives and ultimately into their careers brings me hope for the next generation of business leaders. 

From an academic perspective, it is clear that students are already looking beyond Corporate Social Responsibility as an ‘answer’ to the role that business can play to improve society. The next wave of teaching needs to focus on embedding social and environmental into core curriculum that is coupled with a global understanding of how these challenges manifest in different ways across the world. Oriol’s focus of bringing the different stages of innovation to life through shared spaces and innovative curriculum is another way students are being equipped with the tools and expertise to tackle these global issues. 

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