Although corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not a new concept, it is certainly one that continues to gain traction in leadership meetings across most industries. In fact, 80% of the world’s 250 largest companies actively issue CSR reports on their efforts toward sustainability and many more companies incorporate CSR into their operational strategies. Sometimes, this planning aims to reduce negative social and environmental impacts the company creates, and sometimes it simply aims to make the world a better place.
In order to provide a well-rounded education to its EMBA participants, ESSEC Business School (Executive Education) incorporates CSR training into its curriculum. According to the Academic Director of ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA, Ivana Ljubic, the program is not only about improving soft and hard management skills at the core of the program, it’s also about business ethics and social responsibility.
“Being senior leaders and privileged members of our society, our participants are invited to contribute to projects that fight injustice, protect the environment or help those in need,” she said.
In fact, part of ESSEC’s mission is to “enlighten the actions of businesses and organizations in a world transformed by the new industrial revolution, the environmental crisis, a new world balance and other major societal changes.” As a result, ESSEC requires its EMBA participants to complete a social class project.
The class can either partner with a non-governmental organization (NGO), or create their own organization. They are responsible for the project from start to finish by conceptualizing and choosing an idea, defining major milestones, tracking KPIs and ensuring the sustainability of the project even after the program is completed.
Sandrine Martin, EMBA Class of 2021, and Helene Souillard, EMBA Class 2020, said they chose ESSEC mainly for the social project requirement. Sandrine Martin said: “The fact that we are in groups and having a social project is something really important. It gives a sense of life to do something not only for you, but for others and the project made me realize that if you hold a certain position in a company, you can become an example for others.”
Her class’s project was partnering up with the NaturDive Association to help save the Mediterranean Posidonia meadows through awareness and fundraising. However, the project was extra challenging for Sandrine, as she was the one who proposed the Posidonia idea. “I was now the ‘leader’ of the project,” she said. “I had 48 people to manage, and had to figure out the best way to do so. But I also had 48 brains from different backgrounds and it was interesting to have a chance to work towards protecting these species.
Sandrine is a senior global project manager for PPD, a contract research organization providing drug development, laboratory and lifecycle management services. However, managing this project was different from her typical work. “In project management, you have people behind you and you have to drive,” she said. “In this project, it was not me and all the rest; we are all on the same level on it, so I had to adapt myself to the communication style of all the people involved so everybody could have their place on the project and be motivated. We were all in this together and I had to apply what I was learning in my EMBA in terms of leadership, organization, management and marketing.”
Helene Souillard, ESSEC & Mannheim EMBA Class of 2020, as part of the participants led by OK Ocak, shares that the social project of her class was to create an NGO and an app that raises awareness about greenhouse gas emissions by having individuals and companies track their CO2 emissions through their transportation choices, and compensate their carbon footprint through donations to an NGO and/or enterprises fighting against climate change. “The pandemic’s impact on our lives has made the awareness about CSR increase dramatically,” she said. “That is something we discussed a lot in the actual EMBA training.”
Helene, an international business lawyer located in Paris, took the CSR concepts to heart in her own professional life. “Lawyers, as all enterprises, have their own duties, and we have to take care of our own emissions and be socially responsible about climate change,” she said. “It is something I want to promote in my work, to make a social and environmental impact on society.”
Both Sandrine and Helene have actually combined forces and connected their projects. “The projects match very well,” Helene said. “We are very pleased to promote Posidonia in our application and raise money for their concept and project. Indeed, the Posidonia is an endemic plant in the Mediterranean Sea which enables, among many other benefits, to capture 8 times more CO2 than a forest. We hope that many people will use it.” ESSEC itself is also backing both projects by offering various kinds of support.
“Now ESSEC is willing to be even more involved in our project, so we have succeeded in extending awareness on it” Sandrine said. “A lot of work has been done and it is great to see our people inspired and motivated.”
While the social project is undeniably the most challenging group exercise in the program, it also tends to be the most satisfying for the participants. Working on a joint project brings both a strategic and entrepreneurial component, fosters class spirit, puts managerial skills to use, and enhances the students’ capability of working with international teams, all things participants can use to bring CSR implementation concepts back to their workplaces.