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Have a Cause, Make an Impact: Students Lead Change On and Off Campus

54 HEC Paris students enjoyed a thrilling ride in the pioneering “Have a Cause, Make an Impact” course, co-designed and executed by the school’s SASI Master’s degree and the Society & Organizations (SnO) Center. The twelve-week program is culminating in projects going well beyond the Jouy-en-Josas campus boundaries. Academic director and co-creator of the course, Rodolphe Durand, has no doubt the course will enjoy equal success when it returns in the fall.

Have a cause make an impact - wintergreat

The lessons to be drawn from this groundbreaking program have been multiple, according to Rodolphe Durand“The idea was to give you, students the space as cohorts to question yourselves, stimulate decision-making and fix your final objectives,”  he told the 13 teams gathered together for their final pitch. “This is more than just a course. Our work here ties in with so many things HEC is grappling with in our drive for a more sustainable, environmentally stable and socially innovative world.” 

The students had just delivered their respective pitches in front of a jury after six intense weeks of practical work. A total of 18 students from HEC’s Grande Ecole and 36 from the SASI Master had joined forces to propose and execute projects reflecting much of the theory they had gathered previously. “This is an extremely rare approach in a business school,”  noted Claudia Schulz, a Ph.D. student in strategy and management at HEC Paris. The young Australian specialist in social impact measurement assisted Durand in the teaching and organization of the entire program. “This is a course you normally would see in political science schools, but we witnessed how the students here flowered and brought to life highly-effective projects designed to make a social and societal impact.”

Projects: From Spreading Happiness to Fighting Public Harassment

The academic team kicked off the course in October with reading circles and discussions around publications by Russell Brand, Ha-joon Chang and Al Gore. “After 3-4 sessions, the students began working on ways of integrating the discussions into their own approaches and behavior when interviewing people,”  explained Schultz. “The teams really impressed us in their agility of mind and general awareness.”

The 13 projects elaborated in the following sessions were impressive in their diversity. They ranged from working on a movement for happiness called “Where to Laugh”, to fighting sexual harassment in public transport. Many brought HEC closer to its immediate environment with bridges built between the campus and local associations working on homelessness and exclusion, or programs for sustainability and innovation with Versailles student architects at ENSA. Ambitious coalitions were made with the likes of Airbnb and Fondapol to work on Fair Fashion Tours in Paris and digitalizing rural France, respectively. Projects also touched highly sensitive topics such as dying at home as an option for France’s ageing population, or the need for First Aid for the 20% of the French population susceptible to mental health issues.

Helping Refugees – and the Vulnerable on Campus

But it was the two co-winners of the pitching competition that most impressed the jury in the final session of the course. “Improving Mental Health Services (MHS) on the HEC Campus” looked for solutions to emotional and psychological distress amongst students. The four-woman team was astounded at the degree of response to their surveys, as well as the positive feedback from the faculty members at the team’s final proposals to improve on-campus MHS facilities. “We had banked on 300 responses to our online survey, but we fielded 280 just in the first day,”  exclaimed Aiste Rugeviciute, one of the team-members and a SASI student from Lithuania. “It surprised us because in France few people talk about the pressure they are under during their studies or the consequences this can have. But the examples from countries like Canada or England’s York University (Ed. where Aiste studied previously) show us how healthy it is to speak up.”  The 392 final responses and dozens of additional comments allowed Aiste’s team to formulate 14 proposals to improve MHS facilities on the campus. All have had positive feedback from Marcelle Laliberté, the newly-appointed assistant Dean of Student Affairs, as well as the campus nurse. “You just have to dream big!”  said Aiste. “The project really allowed us to do something positive, go beyond the theory we’ve been learning.”

Two other projects focused on the plight of migrants and refugees in France. But it was one, simply entitled “Raising awareness about the integration of refugees in France”, which most impressed jury-members with its far-reaching impact. The six-student team led by Charlotte Oulerich allied itself with a “social start-up” called Wintegreat to create a pilot partnership for HEC which could lead to long-lasting exchanges between the two. Wintegreat is a Paris-based association seeking to help refugees have access to education and work commensurate with their education and skills. “In record time, we signed up the 50 students and 25 alumni needed to accompany 25 refugees on a 12-week program to help the latter find openings in the education and job sectors,”  explained Charlotte. “Within two month, we had the backing of HEC Associate Dean Eloïc Peyrache, for a longer-lasting involvement in Wintegreat. That’s something of a record for the association which has the backing of nine other higher education institutes!”

The HEC-Wintegreat program kicked off on January 31 and is set to provide the linguistic, cultural and business tools for the refugees. “By training and guiding these refugees, we are providing them with credentials for employment,” emphasized Eloïc Peyrache at the inaugural ceremony. “HEC is thus at the very heart of France’s positive social mobility. I am particularly happy and proud of the dynamism of our students, professors and collaborators who are behind this fine initiative.” The first program is set to run until June 2018.


More about:

HEC MSc in Sustainability and Social Innovation 

Knowledge@HEC article : Master in Sustainability and Social Innovation: training “realistic idealists”

The HEC Experience Blog: Learning to become a change maker