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HEC Paris Takes to the Seine to Celebrate a Decade of Social Business Certificate

In 2009, the Social Business/Enterprise and Poverty (SB/EP) Certificate was launched as part of HEC Paris’ long-lasting commitment to tackling social and environmental issues. Fast forward to the evening of May 29, 2018, past and present participants, professors, and corporate partners are celebrating the 10th  anniversary and success of the Certificate on a boat in the Seine.

Social Business Certificate - HEC Paris

The SB/EP Certificate was created in 2009, as the core program of the Social Business Chair. In 2016 this Chair became the Movement for Social*Business Impact (MS*BI). This Movement aims to contribute to a more inclusive economy, where businesses seek to maximize their social impact together with their economic performance. It relies on 3 pillars: research, education, and action. The Movement for Social * Business Impact is managed by the Society & Organizations (S&O) Center of HEC Paris, and supported by the Action Tank Social & Business.

The Certificate has informed and inspired over five hundred aspiring social entrepreneurs and social intrapreneurs. About a hundred alumni of the program, together with several main founders and supporters took to the boat’s stage to share their experiences of social business and later mingled with the Certificate’s participants over the last 10 years.

An Initiative Designed to Promote Inclusive Economy

The SB/EP Certificate consists of a “theoretical” part where participants study the involvement of business in the fight against poverty; and a “field” part in a business or project involved in alleviating those under the poverty line. This commitment to making a positive difference was shared by all of the Chair’s supporters, for example Gilles Vermot Desroches, Sustainability Director from the Chair’s partner Schneider Electric, who told the audience: “We are stronger when we are together. The future is without vision if we do not care for everyone.”  

Denis Machuel from Sodexo, is the newest partner of the HEC Paris MS*BI. Machuel said that thanks to the partnership with the MS*BI, Sodexo has been able to “accelerate and be the ones to help others enter in a new world with new business models, a fully inclusive world, a sharing world, a caring world.”

Social Business Certificate - Martin Hirsch

It’s the People, not the Organizations that Change

Martin Hirsch, co-President of the Movement and Director General of Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris, discussed the various moments in his life that led him to embark on the social business adventure and to help create this Chair. In particular, he emphasized that he has been touched, at different stages of his life, by young people asking him for advice on “how to be useful, make a difference and help society” . This made him realize that we have a “responsibility to open our ears and our doors, making this Chair a way to help others.”

Social Business Certificate - Emmanuel Faber

Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, co-President of the Movement, then elaborated on the history and key moments in the foundation of the Chair. It was, among other factors, a combination of discussions with Hirsch on ways to combat poverty and a request from Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot, Executive Director of the Chair, which led him to help create this Chair. Faber pointed out that the most important lesson he had learnt after 25 years in social business was that “organizations never change. People are the only thing that change” and for this reason he truly believes that “we can gradually, step by step, one by one, change the world that surrounds us.”

At the end of the night’s speeches, Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot thanked everyone who supported the Chair over the last 10 years and looked to the future: “We need to go deeper, broader and accelerate. We need to involve more actors, stakeholders, companies. We need to create new ways of doing business.” Frédéric Dalsace, co-creator of the Certificate, was also present to express his gratitude to all those who had contributed to the Chair over the last decade.

François Rouvier, Director of Groupe Renault’s Social Business & Road Safety Program, in turn expressed his gratitude to Faivre-Tavignot and Dalsace. Renault has seen the company’s image radically change after partnering with the SB/EP Chair, according to Rouvier: “Before, we were probably seen as a very macho company, as a very old-fashioned industry, and now we are seen as a forward-thinking and open-minded company.”

Students Reflect Optimism

This decennial anniversary brought together past and present students, full of praise for the event. Kenneth Grodotzki, a German student who came to HEC Paris specifically for this Certificate, acknowledged that the night’s speeches were “a perfect summary of what we learned throughout the course. The optimism conveyed in the presentations actually followed us through all the courses in the Certificate. This optimism is what society really needs, because most people think that social business is a nice idea but it won’t change anything or it takes too much time, so having all these people talk about things they have really done should make us believe that change is possible.”

Participants echoed Grodotzki’s comments throughout the evening gathering. Varad Deshpande, an MBA student and entrepreneur, reflected on the changes this Certificate has inspired him to make to his restaurant chain Yolkshire back in his homeland India. He commented: “From now on we will be incorporating social impact as one core strategy of the business. Before it was something that was separate from the business. Now it makes me think about how I can actually talk about my business as inclusive business. So I think the Certificate will benefit me a great deal.” Asked how unique he felt the Certificate is, Deshpande replied firmly: “It’s a great initiative that HEC has in the sense that it’s something very different from what we’ve been taught in the MBA so far. It’s a good complementary component to have along with the MBA. The MBA gives us core business skills and then doing the Certificate afterwards is like including what we’ve learnt in the MBA, what we’d like to do in terms of social business.”

As the event came to an end, Master’s student Sarah Mandray summarized the night in the form of a quote by Professor Muhammad Yunus, co-President of the Chair: Getting money provides you with happiness, but helping others provides you with super happiness!”