Inaugural HEC Impact Careers Day Hits Home
February’s student-driven HEC Impact Careers Day saw a record affluence for its debates, career fair and networking arena. Jointly organized by the HEC Career Center and six students from the “Have a Cause, Make an Impact” class, the event invited the entire HEC community to “connect with companies who are actively trying to make a difference.”
For Lauren Wyman, this was an eye-opener. “These kind of events give color to our classroom experience,” enthused the MBA student in global affairs, freshly arrived from Yale University on an exchange program. “These cross-disciplinary debates are so important as we see business practitioners operate outside our academic context.” Abhinav Garg shared Wyman’s enthusiasm, convinced that the hands-on experience related by the panelists will come in handy when he returns to his native New Delhi. “Today’s participants are helping to expand our horizons,” explained the MBA 2020 student. “The only way to develop sustainable business models these days is to take into account the experiences of workers on the shop floor, to create win-win situations between the supplier and the vendor. These lessons were brought home by business leaders at this event. I can imagine using some in India where supply chains are going bankrupt or are unsustainable.” Wilfrid Akotangni from the Grande Ecole, meanwhile, noted that work in sustainability sometimes “needs persistence and creative thinking. But,” he added, “the globe’s collective future depends on sustainability work becoming commonplace. That’s why these events are so vital, especially for the environmental domain.”
Such all-round satisfaction with the inaugural HEC Impact Careers Day was palpable at the five-hour event in HEC’s T-building. Hundreds of participants crowded into the three panels, lined up to discuss job and internship openings and/or explored professional avenues with business and NGO representatives at the networking cocktail. “I must say, this success has yet to sink in,” admitted Raquel de la Orden, the initiator of the Careers Day, surrounded by her fellow-organizers and SASI colleagues, Laure-Abeille Debray, Bar Rubin, Ruth Calvo and Asma Diallo.
Mixing Purpose and Business for Sustainable Careers
For the past four months, these students from the MSc Sustainability and Social Innovation (SASI) program worked steadfastly to create an event which would unite “the minds of future decision-makers and connect them with companies with a purpose”. To achieve their goal, they selected 12 representatives from HEC’s Grande Ecole, its seven MSc programs, the MBA silo and the school’s Executive program. All were made Impact Ambassadors, invested with the aim of shedding light on career opportunities within their sector devoted to positive environmental and social impact.
But de la Orden’s initial motivation went further back. “I became aware of the need to organize this kind of event at HEC during my first year of the MiM,” she explained. “It was a bit disappointing to see how little some fellow-students and friends knew about professional paths combining business with purpose, such as international development, impact investing or climate change mitigation. Many were not even sure how to define sustainability. So, this year, when we had to come up with an idea for our ‘Have a Cause, Make an Impact”class in SASI, I knew right away what I wanted to do.”
De la Orden, who has a M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering from Comillas University (Madrid, Spain) and almost two years of experience as a consultant at the World Bank, has set her sights high, along with her colleagues. “HEC is the alma mater of some of the most important leaders in the world. As a top European business school, it has the power and responsibility to play a key role in transforming international business and helping achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030,” read the Careers event program, before inviting the guest companies to help the students “make a difference”. Working alongside HEC’s Career Center, the students persuaded several private companies and international institutions, including the IFC, the European Union and the OECD, to rally the Career Fair, many setting-up their stalls at HEC for the first time ever. These firms actively sought to recruit interns or future employees amongst the 350-plus students who signed up for the Day (principally from the Grande Ecole/MSc programs (220) and MBA (115)).
Mixed Profiles Sought
“We’re a young company and we’re looking to scale up our operations,” said Léa Hindré, as she leafed through the dozens of résumés that students had left at her stall. The Marketing Director of Data Soluce has seen her software company mushroom and enjoy a first crowdfunding series which capped at €6 million. Accordingly, the firm’s workforce increased from five to 20 employees in the year since she arrived. “Now, we’re looking to develop our model and we need the know-how HEC students can provide.” Her company was actually cofounded by an HEC MBA alumnus, Simon Valadou and Hindré felt it natural to return to his former hunting ground. “We have a SaaS business model and we’re looking for people with a strong ability to provide machine-learning algorithms in the sustainability field. Candidates should also have a cosmopolitan background and network. These are exactly the qualities we find here.”
Other company representatives sought broader profiles: “We’re very open because we believe that you can only learn this kind of profession as you go along. It’s a very multi-disciplinary field and double diplomas are the ideal breeding ground for our sector,” explained the HR representative for Bouygues’ Linkcity branch. “The sustainability field requires financing from both the private and public sector and it requires great agility, something HEC is known for. So, it seemed natural for us to be here.”
Apart from the MSc in Sustainability and Social Innovation, the strongest student turnout came from the MSc in Finance, followed by the MSc in Strategy and the MSc in Digital Innovation. Many seemed aware of the well-defined career paths and jobs which demanded a little more investigation to unearth.
“This has been a fantastic first,” observed Tony Somers, Director of Employer Engagement at the school’s Careers Center. “Our Center sees this student-driven project as something of a precedent which we’d like to see more of. The SASI students took so many initiatives, we just provided support in their outreach to businesses. I liked their semi-informal approach which combines student needs and an effective recruitment platform for companies.”
“There are many promising profiles at this school,” stated Larissa Luy, Principal Environmental Specialist at the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. Luy’s long experience in sustainable development has been at the heart of several IFC projects since 2005, when she arrived with a rich bag of technical, engineering and human rights expertise. Pointing to a Careers Fair in full swing, she said: “It’s escaped no one’s attention here that HEC students have a global focus, they’re aware of the broader context we need to work in. Thanks to their previous experience and their various internships they have strong on-the-ground know-how, from bottom up. Just as important, they have proven agility in a world which is evolving rapidly. Consumption, production and communication sectors are all changing, and not just in cities. So, the IFC is looking for those agile minds which are open to innovation in sectors like structuring loans, inventing new kinds of partnerships with impact investors, and so on.”
Larissa Luy pointed out that future IFC interns and employees should not be afraid of facing head-on more contentious questions linked to IFC projects in developing countries. “Our approach has evolved a lot over the past six years. In the past, we would only look at projects in isolation: if the company was sound, the project was sound. We didn’t contemplate all the contextual risks of working with corrupt governments or weak security forces. It was naïve. Now, we are much more robust in our verification process. Our future collaborators must know we take into account the contextual factors like a weak governance structure or corrupt legal framework before partnering up for any project. And we work much more closely with the World Bank since they deal directly with the governments.”
Luy was part of a five-person panel focused on “Impact Investing: What is Needed to Scale Up.” It was one of three debates attended by almost 300 people filling up the T206 amphitheater. Chaired with characteristic brio by HEC Professors Afshin Mehrpouya and Jean-Michel Gauthier as well as HEC Paris MBA candidate Richard Kamp, the exchanges provided insights into topical issues such as the face of future cities, the technology-inclusive growth relationship and the impact-investing buzzword. “We’re delighted by the turnout,” commented an organizing team member. “Next time we will consider bringing down the number of panels to allow for longer and more contradictory debate.” A promising pointer to a project which is banking on future generations picking up the torch to make the Impact Careers Day an annual affair.