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Sustainable Business Steams into Station F

Over 6,000 activists, investors, corporates, cities, entrepreneurs and spectators converged on Station F for the international ChangeNOW summit devoted to “scalable solutions to our most urgent global issues”, concerning pollution, energy, education, social responsibility and business. The central hall of the world’s biggest startup hub hosted this two-day event in the heart of the French capital. HEC Paris’s academics, Alumni and students shared in the September 28-29 brainstorming event.

ChangeNOW Sumit - Panel with Magali Delmas

Not since its 29 June 2017 opening has Station F hosted quite such a large and colorful crowd as the one attending the second ChangeNow summit. Stands proposed smart urban mobility, empowerment through sourcing female talent, a web app to manage live events or simply zero-impact cups for water fountains. These were among the hundreds of projects greeting visitors to the two-day event. This private initiative gathered thousands of decision-makers and observers from over 80 countries to share their visions on what the organizers called “the intersection between innovation, business and the world’s largest environmental and social challenges.”

“I love this optimism and vibrancy in dealing with challenges which at times feel overwhelming,” said Magali Delmas, HEC Visiting Professor from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and the author of “The Green Bundle”. Delmas was one of a number of prominent academics invited to the Main Hall Stage to debate the burning issues linked to sustainability and environment. The Director of the UCLA Center for Corporate Environmental Performance, she had just finished contributing to a debate entitled “Towards impact-driven business models”. “We have to focus on five factors – quality, status, health, cost and emotion – in order to nudge the goods beyond the niche market and eventually change the way we consume,” she had told an audience of almost 100 people.

ChangeNOW Summit - Magali Delmas

Building Resilience in France

Belying her relative youth and inexperience, Binta Jammeh drove the debate with aplomb. Jammeh is the COO/co-founder of Konexio, which provides digital training for vulnerable populations in France, notably migrants and refugees. “We’re incubated here at Station F and we’re reaching out to education institutions like HEC Paris,” she said after the debate. “We’ve been invited to present our startup to HEC students this month in the hope of creating bridges and a network of support to our students. This summit is a great opportunity to learn about impacting through socially-driven business models.”

ChangeNOW Summit - Binta Jammeh

The topics covered at the two-day summit were wide-ranging, going from “Sexy solutions for unsexy stuff” to “Peace builders” (featuring the offspring of Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela) and “Resilient cities”. The latter featured Noémie Fompeyrine, Deputy Chief Resilience Officer at the City of Paris municipality“We’ve created an ambitious resilience strategy at the Mairie de Paris to make this an inclusive and cohesive city,” she explained after the debate. “Educational institutions like Sciences Po (ed. the Paris Institute of Political Studies) and Paris Diderot University have been involved. HEC Paris also has a role to play in helping us meet our development and research goals” . The former president of the NGO Noise (which promotes street and urban culture) shared her municipality’s action point for the creation of a training center for resilience as an example of its commitment.

This is one of 35 initiatives, Fompeyrine and her team have outlined in a 128-page online report her department has published in its multi-pronged approach to the challenges the city faces. It delineates the risks to Paris like flooding, social inequalities and poor governance and attempts to counterbalance the threats. Many are shared by HEC’s Society & Organizations Center and its researchers. “For the past ten years, our Social Business Chair  and its Action Tank  partner have been exploring with our partners disruptive business models,” said Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot, HEC’s Academic Director of the MSc in Sustainable Development. “They have joined forces in the Movement for Social* Business Impact  which seeks to improve life for marginalized sectors of the population and reduce social inequalities. This engagement is an urgent one, as this summit and recent moves by the Macron government  show. All the stakeholders have to be mobilized: private and public actors, civil society and academic institutions like ours. I must say, it’s satisfying to note that the French government sees us as an important consulting partner for new policies addressing poverty and the social economy.”

ChangeNOW Summit - Station F Entrance

The Good Lobby at ChangeNow Summit

Sushil Pakala Reddy is very much the product of school’s ambitious development programs. An HEC graduate from the MSc Sustainability & Social Innovation (SASI), he was at Station F to meet Frank Manders, co-founder of the 80-Day Race and panelist for the conference “The nudge and changing habits”. “I’m still promoting my initiative SunPedal Ride and the concept of sustainable mobility”  explained the Alumnus who has just completed a two-week cycling tour of Iceland with IKEA ebike designed for the CHARGE Energy conference. “Frank and I discussed the opportunity for me to join his  team of ambassadors for his own project , and it will be interesting to see where we can take this alternative form of transportation.”  The Mumbai-based energy engineer is now set to meet researchers in Silicon Valley. In this way, Reddy hopes to explore possibilities of harnessing blockchain technology with alternative energy, a long-term project he is researching for his SASI dissertation. 

For the summit’s second day, HEC academic Alberto Alemanno sent fellow-activist Andrea Boccuni, to represent his “Social Profit” organization, The Good Lobby. They were invited to speak at the “Re-inventing the services of general interest” panel. “Andrea is the association’s  head of partnerships,”  explained Alemanno. “At the summit, he shared our questioning of the status quo and also provided tangible solutions that are potentially scalable.”  Alemanno has spent years challenging the current mismatch between the dominant economic system and “what society needs and calls for.” During the conference, Boccuni cited Luxleaks as an example of how each citizen can become a whistleblower. “His presentation was largely based on the book “Lobbying for Change ” which shows how education, training and legal pro bono matchmaking can drive change,” added the Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law. “This summit was an ideal echo chamber for social-driven initiatives, some for profit, others not-for-profit like The Good Lobby.”

Student Vidur Paliwal was slightly starry-eyed as he greeted participants at the entrance with accreditations, badges and the 38-page program. “I volunteered to give a hand at the summit, it’s a great way to gauge global approaches to the social and environmental challenges we face.” Paliwal is a newly arrived engineer embarking on HEC’s 16-month MBA after three years at the Indian Space Research program in the Thiruvananthapuram region. “I worked on recycling lithium batteries in India so I’m keen on finding ways to combine business with positive impact on the environment.” At the crack of dawn, Vidar had taken the very first train from Jouy-en-Josas, mainly for professional reasons but also, in his own words, simply to “get to know the French a bit better.”