Transforming knowledge into concrete action, the purpose of the HEC Paris SASI Opening Seminar
Going back to school for the 93 students of the Master in Sustainability and Social Innovation (SASI) 2023-2024 cohort means getting real about the world’s challenges. Climate change, decarbonization, diversity, human rights… Students get exposed to a variety of topics, approaches and perspectives concerning environmental and social issues through the business lens, and can ultimately decide what they want to do next, i.e designing their impact career and reinventing how business is done. Next for their career, next for people, and next for the planet. Let’s dive into what they experience as soon as they step on campus and take a closer look by looking more closely at the SASI Opening Seminar, powered by the HEC Paris Society & Organization Institute.
Three eye-opening weeks to broaden the students’ horizons
Picture yourself in a room full of students ready to have bold, courageous conversations about the climate-biodiversity-inequalities triple crisis, and eager to find solutions and become agents of change. At HEC Paris we want to exceed their expectations. This is why, for the 4th consecutive year, the school has designed an intense and thought-provoking Opening Seminar with a wide range of speakers. From business executives to researchers and activists, each speaker provides a perspective into a new sector or topic, and sheds light on what students will be dealing with in their academic year ahead and in their future careers. A current student, Alix Le Corre, confirms that “having journalists, activists, biologists, scientists, climate engineers, and many more really gives us a great and broad understanding of the global current issues.”
Why should students start off the academic year with such a seminar? To make sure all the students get the same foundations, no matter their academic and professional background. It also allows them to better choose which topic they’d like to further investigate for their Master’s thesis, and which track they want to embrace for their second semester, between a Business Project with a company, the Launchpad for entrepreneurial minds, Research, or an exchange program with AgroParisTech. François Gemenne, the Scientific Director of the SASI Master’s program, explains: “The seminar provides the students with some fundamentals about climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, the extraction of resources and all the components of what we call the Anthropocene, this new geological epoch we have now entered.”
More specifically, these three weeks are intended to help students:
- Understand the consequences of climate crises and the challenges of sustainability,
- Define key concepts on sustainability and social innovation,
- Develop a toolbox of sources and tools to use,
- Become a catalyst for change in the future.
Facts, Impacts and Solutions: The triptych behind the SASI Opening Seminar
Nearly 50 sessions, among which conferences, workshops, serious games and field visits await students during this three-week experience. All events are meticulously orchestrated in order to follow a logical progression, from the facts to the impacts and to the solutions.
Starting with the ‘WHAT?’
Week 1 is all about facts. What are the key realities, orders of magnitude, metrics and conclusions that we can draw from the triple crisis? Current student Andrea Caldart describes the first week as a way to be “exposed to all the questions and the whole framework on sustainability, and on what is happening to the world.” Every session covers a different topic, such as energy, human rights, water economics… which are not typically covered in business curricula. One of the highlights of the first week is the students’ participation in a Climate Fresk & 2Tonnes Workshop.
Continuing with the ‘SO WHAT?’
In the second week, students get a full grasp of the impacts of the facts covered in Week 1. The sessions allow students to identify the major consequences of the triple crisis, in terms of both risks and opportunities for organizations. They also attend the international 3Zero World Forum in Paris organized by Convergences, thereby concretely discovering the local and regional ecosystem of actors dedicated to the transition.
Week 2 also offers students the opportunity to learn more about the HEC ecosystem, and the different specialization tracks available in the program.
Ending with the ‘NOW WHAT?’... ushering in the academic year
‘Solutions’ is the keyword of the last week of the seminar. Students look at the existing solutions and the potential levers for action to address the world’s multiple, complex crises. These solutions and perspectives are mostly presented through hands-on sessions – including an interactive conference with Rob Hopkins, a serious game called RISE powered by the Opening Seminar partner Schneider Electric, an invitation to dive into their inner selves and the framework of the Inner Development Goals with Åsa Jarskog, a field visit to Carrefour.
The whole purpose of this Opening Seminar, and of the SASI program overall, is to empower students to imagine and design what a better future should look like, and to be able to concretely lead the transition towards it.
Dr Nicolas Plain, French scientist, economist and engineer, led the RISE – Our World Heritage – Serious Game in partnership with Schneider Electric & BCG during Week 3. Dr Plain confirms: “Beginning the year with this seminar is a brilliant idea as it gives students a lot of motivation and energy, and a lot of interesting topics to work on and to keep working on during their career.”
On track for the full SASI experience, and for the next chapter
The Opening Seminar certainly opens the door to the students' next chapter. Olivia Schootstra, Global Sustainability and Sourcing Specialist at GE Renewable Energy and alumna of the program reflects on the Opening Seminar, which for her is the best way to start off the year. “I love how the SASI Opening Seminar forces students to open up their horizons to understand what else is out there. And then, they can just zoom in again.”
As François Gemenne states, the challenge for the years ahead is to mainstream the world’s issues into business models. “The program aims to train and equip the students with the best possible tools so that they can make a difference in the companies they will be working for, and transform these companies from the inside or create their own,” he adds. This resonates with Alix le Corre’s testimonial who was fascinated by one of the speakers, Yannick Servant, Co-founder of the Convention des Entreprises pour le Climat, who talked about both the power that businesses have and the courage they need to enact change. “For the graduates we will be in a year from now, this seminar really does give us a sense of responsibility to actually be able to have the courage and the faith to really change industries within.”
In a nutshell, this three-week Seminar is a fabulous introduction to real-world challenges. It enables students to widely explore the complexity of the world's challenges, to start making sense of it, and then to go deeper where they individually wish. “The Opening Seminar is a great way to open chakras, to be aware of the many different subjects that are related to sustainability, and maybe also a good way to find your niche and find out exactly where you want to have an impact,” concludes Thomas Harre from Capgemini Invest, a SASI alumnus and a speaker during the seminar.