Pedagogical innovations and collaboration: how IÉSEG meets the challenges of integrating CSR / SD principles in organizations

Long before the publication of the 6th IPCC report in August 2021, which definitively proves the unquestionable impact of human activities on climate change, IÉSEG had placed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainable Development (SD) not only at the heart of its Vision 2025, “Empowering Changemakers for a better society”, but also at the heart of its programs.

A quest for purpose, a growing commitment

In the past few years, the School’s students have been increasingly interested in CSR and Sustainable Development issues : “the new generation’s mindset has changed: there is a sense of emergency and commitment that more and more young people share, as they realize that the climate change is transforming the world in which they live and will work in the future. They have understood that the only solution is to push for sustainable solutions to be implemented in the way companies operate and expand,” explains Frank DE BAKKER, professor in Corporate Social Responsibility at IÉSEG and coordinator of the ICOR center of excellence (IÉSEG Center for Organizational Responsibility).

Today, the tendency is rather to make courses dedicated to CSR and SD, sometimes very theoretical, compulsory, with little emphasis on the question of business models and the effective implementation of innovative initiatives. At IÉSEG we are rethinking the way we consider the challenges of sustainable development for companies, to provide a more transversal teaching approach that not only emphasizes business models (i.e. how do we transform, tomorrow, the way value is created by the company, by going beyond the mere production of economic wealth, and also taking into account social and environmental values), but also the transformation of companies and organizations to implement these new models,” explains François MAON, professor-researcher in Strategy and Corporate Social Responsibility at IÉSEG and head of the “Management and Society” Department.

Indeed, shifting paradigms requires a real process of cultural change throughout the company, involving all employees, including top management, because it is impossible to build a new (more) sustainable business model without touching the values that support the organization, that sometimes contributed to its foundation, and that are therefore the bedrock of the organization.

A diverse curriculum mixing interactive courses and company projects

Based on this unique dimension in the French educational landscape, IÉSEG professors have designed the entire curriculum offered throughout the Grande École Program. Each graduate has the knowledge and skills necessary to integrate CSR and SD principles into the organizations in which they will work, and will thus have a real impact on the world of tomorrow

As soon as they join the Grande École program in the first year, students begin their studies with a seminar during which they analyze a CSR / SD issue in groups (e.g. the responsible use of Artificial Intelligence) and propose solutions. The students are thus immersed, as soon as they start their courses, in innovative pedagogical methods to work on these issues. Students then follow a series of learning activities, a mix of interactive courses including, since this year, a course on sustainable development strategy, and coaching sessions, during which professors guide students in their reflection and development.

Equipped with technical and theoretical knowledge, all Bachelor students then embark on the “People – Planet – Profit” project, where they will have to work in groups to address real issues faced by companies and public authorities. “These issues are as varied as the organizations that propose them and which are actively involved in the project. For example, the students reflect on how to get employees more involved in sustainable development actions, on an innovative policy to be deployed to meet the challenges of recruitment in terms of disability in companies, on the development of more responsible production or marketing processes… This project is always eagerly awaited, as much by our 1,000 or so students who take part in it as by our partner companies and organizations, since the solutions proposed can be innovative, relevant and potentially, then, implemented in a concrete way“, explains François MAON.

The Circular Canvas – a further step towards reflection and action

In the Master Cycle of the Grande École Program, CSR and SD teaching continues with the common core course ‘Change Management for Sustainability Strategies’. Students develop their reflection on the creation of sustainable value through innovative business models as well as the implications in terms of cultural and organizational transformation.

During the first half of the course, students analyze a company and its sustainability performance and identify in which areas CSR and SD improvements would be useful. “Then, they rely on a tool called the ‘Circular Canvas’, provided by Circulab, a strategy and design agency dedicated to the circular and regenerative economy, which collaborated in the reflection that led to the implementation of this course that all students follow. Using this model, students analyze the different dimensions involved in creating value for the company and society, and then work to conceptualize how to transform some of these dimensions in order to improve the social, environmental and economic performance of the organization under investigation. Finally, they apply change management techniques to envision how these improvements could be implemented in a concrete way. A constructive and efficient approach to conclude this educational journey providing the right methods and knowledge“, explains Frank DE BAKKER.

Through this transversal, rich, complete, and ever-changing path, IÉSEG offers its Grande École Program students a rich and innovative learning experience, in collaboration with its partners, such as the companies involved in their development, and with the support of actors in its ecosystem, such as the Fondation de la Catho de Lille. This experience allows them to acquire the skills necessary to become responsible managers for a better society, directly in line with the values, mission and Vision of the School.

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