Learning how to make positive impact - the INSEAD way!

Komal Syed

Did you know that as a generation we are creating the highest level of carbon footprint on our planet than any generation before? With today’s great comfort and luxuries come high levels of global emissions. The burning of coal, natural gas and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions at 25% of all global emissions. Emissions from industry come in at 21%.[1] Surely, as global citizens, we all notice the impact of depleting our world’s resources and slowly we are changing our ways. However, the greatest challenges of our day cannot be solved with old ways of thinking. We must innovate at the core of our systems.

As an ‘18D who is days away from graduation, I would like to share my journey and thoughts on how I have tried to make sense of INSEAD’s motto of using Business as a Force for Good.

I applied to INSEAD’s MBA programme because I believe in the importance of changing our ways of working, and a good place to start was with myself. I have been intrigued by what it means to pursue a career in the sustainable development space, to become a changemaker and to tackle the gravest of challenges head-on. I believe the best way to accomplish these goals is to re-examine the way we run our businesses. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. Even though the public sector and non-profit sector are making great strides in addressing the environmental and social issues we face today, it is essential for the private sector to address these issues with equal intensity, if not more.

The burden of responsibility lies on all of us collectively, because we only have one planet; there is no planet B.

At INSEAD, I have had the opportunity to explore, experience and engage with many different facets of the social impact and sustainable development space. My initial curiosity made me reach out to the alumni body and seek individuals that have crafted their path post an MBA from INSEAD into non-generic roles to create a positive impact. Specifically, I learnt about social enterprises like PeoplePods, a for-profit organisation in the Philippines which aims to provide affordable and dignified housing to low-income workers. In fact, the concept of social enterprises proves to be a fantastic meeting point for both the public and private sector, whereby an organisation can generate profit and at the same time create positive impact.

HGIBS - launch event at the Fontainebleau Chateau

In addition to reaching out to alumni, I chose elective courses on social impact, such as Business Sustainability Thinking and Impact Investing. Thanks to these courses, I met faculty members such as Professor Andre Calmon and Professor Jasjit Singh, who are extremely devoted to creating positive impact through innovative business solutions. I also met various guest speakers in these classes like Joost Bilkes from Credit Suisse who established, and is now the head of, the Impact advisory arm for the bank’s Asia-pacific region.

Moreover, I joined the leadership team of INDEVOR, INSEAD’s Social Impact Club, and through my role in this club, I have interacted with numerous organisations in this ecosystem, such as UN agencies, donor organisations, and non-profits. I also attended sustainable development and social impact start-up events such as the ChangeNOW summit in Paris – a hub for social enterprises.

I have been able to test my mettle and my passion this summer through interning with Dalberg Advisors, a strategic advisory firm in the development sector, where I was able to utilise transferrable skills from my previous roles and assess my commitment to the cause. In addition, more recently, I have taken up an Independent Study Project to work with a senior faculty member, Professor Luk Van Wassenhove who specialises in humanitarian logistics to address the issue of gender-based violence faced by refugees – the new citizens of the world.

All these interactions, projects, courses, and experiences are helping me to craft my own journey as I try to make sense of the role large corporates can play in being a force for good.  

With Paul Polman, CEO Unilever

I am proud to be part of a business school that is envisioning a better world not just through lip service but also by walking the talk. The recent launch of the Hoffman Global Institute for Business and Society aims to do exactly this by harnessing the power of Business as a Force for Good – a dictum that I strive to emulate as I pursue my career opportunities. I had the pleasure of attending the launch event which brought together inspiring, like-minded business leaders under one roof.

We were fortunate enough to have visionary leader Paul Polman as our key note speaker just weeks prior to his announcement to step down. As CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman has set an example for other large corporates in how to instil a sustainability mission into a company that has tremendous impact through the products it sells. Unilever is striving to innovate at its core to decouple its growth from its environmental footprint, while increasing its positive social impact.

INSEAD’s Business as a Force for Good campaign is a bold, global initiative that supports INSEAD’s work to develop tomorrow’s leaders who will drive transformative change on a global scale. In the words of our Dean, Ilian Mihov, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”.

Our time is now.

[1] Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data, United States Environmental Protection Agency (2017)