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How Business School Student Groups are Working Together to Address Today’s Challenges

It is vitally important for business schools to lead the way forward during these uncertain times. GBSN has focused efforts around encouraging network members to think beyond their own institutions and work together to develop innovative solutions and more robust and resilient systems. We must explore the longer-term implications of the coronavirus outbreak for business and society. 

Business school leaders and administrators have adapted to the challenges posed by COVID-19 in many different ways. So too are student groups. There are many stories happening around the world. Consider two projects that vary significantly. 

Qi Xin Deng, Niklas Herold, Anqi Ju, Konstantinos Politis and Yu Lun Wu are MSc Management students at Lancaster University Management School who were paired with Voom, a UK-based company that provides sports nutrition products. They were tasked with developing new international business opportunities for their product with a focus on  the Chinese market in the midst of the pandemic. They ran a market insights survey and generated a remarkable 230 responses from potential new customers who had never been exposed to the brand in just three days.

Konstantinos highlights that it has been a win-win-win-win: the students are practically applying their knowledge, the school is embedded in the community, a small company is growing in the midst of a very challenging environment and consumers are experiencing the benefits of healthy products that are easily accessible. 

Meanwhile, Yi Su – Chairman of the Hubei Xiaoshun Culture and Education Consultation; Secretary General of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) Hubei Alumni Association and a 2014 Executive MBA graduate from the CKGSB – decided he needed to take action when the central government of China imposed a lockdown throughout the Hubei Province due to COVID-19. He connected with 13 fellow alumni of the CKGSB Hubei Alumni Association on WeChat to discuss how they could respond and help in the midst of the crisis ahead. After discussions, the alumni group aligned on a plan and took the following actions to address challenges relating to health-related supply chain and resource issues:

  • Contacted some 30 charity organizations in China to understand the needs 
  • Raised nearly 10 million Chinese Yuan Renminbi and 20 million Chinese Yuan Renminbi in medical supplies
  • Disseminated medical supplies to 500 existing hospitals
  • Coordinated the travel of nurses and doctors from around China to Wuhan in response to the increase of patients and to fill the void after many of the doctors and nurses in the region had come down with the virus
  • Helped establish seven new emergency hospitals that admitted over 7,000 patients

The demographics of the individuals above and the scope of their respective projects are quite different. Nevertheless, there were some common difficulties that emerged, requiring similar responses.

1. Persist. 

Despite all of Su’s efforts, he received criticism for how he allocated money and resources to particular organizations. Some questioned if such decisions were motivated by his own financial interests. This did not stop him – he persisted.

“Without courage, you can’t have an impact when it comes to important corporate responsibility matters,” said Su, through translator Qiongyao Liao. “As an entrepreneur we have a duty to make the world a better place. When I began my EMBA, the Dean of CKGSB shared the important message that we need to be bold leaders who use our talents to help those in need. This perspective helped me in the midst of the criticisms that were directed at me.” 

For the group of Lancaster University Management School students, they needed to work together on a new project in a remote setting with plenty of communications challenges. This did not stop them – they too persisted.

“Stay optimistic and don’t be afraid of challenges or failures,” said Anqi, reflecting on the project with Voom. “We have to use our critical thinking and problem-solving skills for whatever challenges come our way.” 

2. Step outside your comfort zones.

New opportunities are gateways for innovation.  

Su is an investor and real estate developer, not a healthcare professional. 

“It was not easy at all – we are not medical distribution experts,” said Su. “I am more confident now in addressing future challenges and more thoughtful around corporate social responsibility issues. I can confidently say that even if my company were about to go bankrupt, I would still be driven to help people in need.”    

The Lancaster University Management School student group had never worked on such a market research project in the sports nutrition industry. In a very short period of time – July and August – they needed to create a complete market research study and present it to the Voom management team.

“If students have the opportunity to take part in such projects, they should use it as an opportunity to make sense of the situation and to learn,” Niklas said. “We have to embrace ambiguity.” 

3. Be driven to make a difference.

The students from Lancaster University Management School are motivated to support a healthy lifestyle for the Chinese population at a time when many routines were disrupted. 

“Governments have made it a point to highlight the importance of a healthy lifestyle in the midst of the pandemic,” said Konstantinos. “It has been rewarding to be part of a project that is helping consumers do this. We are also helping a small company thrive in the midst of difficult times.”

Meanwhile, CKGSB alumni were on the frontlines of providing resources at the epicenter and start of the outbreak in China.

“My advice for business schools and alumni is to trust those around you and work together to care for society and the unknowns,” said Su. “As business school alumni, we all have adequate skills and experience developing different business models. We can’t separate business profits from the good we should be doing for society; alumni from CKGSB adhere to this. We have to leverage our backgrounds to make a difference in the world, especially in the face of climate change and the vast disparities between the rich and poor. Without taking action and doing something from our heart and with faith, this world is not going to survive.” 

Motivated to address the most pressing needs of society and enabled by digital innovation, business schools have been redefining the boundaries of their work. Many are at the forefront of efforts to rethink business as an engine of innovation for tackling the grand challenges of society. GBSN Beyond is about the bold efforts of leading business schools to move beyond business and borders to positively impact society and generate inclusive and sustainable growth. There are many obstacles to leading the transformation of business education—its infrastructure, traditions, and culture were built for previous industrial revolutions, not the fourth one. Meanwhile, nation states have been more inclined to take care of themselves and close their borders than to bear the load of global leadership required to address the most important issues. GBSN Beyond aims to help schools to engage in discussions and activities to collectively develop innovative solutions.

GBSN Beyond will convene global leaders in academia, government, and industry to collectively explore the critical role of business and entrepreneurship education in our global future. Participants will look ahead and consider our futures Beyond the Classroom, Beyond Graduation, and Beyond the Administration of our schools by sharing ideas and opportunities for generating greater global impact.

Kevin Anselmo is a consultant for GBSN. He created the Interview an Innovator course to help students explore their career interests, learn critical digital communications skills and establish a positive digital footprint. 

The GBSN Beyond: Virtual Conference Reimagined takes place in November 2020. It will provide opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and PhD students from around the globe to have the opportunity to solve problems in their regions and communities related to medical or food sourcing and delivery issues. Learn more.