GIM – GLOBAL INITIATIVES IN MANAGEMENT
Solaja and her classmates are students in Global Initiatives in Management (GIM): Impact and Sustainable Ventures. It’s one of a suite of GIM electives offered to Kellogg MBAs this semester, each with a different focus and region of study. GIM immersions are offered every winter, and about 250 MBAs of any program – executive, full-time, part-time, etc., – travel over their spring breaks. Learning starts in the classroom and is followed by a 10-day, in-country immersion.
After a couple years of pandemic restrictions, travel for GIM courses resumed last year. In March, Poets&Quants was invited to join the class, taught by Kellogg’s director of social impact Megan Kashner, on a four-day excursion to Ecuador. (The class also spent four days in Costa Rica after its original plans to visit Peru were sidelined due to political protests that closed Machu Picchu for three weeks and spread to the city of Cusco.)
Like other GIM electives, Kashner’s course is structured so that the bulk of the course happens before the trip. The class was divided into six teams, each studying a different sustainability or social impact sector – sustainable fashion, ecotourism, women’s empowerment, and others. Teams were then charged with identifying a company or venture from either Costa Rica or Ecuador on which to focus their project. (We’ll look more closely at these team projects in subsequent stories.)
Through their chosen ventures, Kashner’s students are charged with looking specifically at the measurement, management, and reporting of their sustainability and social efforts. It’s one thing to post sustainability or social philosophies on a company website, it’s another to show the real-world impact those efforts are actually achieving. You have to watch out for greenwashing, impact washing, and obfuscating actual results.
“The truth is that impact and sustainability metrics are not as early as they were. In the past four years, we’ve actually had a big maturation in the field, so the tools that the students will be working with are actually globally accepted frameworks. We may never get to one singular set of agreed upon metrics, but it’s not the wild west that it used to be,” Kashner tells P&Q.
“Because I’m the social impact and sustainability person, I tend to try and lead into assignments that will allow our students to do something that adds value. Rather than just being tourists in the country, they’re leaving behind something that sustainable ventures in these countries can make use of.”
Each GIM course is developed by Kellogg professors to give students a unique perspective of a region’s business ecosystem. For Kashner, Ecuador is a fascinating example for a sustainability-focused trip for a number of reasons.
First, Ecuador was the first country in the world to establish that nature has rights. In 2008, the country codified the Rights of Nature in its new constitution, giving people the authority to petition the government on behalf of the right of ecosystems to exist and flourish. It mandated that the government must work to remedy violations.
Second, there is an ongoing conversation about what the Global North owes the Global South when it comes to climate change. From the viewpoint of emerging economies in the Americas and on the African continent, the big powers of the north caused the problems, but the natural resources that could be the salvation are in the South.
“There’s this really interesting movement afoot that basically says the North should be willing to write down the Global South’s sovereign debt in exchange for basically carbon capture and the protection of the natural environment and biodiversity,” Kashner says.
Ecuador is bathed in direct sunlight 12 hours a day, 365 days per year. It is among the world’s top exporters of bananas, roses, cacao beans, and other crops. The Amazon rainforest covers about 42% of its landmass, and acts as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the trees and soil. At the same time, the country is heavily dependent on the revenue from its vast oil deposits. Crude is its largest export product, accounting for nearly a third of its total exports.
In this context, as the Kellogg teams discovered, there’s a burgeoning crop of businesses, social ventures, and other grassroots organizations that are confronting sustainability and social issues as part of their mission statements. Large corporations are starting to do the same.
‘ECUADOR WAS JUST A NAME IN A TEXTBOOK’
Throughout the trip, the MBAs visited a host of plenary meetings – gatherings of all the contingent as a group – in each country. In Ecuador, those included visits to Paccari Chocolate, the National Assembly, and Nestle’s Ecuador subsidiary. In Costa Rica, they visited Hacienda Alsacia, the Starbucks coffee farm among other ventures. Sight-seeing and informational tours are also built in to offer more context for the country’s history and economy. In between, each team was charged with setting up individual meetings with their chosen sustainable ventures to gather facts for their final projects.
“For me, in the past, Ecuador was just a name in a textbook. It is really impactful to be here and talk with local people,” says Ting Huang, a two-year MBA from Taiwan, who previously worked in market strategy and account management at Unilever.
Her team project focused on sustainable packaging, and in Quito they visited a ReciVeci, a people-led initiative to not only increase recycling in neighborhoods, but to provide better conditions and economic mobility for “waste pickers” – the people who recover plastic bottles and other material from Quito streets or from waste management centers to sell to recycling companies. Some 20,000 Ecuadorian families depend on this work, according to some estimates.
“During the visit, I felt like it was so different from what you can learn from the website or from a Zoom meeting. When you are seeing and talking with the people in person, you can see how passionate and proud they are about their work,” Huang says.
Before this GIM course, Latin America seemed like a world away from her home in East Asia. But she’s recognized several shared struggles the regions both face moving forward, particularly in social and sustainable impacts. Take recycling: Even as ventures like ReciVeci strive to improve waste pickers’ pay and working conditions, they still face deep-seeded issues around equity and discrimination. The same is true in Huang’s home country as well.
“My wish for myself when I’m developing my career is to always put sustainability in my mind. I feel like it’s super important for business leaders, whether I will become one or not, to keep it at the forefront.”
NEXT PAGE: A visit the National Assembly + A tale of two chocolate makers
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