News Stories · Leadership - Social Innovation - Sustainability

IMD Alumni Event puts sustainability at the front of the business agenda

This critical moment is felt by us all and is a driving force in defining how we want to live together, says Yves Daccord, former Director-General, ICRC.
October 2020
 - IMD Business School

More than 500 alumni participated in the first fully virtual Annual International Alumni Event liVe, Joining together to shape the post-COVID world: Leadership confronts regular disruption. The two-day event spanned 2-3 October 2020 and featured sessions with more than a dozen speakers from a wide range of industries.

Building on last year’s gathering, the focus was on sustainability as well as Diversity & Inclusion-related themes, marking a shift in thinking towards a world “with” rather than “after” COVID-19.

IMD President and Nestlé Chaired Professor Jean-François Manzoni, as well as a selection of IMD professors, senior staff and guests presented on a variety of topics, including on investing in ending poverty and finding opportunity in crises.

Here is a look into the session highlights from day one:

President’s Welcome

“We’re embracing the possibilities that tech is giving us and creatively leveraging it in ways to pursue our purpose,” said President Jean-François Manzoni, opening the event.

IMD Head of Sustainability Natalia Olynec, who facilitates the program, expanded on mobilizing leadership and innovation for a sustainable future, in a world where COVID-19, climate change and increasing inequality is at hand.

There will be no after-COVID-19

The biggest responsibility is to redefine the future together in this complicated moment, said former Director-General, ICRC, Yves Daccord.

In a discussion with Knut Haanaes, IMD the Lundin Chair Professor of Sustainability, former Director General, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spoke on the ever-changing scenario of today and what it means for both humanity and the business world.

“I want to use this session to reflect on the world we operate in – what it means for each of us,” opened Daccord, who has participated in the IMD MBA Business and Society class for the past three years.

Daccord believes the social contract has changed, and that one major element of this is that we are now living in a time where consensus-building is not valued as it was previously: “This is something I think will be essential and IMD has a big role to play. When we talk about business, we have to talk about humans and how we connect together – this is the biggest task before us.”

“We have to find ways of being agile but still try to shape new solutions,” commented Professor Haanaes.

“There is no after COVID,” concluded Daccord. “Like with all pandemics, we’ll have to learn to live with it.”

Investing in an end of poverty

Social entrepreneurship and impact investing contribute to a more inclusive capitalism and bring innovative solutions to global challenges.

How do we mobilize private capital to respond to the challenge of absolute poverty? This was the question that Peter Wuffli, Honorary Chairman of IMD Foundation and Supervisory Boards and Vanina Farber, IMD elea Professor of Social Innovation explored during this inspiring discussion.

“Any investing has impact, but impact investment involves actively placing capital in entreprises that generate measurable, desired, beneficial social and environmental outcomes that would not occur but for his/her investment,” explained Professor Farber.

Wuffli said he created the elea Foundation to fight absolute poverty – income less than $3 per day – with entrepreneurial means: “We place investments into early stage companies while they are small and need both capital and support. This could include, but is not limited to, digital solutions and skill building and leads the way for more commercial investors.”

A partnership with the elea Foundation to pioneer ways to combine technology and sustainability to solve global problems, IMD’s elea Center for Social Innovation is firmly engaged in helping the private sector create value for society and the environment.

Firmenich DNA: resilience and sustainability

Long-term outlook and financial projection must rely on social commitment, human rights and environment, says Benjamin Firmenich.

With the support of his family, Benjamin Firmenich is partnering with Cédric Lombard on sustainability investing in start-ups around the world. One such project is Kahai: 500 hectares of the nut tree were planted in an area deforested by cattle farming in Colombia, for example.

“This brings work to rural people, especially women that work in the plantations,” said Firmenich, speaking out on resilience and how it is truly in his family’s DNA.

Firmenich – a Swiss, family-owned company that has created fragrances and flavors for the world’s top brands for over 120 years, is the recipient of the inaugural IMD-Pictet Sustainability in Family Business Award.

Diversity & Inclusion – Making Difficult Decisions in the Workplace

Hold your values and beliefs near and dear, says Josefine van Zanten, IMD Senior Advisor Diversity & Inclusion.

Leveraging the benefits of diversity and how to be truly inclusive as an organization dominated this panel discussion led by van Zanten.

“We concluded that values are important, really a prerequisite,” Helen Wyatt, CHRO Cofra Holding said. “A richness of backgrounds, perspectives, life experience, values, learning styles, perceptions, skills and beliefs drive people to think and act in individual and unique ways.”

Robyn Bradley, Talent Manager, SHV, and Sylvia Houwers, Global Talent Director, Nutreco (a part of SHV), were clear about defining their company’s Diversity & Inclusion strategy, which includes 25% of leadership positions at Nutreco to be held by women by 2025.

“Data is key to understanding where and what to focus on,” said Houwers.

“The data gave us new areas to investigate,” said Bradley. “We had some surprises along the journey but the biggest was that people were eager and willing to work on this topic, allowing us to progress quickly.”

According to Heidi Robertson, Group Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Employer Brand, ABB, launching the company’s Strategy for 2030 Diversity & Inclusion this week was an important step.

“It’s a great starting point but obviously there’s a lot more to be done. The next decade will really show what we’re able to accomplish at ABB in the field of Diversity & Inclusion,” said Robertson.

Authenticity and action

Olynec concluded the thought-provoking afternoon with closing remarks touching on the ideas inspired Yves Daccord’s comments.

“How to we live together and what does it mean to be a human being?” she questioned. “Designing for tomorrow while maintaining authentic relationships is paramount.”