THE INK ON AACSB’S 2016 Collective Vision is barely dry, but business schools already are striving to become the institutions described in its pages: catalysts for innovation, co-creators of knowledge, hubs of lifelong learning, leaders on the development of leadership, and enablers of global prosperity. At Hult International Business School, we have launched a variety of programs that align with these five roles, but we are putting special emphasis on three.
Catalyzing innovation for global prosperity. One way that we inspire students to think creatively about addressing the world’s problems is through the Hult Prize, which encourages teams of students around the world to develop sustainable startup enterprises aimed at solving the planet’s biggest challenges. (Read more at www.hultprize.org.) Founded in 2011, the prize is supported by Swedish entrepreneur Bertil Hult, who provides the US$1 million annual prize.
In the first phase of the competition, students use an online portal to network and find teammates. To enhance cross-disciplinary collaboration, only one participant per team can be an MBA student; others must come from other fields. Teams first compete on their local campuses, where more than 600 schools have sponsored competitions.
Local winners then compete at one of Hult’s six campuses in Boston, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; New York City; London; Dubai; or Shanghai. Regional winners are invited to our Boston location to participate in the Hult Prize Accelerator. During this six-week program of intensive entrepreneurial seminars, all the teams test and refine their proposals.
For the global final, a panel of judges—who have included Nobel Laureate Muhammed Yunus and One Laptop Per Child founder Chuck Kane—listens to presentations and selects the winning team. In recent years, the final event has been moderated by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who awards the prize. The winning team immediately works to launch its new social enterprise, receiving ongoing support from the Hult Prize Accelerator and its partners.
For instance, in 2016, the challenge was to improve the lives of some of the 10 million slum dwellers in Africa. The winning team, Magic Bus from Earlham College, created an app that facilitates bus transportation for workers in Nairobi and other crowded African cities. Their technology is drawing significant interest from other cities in the developing world.
The winners of the 2011 challenge, m.Paani (www.mpaani.com) from Cambridge University, have created a sophisticated loyalty program to help urban slum dwellers in India. The winners of the 2013 challenge, Aspire Food Group (www.aspirefg.com) from McGill University, have become the world’s largest producer of insect-based food.
The 2017 competition challenges teams to build sustainable enterprises that restore the rights and dignities of refugees. Around the world, schools have hosted 300 events, engaging 25,000 students. Among the regional winners are teams developing solar-powered rickshaws, solar-powered internet hardware, mobile toilets, and language apps. These teams will compete in the final round in September.
In the seven years since the prize was launched, more than 100,000 students have competed, learning how to create a social enterprise and what an important role business plays in society. So far, 14 members of finalist teams have been named in the annual Forbes “30 Under 30” list. We hope our prize winners will continue to have an impact as both innovators and enablers of global prosperity.
Co-creating knowledge. Last year Hult implemented a program called Hult Realtime Research (HRR). We invite our best and most motivated students from each of our major campuses to form mixed global teams to collaborate across time zones on high-value projects supplied by corporate clients. During the first year, we selected 40 students from the group of applicants; we hope to grow this number to 100 in the second year.
To find companies to pair students with, we seek input from colleagues throughout Hult. Once we identify corporate partners, we work together to find appropriate projects, which might include testing new products or services for millennials in large cities, benchmarking competitors, or developing new business models. Each team has only two months to complete its project before presenting its findings directly to a senior executive at the firm.
HRR teams have worked with executives at Google, Red Bull, Swarovski, and Ferrari. One team worked with alternative lodging supplier Airbnb to test the company’s hypothesis that it could step into a new market. Hult students first analyzed markets, customer profiles, and competitors in various regions across the globe, then followed up with field research that included consumer questionnaires and focus groups. While their conclusions remain proprietary, Airbnb executives had their question answered in record time.
We believe that by conducting real-time research through HRR, students gain proficiency in the methodologies of project management, market research, and business planning; they also develop skills in areas such as teamwork, creative thinking, client management, cross-cultural communication, and project scoping. In addition, they get a firsthand look at the kinds of problems companies are dealing with today, while engaging extensively with top executives at branded companies.
Other participants also benefit. Faculty not only interact with leading executives, they also gather information that can lead to new case studies, new research projects, and expanded teaching materials. Client companies test ideas, conduct global market research, connect with millennial researchers, build brand recognition, and improve their marketing strategies. While HRR is currently an extracurricular activity for students, our plan is to build more connections with client companies so that we can incorporate more projects like these directly into our master’s programs.
Delivering lifelong learning. Hult has long seen alumni relations as being about ongoing professional development, and for a decade we have allowed all alumni to take an elective course each year for free. Now, we are taking advantage of our strategic alliance with Ashridge Business School in the U.K. to offer our alumni free executive education courses, particularly in the fields of leadership and change management.
One of our major strategic initiatives for 2017–2020 is to implement a new and more relational model for lifelong learning. Our plan is to develop online nano courses with industry experts, focusing on the potential applications of a number of disruptive technologies. We not only will build these nano courses into our degree programs, but also will offer them to our global base of alumni. Our goal is to have every Hult graduate come back to class at least once every three to five years.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES
At Hult, we subscribe to the philosophy of Howard Thomas, former dean of and now a professor at Singapore Management University, who has spoken out against the increasing sameness among business schools and who urges schools to build distinctive approaches based on their own unique capabilities.
AACSB’s Collective Vision encourages institutions to “push the boundaries of traditionally defined business school models and roles,” “pursue uncommon strategies and solutions,” and “set the standard for a new concept of business education.” With our ongoing initiatives, we want to teach students to understand and address the societal issues that affect populations around the world—and we want to be the place they come whenever they need to learn more.
Stephen Hodges is president of Hult International Business School, which is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Johan Roos is its chief academic officer.