Problems and Solutions

The Grenoble School of Management takes on wide-ranging social issues with targeted initiatives.
Problems and Solutions

IN 2017, THE Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) in France formally announced its goal of evolving into a “school for business and society.” While keeping its emphasis on entrepreneurship and technology, the school also planned to adopt more initiatives aimed at fostering sustainability and solving the world’s great problems.

This dedication to social issues wasn’t new—in fact, in 2008, the school became a signatory to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Management Education. Around the same time, it brought in Jaclyn Rosebrook-Collignon as head of sustainability and global responsibility. But this burgeoning interest in the role of business did signal a huge cultural shift, says Rosebrook-Collignon.

“We asked ourselves, How do we get from being a classic French business school to being a school for society?” she says. “How do we integrate sustainability into all our activities? How do we integrate multistakeholder approaches both from within and outside our school?”

Two of the school’s recent initiatives have spotlighted the breadth of its dedication to social issues—one a program focused on immigrants, and the other a policy aimed at turning GEM into a zero-waste institution.


In 2015, as the world was presented with horrifying images of dying migrants, France’s minister of education asked schools to accelerate the process of integrating refugees who were already in France. In Grenoble—which Rosebrook- Collignon describes as a progressive, internationally oriented city—a local university consortium quickly formed to address the issue. The consortium was piloted by the Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA).

Rosebrook-Collignon joined the consortium’s work group dedicated to refugee aid. The group has created guides and communication channels, partnered with local humanitarian organizations, and worked with the city to create services and resources for refugees. The consortium also has developed numerous activities and learning materials that can be used in a free workshop called Co-Training, which helps migrants and refugees develop skills in subjects like digital literacy, English, and math. In addition, the consortium collaborates with Scholars at Risk, an NGO that supports academics in exile.

“UGA has a huge center for French as a foreign language, and they quickly mobilized to create an accelerated diploma program to help refugee students access higher education more quickly,” says Rosebrook-Collignon. The center currently serves refugees from Turkey, Iraq, Angola, Syria, and Afghanistan.

At the same time, GEM took specific steps to welcome migrants to its campus by pledging to annually offer up to ten spots in any of its programs to qualified students with refugee status. Their application fees and tuition fees are waived, and those who are younger than 26 can apply for French student housing aid. Those from Syria can also apply for national scholarships so they don’t have to work during their studies; however, those scholarships are limited. GEM’s first refugee candidates came through UGA’s program in 2016.

Since then, GEM has accepted nine refugee students; four have graduated, and two more began classes in September of 2019. Once refugees are accepted into a GEM program, they are treated like any other student—and, in GEM’s international student population, there is nothing that particularly identifies them as refugees. They are tracked by a staff member who follows and assists all students who have “atypical” profiles, but there is no other special treatment.

Refugees that graduate from GEM still face challenges, because they can’t easily find work by relying on their networks or returning to their countries of origin, as other international students can. “Now we’re working on creating more professional opportunities for these students, such as developing targeted professional development workshops for them,” says Rosebrook-Collignon. “We’re helping them enter the workforce or start their own companies by creating more social entrepreneurship programs and incubators with our students and local associations.”

There might need to be a cultural shift that requires universities to rethink their definition of globalization.

Rosebrook-Collignon’s hope is that, in the future, GEM can reach migrants who might be in even more dire need. She points out that those who have taken advantage of the tuition-free offer have already “made it,” in that they have already obtained refugee status in France, as well as the diplomas, transcripts, and letters of recommendation needed to apply to the program. The bigger concern, she says, is the 99 percent of refugees who, according to the U.N., don’t have access to higher education.

“The problem is getting other refugees access to primary and secondary education, so they can then pursue higher education. To me, that is clearly a global emergency. We can either put refugees in camps, which is what we’ve been doing, or we can find ways of accelerating their integration—helping them become the productive members of society that they want to be.”

She thinks this might require another cultural shift that forces universities to rethink their very definition of globalization. “The future of internationalization is not to get students to spend their summer holidays building schools in Sri Lanka. It’s to look at internationalization at home,” says Rosebrook- Collignon. “That is our moral duty. And that’s where we can have more impact.”


While educating migrants focuses on saving people, GEM’s new zero-waste policy focuses on saving the planet. The school has long adopted waste reduction policies, but its dean and director, Loïck Roche, recently announced that GEM would be a zero-waste institution by 2020. For Rosebrook-Collignon, who wrote up the school’s official strategy on the topic, this meant redefining the very concept of “waste” by identifying six key areas of improvement.

The first three are the obvious ones: reducing the consumption of natural resources; reducing the consumption of food, paper, and plastic, while recycling e-waste and consumer goods; and reducing carbon emissions by reconsidering travel options, promoting telecommuting, holding virtual meetings, and providing online classes. But Rosebrook-Collignon wanted to commit to reducing the waste of another kind of resource—human potential—in three other areas:

Intangible waste. According to the new policy, the school will avoid governance models that have negative human impact, such as stress and burnout, and it will promote research on well-being, economic peace, and alternative forms of markets and organizations.

Social economic waste. The school will contribute positively to a robust local economy by providing living wages, improving job security, and contributing to social integration initiatives.

Cultural waste. The school will encourage collaboration between cultures, promote ethics and responsible engagement, accommodate disabilities and differences, foster an environment of equality, and provide asylum to migrants.

“We want to make sure we’re not wasting talent, people, cultures, or CO2,” says Rosebrook-Collignon. “We’re looking at frugal innovation and alternative economic models so we’re not wasting economics. Zero waste means more than just recycling plastic bottles.”

But eliminating those plastic bottles is one important step. “We have a labor-intense admissions process where students come from all over France to take entrance exams, and we used to give out treats and plastic bottles of water to the juries,” says Rosebrook-Collignon. “This year we replaced all the bottles with refillable glass containers, and instead of giving treats to the jurors, we allowed them to vote on a local philanthropic organization that we would give the money to. These are small actions, but we want them to be generalized to everything we do at the school.”

GEM students are enthusiastically supporting the zero-waste activities. For instance, one of the 25 student associations at the school is dedicated to sustainability, and it is collaborating on Rosebrook-Collignon’s waste reduction efforts. This year, these students made it mandatory for every student association to include a sustainability component in its activities and participate in the school’s Sustainability Steering committee that is co-piloted by students.

Grenoble Students

During their gap year, a team of GEM students created “Otravia,” a documentary series exploring
alternative and ethical companies. Photo by Otravia.


GEM students also encourage sustainability by giving out an “eco-party” label to groups whose events feature reusable cups and recycling efforts. “We’ve been working to get certified as an eco-party organization for many of our events held on and off campus,” says Rosebrook-Collignon. “We have a gala for all our graduating students, and we didn’t do a good enough job last year, so we didn’t get certified. But we’re getting better every year.”

At the same time, GEM has been working with other schools and universities on zero-waste initiatives, mostly through sharing best practices. Says Rosebrook-Collignon, “You don’t need a million different ways of recycling. This is not a competitive area. It doesn’t serve any purpose for us to be the best zero-waste school or the best sustainability school unless we all get there together.”

As GEM considers the impact it is having on business and society, it is bringing together a multistakeholder group to help it articulate a five-year strategy that it plans to announce in 2020.

“It’s a messy process, but I think it’s essential that we take all stakeholders into consideration as we develop our mission,” says Rosebrook-Collignon. “It shouldn’t be just the board of directors deciding what direction we’re going in or what cause we’re going to work on. We have to have a multistakeholder process because that’s the future of business and that’s the future of sustainability.”

View a video about GEM’s refugee program.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's November/December 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].

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