Founded in 1907 and currently one of the top business schools in Europe, ESSEC Business School values integrity, social commitment and professional responsibility as key principles underlying its mission to educate responsible executives who will make a difference in the business world. As such, ESSEC proudly incorporates CSR training into its curriculum. A feature of both its weekend and modular EMBA programs, the Social Class Project is a living testament to that commitment.
The Social Class Project (SCP) is a way to incorporate social responsibility directly into the executive education program. Run collectively by the class throughout the course of the program, the SCP is designed to contribute to the betterment of society, to foster teamwork and to strengthen class spirit. Examples of past projects include fundraising efforts for children suffering from cancer; a program ensuring that veterans have access to job opportunities; and a campaign to help save the Mediterranean Posidonia meadows through awareness and fundraising.
For participants, the benefits of the SCP are many. Not only do participants have the opportunity to give back and do good in the world, but they gain invaluable training in responsible leadership and effective teamwork, even across borders and timezones. The collective project fosters team spirit and also nourishes management skills. Furthermore, participants are often surprised by the impact the project has on them personally, creating meaning and value in their lives. According to Sandrine Martin, Class of 2021, “It gives a sense of life to do something not only for you, but for others and the project made me realize that if you hold a certain position in a company, you can become an example for others.” And for many participants, like Sandrine, the SCP is, in fact, what attracted them to ESSEC in the first place.
In the 18-month EMBA program, the social project timeline begins after the first three months, which gives participants time to get to know one another. After brainstorming project ideas, the cohort pitches ideas and votes on them, ultimately choosing one project to work on together. They set up a small steering committee (and possibly a few other groups to run operations and communications, etc.); and then work to set up their own KPIs. They’re free to be as ambitious as they’d like when it comes to goals. SCPs generally partner with an NGO or other organization, which helps keep them motivated and on track. The ESSEC project management team also acts as an important resource, in a more backstage capacity, making connections, providing emotional and logistical support as needed. At the end of the project year, the cohort presents their results.
The SCP is a meaningful challenge for participants, and each and every participant is expected to take an active role in the project. Participants must work together to find adequate time to advance their projects over the course of the year. Commitment to the cause is important. Through her class’s project on carbon emissions, for example, Helene Souillard, Class of 2020, applied the CSR principles she learned in the program in her career:
[This] is something I want to promote in my work, to make a social and environmental impact on society.
Fully integrated into the curriculum, the social project even shows up on ESSEC EMBA participant transcripts, based on a peer assessment by the SCP steering committee.
While the social project may be the most challenging group exercise in the program, it also ends up being incredibly satisfying and meaningful, fully incarnating ESSEC values. In alignment with ESSEC’s RISE Strategy “infusing leadership with meaning to prepare a better future,” the project supports the strategy’s “Together” pillar, enabling 360-degree action for environmental and social transition. The group social project combines strategy and entrepreneurship, helping participants integrate CSR concepts and take concrete action.