Business students face tough lessons about teamwork in building challenge to help children with disabilities

Clairefontaine, 13 January 2020

Students from a top international business school are about to learn about leadership and teamwork by getting their hands dirty on a building project to benefit children with disabilities.


Some 300 MBA students from INSEAD will have just four days this week (13–16 January) to build a wheelchair-friendly nature trail for the Institut Médico-Educatif’s base at Clairefontaine. The French Red Cross-run centre is home to children and teenagers with multiple and complex disabilities.
Overseeing the building work in Arbonne-la-Forêt will be INSEAD’s partner Splash Projects, a UK-based team who draw on their military backgrounds to run experiential learning projects.

The MBAs are divided into four sections and each has a day to complete their phase of the project, before handing over to the next team. Participants are briefed only the night before and must learn fast: they need to acquire new, practical skills as well as organising themselves, planning and completing tough tasks to tight deadlines, ready for the official handover to the IME centre on Thursday.

Team-building is a vital skill in an international business school like INSEAD where ‘everyone is a minority’, just as it is in business, says Urs Peyer, Dean of Degree Programmes. ‘One of the key challenges in business is bringing out the best in people and diversity is a good environment for learning how to do that.’

Splash Projects Director Simon Poole says its projects are designed to mimic a crisis scenario. ‘MBAs are forced to leave their comfort zone and abandon assumptions about leadership and teamwork,’ he says. ‘But it’s also a hugely positive experience as people realise their potential is far greater than they ever imagined.’

The choice to involve students in projects benefiting some of the most vulnerable people in society is also deliberate. The INSEAD Community Challenge is closely aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in their aspirations for local impact, and resonate strongly with their Force for Good campaign which promotes business as a driver of societal transformation.

‘Our mission is for business to be a force for good because it’s such a huge lever,’ says Urs Peyer. ‘The projects introduce students to members of society who are not in the same privileged position as they are. It’s important that students know they are not just here for themselves: they are here to contribute to society. The Splash team are hugely engaged and very focused on supporting the students and maintaining safety, but it’s definitely very challenging.’

Didier Renault, Deputy Director of IME Clairefontaine, says the project will give their young people safe access to the garden of the charity. Currently, they even learn to cycle indoors in the corridors. ‘Now, for example, the children will be able to learn how to handle a tricycle on a real circuit and this will help them progress,’ he says. ‘It’s encouraging for our staff too, because it recognises their work. Our budget is extremely tight and, without INSEAD, we’d never be able to have these facilities which are so important for our children’s learning.’

Since 2012, more than 8,000 MBA students from INSEAD have been involved in more than 30 projects for 30 charities, benefiting thousands of vulnerable children. The value of these projects is estimated at €2.3 million in donated materials and saved labour costs. INSEAD’s MBA programme on its Fontainebleau site has involved a Splash Project in launch week every year since 2013.

The Clairefontaine project will run simultaneously with a similar one involving 210 MBA students at INSEAD’s Singapore campus. INSEAD also partners with Splash on projects for senior executives from multinationals which have included Heineken, Sonepar, Vivendi, Orange, BAE Systems and SIBUR.

Media information:

To arrange interviews or for pictures from the project, please contact Adélaïde Sassine  on +33 (0)6 01 77 20 95 or

About INSEAD, The Business School for the World

As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. Our research, teaching and partnerships reflect this global perspective and cultural diversity.

With campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore) and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), INSEAD’s business education and research spans three continents. Our 165 renowned Faculty members from 41 countries inspire more than 1,300 degree participants annually in our MBAGlobal Executive MBA, Specialised Master’s degrees (Executive Master in FinanceExecutive Master in Change) and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD Executive Education programmes each year.

INSEAD continues to conduct cutting-edge research and innovate across all our programmes. We provide business leaders with the knowledge and awareness to operate anywhere. These core values drive academic excellence and serve the global community as The Business School for the World.


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