MBA students learn tough lessons about leadership

INSEAD | The Salvation Army

Students from a top international business school INSEAD, learnt tough lessons about leadership and teamwork when they took on a building project for vulnerable women.

Some 210 MBA students had just three days in January 2020 to build an outdoor leisure and learning space at a refuge for foreign domestic workers in Singapore.

The Salvation Army is a strategic programme partner of the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) in Singapore, which provides shelter for foreign domestic workers.

The students were divided into three cohorts, with each group having one day to complete their phase of the project, before handing over to the next team. Participants were briefed only the night before and had to learn fast: they needed 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 charity.

Team-building is a vital skill in an international business school like INSEAD where “everyone is a minority”, just as it is in business, said 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 said 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 said. “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,” continued 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.”

Maureen Kho-Moo, Programme Manager at the Salvation Army Carehaven, said the shelter would enable the women to relax, socialise and learn, in sunshine or shade. “An improved living environment will not solve their personal issues and challenges but it will alleviate the sufferings that they may be carrying, mentally, emotionally and psychologically, and help improve their quality of life,” she said.

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 Singapore site has involved a Splash Project in launch week every year since 2012.

The Singapore project ran simultaneously with a similar one involving 300 MBA students at INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus in France. INSEAD also partners with Splash on projects for senior executives from multinationals which have included Heineken, Sonepar, Vivendi, Orange, BAE Systems and SIBUR.

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