The second day of IMD’s first fully virtual Annual International Alumni Event liVe explored the role of collaboration in meeting global sustainability challenges.

Here is a look into the session highlights from day two of Joining together to shape the post-COVID world: Leadership confronts regular disruption:

Never waste a crisis: finding the opportunity to build back better

Professor David Bach gives five reasons he’s optimistic about the future.

While the pandemic has radically changed the face of life today, IMD Dean of Innovation and Programs David Bach believes there were already two big challenges brewing – inequality and sustainability.

“Climate change – from the impact of forest fires to glacial melt to extreme weather events – is here and at the same time our society is becoming vastly more uneven and inequitable,” said Professor Bach.

Here are the five reasons why, despite these challenges, he is optimistic:

1. This is a watershed moment to construct a more sustainable, more inclusive world order. “Relating salary and status is no longer valid and the pandemic has reminded us of who truly essential workers are.”

2. Rapid innovation across sectors, spheres and regions has occurred. “Restaurants selling boxed meals transformed the hospitality sector, innovators used scuba masks to make ventilators and retail stores both embraced e-commerce and curbside pickup, changing the way we use stores.” Professor Bach commented that higher education and management education are changing, and that the technologies that have been introduced are here to stay.

3. The public sector financial infusion during the pandemic dwarfs the funds allocated in the post-2008 financial crisis. “Up to one third of countries’ GDPs are being channeled into making our economies more sustainable and to drive forward digitization.”

4. The world is seeing in real time what global business – powered by science – can do. “The development of a vaccine in just a few years is an extraordinary achievement. If you believe science is the key to developing solutions to our challenges, then you can’t help but be inspired by this feverish collaboration of science and business.”

5. We are beginning to recognize that we all inhabit the same planet. “Coronavirus doesn’t care about race or income levels. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together and must find common solutions to global problems.”

Our role in making the world a better place

Even big waves start with small ripples, so hopefully you can start small, says IMD MBA 2020 candidate Shweta Mukesh.

While COVID-19’s impact on business and the economy has dominated the press, three WEF Global Shapers are working together to alleviate the virus’s disproportionate burden on youth and education.

“We have a word in Hindi,” said Mukesh. “Juggad is the gutsy art of overcoming challenges by innovating faster, cheaper and better to scale ideas.”

Her foundation, KidsWhoKode, is doing exactly that by helping 200,000 children learn to code by partnering to open-source content on a non-profit platform-based program. It directly tackles the education challenges that India has faced during the pandemic.

Naeem Dalal M.D., Global Mental Health Expert spoke of the COVID-fueled need for investment in greater access to and better mental health services.

“WHO calls for mental health to be incorporated into primary health care,” said Dr Dalal. “14% of the global burden of disease is brain disorders including mental illness, and 75% of these cases are found in low- and middle-income countries.”

The most productive age group is 15-29, yet its second leading cause of death is suicide, and more than 60% of functional disability is related to mental health.

“We need to make it as important as physical health, and available and accessible to all,” said Dr Dalal. “For every $1 that you invest in mental health you will get a $5 return.”

Sikander Bizenjo, Program Manager at KSBL, is working in remote Pakistan to fight the effects of the Coronavirus. He founded Balochistan Youth Against Corona to help residents of the marginalized province, where most are daily earners who were left without enough to eat during the pandemic.

Balochistan Youth Against Corona has provided everything from food to soap to protective gear in the region.

“We have impacted the lives of more than 20,000 with just a basic idea,” he said. “Localization is key, in addition to respecting cultures, empowering local communities and making real collaboration happen.”

How the investment world is changing

Start by ditching the dated profit-first paradigm of the past, says IMD HPL/AHPL alumna Fiona Frick.

“It is difficult to invest in a way that isn’t too risky,” said Fiona Frick, Group CEO, Unigestion, who commented that with the involvement of central banks and governments taking extraordinary stimulation measures, some asset classes no longer have yields.

Desynchronization between the economy and the market is evident, with the markets at a record high while businesses are shutting their doors.

"This is amplified by the fact that every company needs a social license to operate,” said Frick. “They must show society their business has a purpose and allocate more capital for ESG awareness than in the past.”

The Unigestion CEO believes asset management can do its part by investing in well-governed businesses with responsible practices. “We can reduce climate risk by investing less in companies that don’t decrease emissions or meet strict environmental goals as well as supporting the transition to low-carbon sectors like new energy sources.”

Collaborators win – how Volvo Cars shapes the future of mobility

We have one of the industry’s most ambitious plans for combating climate change, says IMD EMBA 2005 Carla de Geyseleer.

With growing concerns of climate change and environmental degradation, sustainability has become a strategic priority for automotive companies. The industry is now impacted by three megatrends: climate change, digitalization and urbanization.

“We have to act very quickly and forcefully regarding climate change,” said Carla de Geyseleer, Group CFO Volvo Cars, a company which aims to reduce CO2 emissions per car by 40% between now and 2025 – a first tangible step towards its long-term goal of becoming climate neutral by 2040.

Digitalization means we live in a time where there is an explosion of connected devices and by 2030 there will be approximately 15 per person, 125 billion in total.

“Linked with 5G opportunities, we have quite a role to play,” said de Geyseleer. “Vehicles will become more and more connected and contribute to a more hassle-free life.”

By 2030, more than two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. This urbanization requires fighting crowds and congestion, and the industry must meet demands for more access to, rather than ownership of, mobility solutions.

“It’s no longer about providing the best car but producing the best mobility solution with a focus on sustainability,” concluded de Geyseleer.

Going circular - TOGETHER sustainability movement

Newly founded alumni initiative aims to address humanity’s greatest challenges.

Social enterprise Circle Economy and the TOGETHER Initiative have one shared goal – they both believe in a visionary future for our planet.

The TOGETHER Initiative was created by EMBA and MBA candidates and aims to unite a network of professionals and institutions to spark innovation, promote responsible and inclusive leadership, and place sustainability at the core of every business strategy.

For founder Amadeus Beaujolin, IMD EMBA candidate, and member Laudie Jamous, IMD MBA 2020 candidate, the reasons for setting up the group were clear: “After the Beirut blast I felt so powerless not to be able to be there and provide help,” said Jamous, a Lebanese national. “It has been a reminder that by joining hands with IMD alumni we will be able to challenge what is and inspire what could be.”

Circle Economy, led by Founder/Chairman Robert-Jan van Ogtrop, is an impact organization that connects and empowers the global community to create the conditions for systemic transformation.

“We have used a linear ‘take, make, waste’ economic model, but it doesn’t fit any more on a circular planet,” said Ogtrop. “Moving to a circular economy can save $1.9tril per year, but the shift will be costly and take time. We need to work together for systemic change.”

Closing remarks

After listening to the International Alumni Event liVe’s inspiring sessions, Professor Bach concluded with a call for collaborative action.

“Those of you fighting for a more sustainable and just world might have seen this year as a major setback,” he said. “But we have witnessed in the past two days that collaboration will bring us together around shared goals and help us do the important work to move us forward.”

Part of this work is the E4S (Enterprise for Society) center – an academic collaboration between IMD, the University of Lausanne (UNIL) and the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne). E4S aims to activate change by conducting research, strengthening the local start-up and innovation eco-system, and offering a joint master’s degree in Sustainable Management and Technology.

“E4S will educate a new generation of leaders to take on these pressing challenges,” said Professor Bach. “We need your help and support to guide our efforts in the sustainability space and be the ambassadors and advocates for this purposeful work.”