Partnering on Purpose


Practical Insight into Data Analytics, one of the required modules on the University of Exeter’s One Planet MBA programme, is taught by Stuart Robinson, a former executive of Alliance Bernstein. In four intensive days, Stuart focuses on data understanding, preparation, modelling and evaluation. The module is enhanced by SAP’s Michael Jordan, one example of how business partners strengthen the academic modules taught on the One Planet MBA . At SAP, Mike has the curious title of Knowledge Transfer Architect. “His role is to give a practical angle to a lot of what students learn”, says Stuart. The other key partner in the module is IBM’s Jamie’s Cole, who opened the recent module with a discussion about Cognitive Computing and the Internet of Things.

It’s not unusual for the modules to be co-delivered with partners. From its inception, partners including IBM, SAP, Coca Cola, and Barclays were actively involved in the planning, curriculum design and the module delivery itself, not to mention enlisting the cohort to help solve real-life business problems. “Involving organisations in the programme ensures our curriculum remains relevant to the needs of employers and society, and the programme remains at the forefront of critical thinking and best business practices,” says Camilla Norman, Partnerships Manager at the University of Exeter business school.

Camilla notes that partners benefit tremendously from students’ fresh perspective, innovative thinking and a commitment to purpose. Partners are also the best advocates for promoting the programme within their business and wider industry networks. The better the programme and its cohort are known throughout the partnership network, the better the hiring opportunities. Beyond helping students meet their professional goals, however, partnerships are very much a matter of alignment. “We visit incubators, we also tap into those start-ups and progressive organisations and NGOs like OXFAM and The Fairtrade Foundation, whose goals are similar to the goals of the programme,” she adds.

Adam Lusby, lecturer and Senior Circular Economy Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Business School agrees. “Through the work we do as faculty, we align with those organisations that have a purpose driven commitment. Together we work hard to implement principles of circular economy,” he adds.

Nicolas Forsans, Director of the One Planet MBA programme, notes that students often help partners go further and deeper into re-thinking key business decisions. “All of our partners are experiencing change. Our programme is helping them get to where they want to be.”

Aside from common philosophy, the programme’s partners are also instrumental in providing consultancy projects for modules such as Emerging Business Models, The Entrepreneurial Mind-set, Strategic and Responsible Innovation, and the final in-depth MBA consultancy project. Some examples of students’ projects include leveraging digital technology for Sn-ap, the “Uber” of coach travel, designing circular economy solutions for Coca-Cola in Asia, defining a multi-channel strategy for the healthcare professionals for L’Oreal, and encouraging young people to use Canon cameras, rather than smart phones.

While big names bring global experience, local partners remain paramount. William Caseley, Lecturer in Management at the University of Exeter Business School, leverages his personal network, within Devon and beyond, to bring partners and guest lecturers on board. He says many enjoy their visit to One Planet MBA so much so that they want to come back. “For many, they want to give something back, there is kudos to be invited to give a lecture at the University of Exeter. It’s enjoyable to be probed by the bright minds of MBA students. Many of our guests leave to approach their business issue in a different, fresher way,” he says.

For his module, the Entrepreneurial Mindset, William encourages the cohort to work with entrepreneurs in order to get practical insights. “This module is very much shaped by how entrepreneurs learn. They learn by doing, talking, listening, reflecting,” says William. In the latest module William brought on Nick Sprague of Cobell LTD, Jay Allan from Hillside Specialty Foods, Adam Saynor from GroCycle, Gabriel Wondrausch from Sungift Solar LTD, just to list a few. All in all, students worked with nine entrepreneurs during the four-day module.

Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This is very much the philosophy the One Planet MBA programme has put at its core – involving businesses and partners in the academic process, so much so that the students are confident in their thinking skills and future ability to take on complex problems. Problem-solving with purpose brings together academic rigour centred on critical thinking and research,  coupled with the innovation and adaptability required by forward thinking organisations. The One Planet MBA designs its programme with this intention in mind.

Nicolas Forsans asserts, “Our partners get access to some of the best minds by involving students and academics in real-life projects and sharing insights into how new business models can drive sustainable development. They get a better perspective from our students actively applying rigour and critical thinking. These insights can help our partners move their business forward and re-think and even change their existing models for the better.”

Twitter: @OnePlanetMBA


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