Written by Annie Wang.

Haas Summer Abroad: Business Innovation for Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Positive Impact

Looking for something to do this summer? The Geneva, Switzerland study abroad program (UGBA 193i) sponsored by the Haas Business School is an amazing opportunity. Not only is it a great, way to learn about global corporate responsibility and sustainability issues, it’s also a lot of fun!

Professor David Rochlin’s Words of Wisdom

This unique Haas summer abroad option, provides students with a chance to study issues at the the intersection of business needs and wider societal concerns, and gain valuable real world experience, through visits with executives from major Corporations, NGOs, and IGOs.

Students will travel to Geneva for 5 weeks. In addition to being, a global business hub, summers in Geneva feature a nonstop slate of free concerts, outdoor movies, and other lakeside festivals and events – as well as easy access to the Alps, France, and the rest of Europe.

Last summer’s, visits included meeting the global head of sustainability at Procter and Gamble’s European headquarters, the head of Corporate Affairs at Nestle in Vevey, sessions at the WTO, ILO, and  UN, traveling to Bern to visit the Swiss Energy Institute, and discussions with executives from Syngenta and the the World Business Council on Sustainable Development. Inside the classroom, students also work on teams on live case studies, developing innovative ways to solve difficult real world issues. Past participants consider the program both transformational and providing balance and illumination to their other Berkeley course work. Students break out of their Berkeley patterns and form new friendships, explore new places, and develop new ways of thinking about business, society, and the planet.

Student’s Perspective: Anna Manevich

What was the most important thing you learned from the trip?

I really cannot pinpoint one insight as most important, but one “take-away” personally stood out. I learned the complexities revolving around sustainability and ethical corporate business practices, which forced me to rethink some problems business face a little differently. For example, I went into the class with biases against businesses who were found to use child labor. While I still do not believe child labor is okay, I now understand the complexity that encompasses such issues and that oftentimes corporations do not even know child labor is exists within  their supply chain. I had to rethink the cultural differences between the society I live in and the societies within developing countries that supply raw materials for some of the most widely consumed goods. Some families within these developing countries are so poverty stricken that their livelihood relies, in-part, on income earned by their children. However, there is also forced child labor, which is not okay in any circumstance. Businesses must identify child labor within their supply chains (which can be well hidden and take place under their nose), identify if it is forced or not, and then come up with creative and sometimes intensive solutions to make sure they eliminate child labor in their supply chains. Yet, maintain the livelihood of the child and his or her family who sent their child to work in the first place. There is much more than meets the eye when consumers are confronted with issues businesses face, such as environmental sustainability and ethical social business practices. After this past summer, I have become much more conscious of the brands I choose to support as I conduct more research and know more “red-flag” indicators of unethical practices.

What was your favorite memory of the program?

I loved hiking in the French Alps with a small group of friends from the program. We had one long weekend and decided to spend it in the Alps. The Alps were absolutely breathtaking and a bit strenuous, but definitely worth the effort. After a few hours and only 30 minute away from the top of the mountain, it started to poor rain and hail on my friends and me (none of us had waterproof jackets). The path became super muddy/slippery, it was freezing, and it was getting dark outside. At the time it was very unpleasant, but looking back it was one of the most memorable moments of the trip because the amazing people I was with under the difficult circumstances.

I also really liked working on our final project as we were able to pick a topic of interest and went through a similar thought process a business would go through to solve issues regarding sustainability and the creation of shared value betweens society and corporations. We received a taste of the complexity businesses deal with and had to think practically about the problem and realistic solutions.

Were you able to travel to other countries?

Yes! The weekends provided great opportunities to travel out of the country. During the week we took a few day trips within Switzerland to cities like Bern, which was awesome. I traveled to the Alps, Florence, and London. The weekends are left completely free, so anyone who wants to travel has the opportunity to do so.

Do you recommend other students to participate?

I absolutely recommend other students to embark on the Geneva Summer Program!! I can say with complete honesty that the Geneva program covered some of the most interesting and practical material I have learned throughout my time at Cal. If you have any interest in sustainability, ethical practices, and their intersection with business – this program is a must. I absolutely loved the material we learned, which was designed to encourage students to rethink problems and solutions differently. In the beautiful setting of Switzerland, I learned about problems I had no idea existed and innovative solutions businesses implement in effort to answer consumer demands and become both socially and environmentally conscious. Professor Rochlin introduced various institutionalized pressures that influence businesses to act both ethically and unethically, which was something I never thought about. One of the many special aspects of the program is that we learned of both the third-party, NGO perspective and the corporation perspective. At the start of the class, I believed businesses’ efforts to act ethically were little, to non-existent. However, Professor Rochlin introduced us to a perspective that often receives little attention. I was provided the opportunity to listen to corporations themselves, two of them being Nestle and P&G. From the perspective of the company, we learned the great complexities in tackling issues regarding ethical practices and their surprisingly large efforts in lessening environmental impact and unethical social practices, often found in the supply chain.

Besides the course content, which was truly interesting, the people, structure, and setting of the program could not be better. While Switzerland is pricier than most European countries, it is still stunningly beautiful and central to efforts regarding the creation of corporate shared values. Switzerland is home to various organizations, such as the ILO, the WBCSD, Sygenta, numerous NGO’s, and large corporations. Therefore, we gained information from all sides in the effort to foster corporate shared value and responsible business practices.

Lastly, Professor Rochlin is an excellent Professor and I personally found all the students lucky to learn from someone who is extremely knowledgeable, and very personable.

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Geneva, Switzerland sounds like an amazing program. Who knows, you might even have the opportunity to see how Nespresso is made. The application opens in February. If you have any further questions, please contact David Rochlin: [email protected]  or visit http://studyabroad.berkeley.edu/program/summerabroad/geneva

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