Students meet World Business Leaders in Chennai

Students visit Chennai Volunteers

14 October 2016

Thirteen undergraduates have arrived back to Lancaster after spending a week in India at the prestigious World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) annual meeting.

The WBCSD is a CEO-Led organisation aimed at galvanising the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment.  The WBCSD meets annually to set the organisation’s priorities for the following year and discuss strategic issues connected with sustainable development.  At this year’s event 10 students worked as session hosts and note takers and assisted in hosting approximately 450 delegates made up of C-suite executives and senior figures from around 200 multinational organisations.  The other three students worked with the WBCSD communications team to support coverage of the occasion and interviewed the WBCSD Chairman and CEO of Unilever Mr Paul Polman and WBCSD CEO Mr Peter Bakker, amongst many others.

Through the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, Professor Gail Whiteman was responsible for facilitating this opportunity and said:“I am proud to bring Lancaster University students to the WBCSD meeting in Chennai”. 

The students won their places on the trip by entering two competitions run by Dr Alison Stowell that for some is linked with their course module - OWT.230.  In conjunction with the Lancaster Student Union, the trip was organised by Alison, Joe Bourne and Oli Monks.    

The conference was held in The ITC Grand Chola, the world’s largest 5* LEED certified green hotel and lasted from Monday to Friday last week.  During this time the students networked with Mr Naoto Nishida (Corporate Executive Vice President of Toshiba), Mr Dipjay Sanchania (Sr Manager CLP Wind Farms India Pvt Ltd) and many more.

“It was such an incredible opportunity,”said Callum Hudson (BSc Business Studies – Industry).

“We were able to develop various skills in communication, professionalism and teamwork throughout the conference through the various roles we had to play such as security scanning people in and out of conference rooms.”

The conference gave the students the opportunity to gain a taster of the world of work and allowed them to explore an opportunity in which many said they would never have considered sustainability. Gareth Gartside (BA Management and Organisation) described this as an “invaluable experience”. 

Outside the conference, the students had the opportunity to explore the city of Chennai. Visiting Chennai’s most popular temple, Kapaleeshwarar on the evening of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and also the day India announced their commitment to cutting emissions - ratifying the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the students submerged themselves in the local culture.  The temple had a hustle and bustle feel and Jay Mirchandani (BA Management and Entrepreneurship) shared the stories behind the statues of the gods inside the temple. The group learned about the history of Gods such as Shiva, Vishnu and Ganesha.

The students witnessed the struggles some people face as they spent a couple of hours volunteering with Chennai Volunteers.  This organisation runs multiple projects in the local area and half the group spent the afternoon in a men’s shelter and the other half at a residential hostel for young girls.  The men’s shelter housed 35 homeless individuals and nursed them back to health.  Many of the residents suffered from mental health issues and could not remember where they lived. Through the social workers and volunteers the charity works hard to reunite their residents with their families and provides invaluable support to make the transition back into their local community.  Spending the afternoon with the men, the students learnt how to play games such as Karum, heard stories from the men and shared their evening snacks with them. The students were thanked “for making the place colourful and fun” by their presence.

The other half of the group travelled to a residential hostel for young girls. It was a heart-warming experience, as each of the young girls presented overwhelming excitement upon their arrival. The tasks set were to create a greetings card for a friend or family member of each of the young girls. To get over the language barrier, the students had to find other ways to get their message across.

“We learnt how to use more obvious hand gestures to communicate,” said Alice Hunt (BSc Business Economics – Industry).

In addition to making cards, the young girls decided to sing a song to the group, which in return Professor Gail Whiteman, Dr Jess Davies and the group had to sing a song and danced to the Macarena and the Hokey Cokey.

As the trip to the hostel drew to a close it was time to say goodbye and some of the students found it very emotional.  Katie McAllister (BSc Management, Politics and International Relations), explained: “The school itself was run down and held a nasty stench which made us appreciate how lucky we were to be travelling to a country, as vibrant as India, thanks to our great education. It was eye-opening to witness how people with so little can possess a personality that speaks volumes, and the girls definitely did just that!”

In addition to working long hours, and a few sightseeing experiences, the group were exposed to executive decision making games with Dr Rodney Irwin (Honorary Teaching Fellow at the Pentland Centre).

“I thoroughly enjoyed the eye-opening experience” said Jack Hill (BSc Biology). “I have learnt so much about sustainability in business.”

Also Mr Tony Henshaw, the Chief Sustainability Officer of the Aditya Birla Group, Mumbai, spent time with them sharing his vision. 

Julius Kup (BSc European Management) said: “It was a great opportunity to hear the first-hand experience he has had and is currently having in the sustainability field. We learned about a new sustainability model that he created and also got a chance to speak to him one on one about other current environment issues.”  

Whereas Divesh Lachhwani (BSc Finance and Economics) said: “He opened our minds to realise that the power of acting in a sustainable manner, doesn’t just contribute to saving the planet, it saves the businesses themselves as operations become more resilient and efficient.”

As the trip drew to a close, the students were included in the WBCSD’s Leaders Programme Graduation ceremony and each one was awarded a certificate of participation from Mr Peter White (the WBCSD COO), who thanked them for their hard work, saying: “You have been a great help at our meetings and I hope you had fun too.  Well done and many thanks.”  The remaining few hours allowed them to visit Elliot Beach seeing the Indian Ocean and a local street market. 

All in all, the students had an incredible and inspiring experience.  As Palina Malash (BBA Management) explained: “I felt blessed having the opportunity to experience the contrasts of India, the prestigious conference on one side, compared to the utter poverty we witnessed on the other side. We learned that sustainability has many different aspects that all need to be overcome before achieving a truly sustainable world.”

Mille Doze (BSc Management, Politics and International Relations) concluded that: “We have all utilized this opportunity to broaden our understanding of sustainability and along the way we made friendships of a lifetime.”