Learning how businesses can be forces for good

Businesses can contribute to the ‘greater good’ and a new mandatory third-year Commerce course is immersing students in community-engaged project-based learning to demonstrate that potential. As one component of the Queen’s in the Community goal that is part of the Queen’s Strategy, community-engaged learning makes it possible for students to develop practical skills relevant to their fields of study and develop a sense of civic responsibility and social awareness.

In COMM 306 – Business for Good, students consider the role of businesses in society and how they can participate in social and environmental wellbeing as each session is framed around connecting a business function to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, sessions include ‘Addressing biodiversity loss through certifications and sustainability reporting’ and ‘Promoting health and wellbeing through responsible consumption and production.’

“It’s important to get students thinking about how through business they can address issues affecting our community, country, and planet. The SDGs offer an excellent framework for this, guiding our actions to make positive contributions and take responsibility for our impacts,” says Juan Francisco Chavez Ramirez, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Organizations, who joined Smith School of Business in July and led the co-delivery of the course with PhD students Hadi Shaheen and Waqas Nawaz. “It makes a lot of economic sense to be an accountable business that cares about sustainability. To be successful business leaders, students need to engage with societal challenges and integrate how best to approach them into their business strategy.”

Students are divided into groups and given the opportunity to meet with an organization to work on projects that address community-identified challenges. In fall 2023, the students worked with the City of Kingston. One project addressed the low engagement of residents with active transportation methods and the other involved the Better Homes Kingston Loan Program that encourages residents to make their homes more energy-efficient and explored how to reach more demographics.

Courses like COMM 306 – Business for Good, first designed by Jean-Baptiste Litrico, Associate Professor of Strategy and Organizations, are made possible by the efforts of the Smith Business Experiential Learning (EL) Team in the Career Advancement Centre as they were heavily involved in supporting the start-up by sourcing opportunities and building the partnership with the City of Kingston. Due to the sustainability component woven throughout both projects, the fall 2023 term of COMM 306 perfectly aligned with the EL Team’s cross-institutional Queen’s Venture Creation, Experiential Learning, and Net-Zero Training (QVENT) project meant to prep undergraduate students to be responsible leaders who tackle the root causes and challenges related to Canada’s transition towards a net zero economy.

Mitch Gudgeon, Director, Partnerships & Special Projects, and Nick Gregg, Manager, Experiential Learning Partners & Programs describe the approach the EL Team takes when sourcing and developing community-engaged courses or certificate opportunities as collaborative. “It is truly a team effort as we work with relationship managers in the Career Advancement Centre, the Development & Alumni Engagement Office, the Research Centre, the Living Case Team, faculty members, and a marketing team to refine ideas and promote opportunities like COMM 306 and others to industry and community partners in a coordinated and collaborative fashion,” says Gudgeon. “We are developing a tool called ‘DigitEL’ (Digitizing EL) to further streamline, connect, and support our processes, capture more information, provide analytics, and develop more comprehensive reporting data for stronger corporate and community relations and an enhanced experiential learning experience for our students.”

The EL Team also leads programs such as the Business Strategy Internship (BSI) in partnership with Mitacs. During this four-month paid internship students complete a supervised project to gain experience and the organizations benefit from their insights. They work with the Smith Centre for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Social Impact (CEISI) team to source community partners for volunteer outreach projects with non-profits and charities to work with students on projects that further organizational missions as part of the Certificate for Social Impact. These initiatives and many others are included on the Smith Business Opportunities webpage with details about the benefits and potential for impact for interested students and organizations.

“A lot is considered when developing community-engaged learning for Smith Business students as it needs to underscore the Queen’s Strategy, align with the Smith Business Strategic Plan and our vision for social impact,” says Karen Jackson-Cox, Executive Director, Smith School of Business Career Advancement Centre. “Work-integrated learning that provides valuable experience exploring real world challenges is so valuable for students and hopefully it contributes in some way to fulfilling future employment for them as responsible business leaders.”

COMM 306 is offered in both the fall and winter terms and the inaugural term recently culminated with written reports and final presentations. Potential solutions to up engagement with active transportation and the Better Homes Kingston Loan Program were offered as financial analysis, marketing, and business to government relationships were discussed as well as more specific bike sharing and incentive programs. A subsect of groups was chosen to present to a City of Kingston panel who selected winners.

Feedback from students about the first iteration of the course indicates they appreciate the content and find it to be consistent with the current business climate that emphasizes sustainability and the ‘greater good.’ Each time the course runs, the exact content will depend on the partner and whatever issue is put forward. During the winter 2024 term, Equitable Bank is the partner, and the focus will be on responsible investing.

More stories highlighting courses that involve community engaged learning like COMM 306 will be continue to be profiled in the coming months on the Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor’s website.

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