Final Ends at the Forefont*

Awakening Purpose and Accountability, the case of ‘Comprendre et Changer le Monde’

By Patricia Langohr – Assistant Professor in Economics. Patricia sees teaching beyond the simple transfer of knowledge and aims to develop critical thinking and help students make responsible choices and grow.

The need for responsible management and sustainable business has become a global imperative. A large part of the responsibility, and solution, lies with business and business schools. To be authentic, social and environmental sustainability questions need to be integrated in the corporate and educational cultures, as well as in student and managers’ values and practices. This is the first aim of our program ‘Understand and Change the World’**. When Aurélien Colson and I designed it, we realized that many sustainability concerns should be reintroduced with the centrality of final ends — in individual careers and decisions, business schools, and businesses. This is the basis of our pedagogy.

The program combines three complementary objectives:

  1. Provide the students with a vision of current structural and global challenges related to contemporary ways of business.
  2. Offer a pedagogical experience that will help them own their studies and develop their sense of purpose and transition from ‘I study to succeed in an exam’ to ‘I study to bring my unique contribution to business and society’
  3. Give the students the discernment tools and practical wisdom they need to position and commit themselves in their daily life at home, at work, in business and in society.

It has been carried out in September four times in Cergy, for the 400 incoming students. During two weeks, 13 groups of approximately 30 students address a different contemporary issue at the crossroads of international relations, economics, management and the environment, guided by a faculty member. The students are allocated to a group according to a specific matching algorithm that encourages emulation greatly. Each group studies its question carefully from a theoretical and empirical standpoint and then provides policy or business recommendations and convince their classmates that they are the ‘Most Likely to Change the World’. The rhythm and group interaction varies greatly from teamwork, individual work, professor mentoring, outside interviews, and also keynote. Finally, the election of the group creates event-like features with a sense of urgency that is appealing to this generation and triggers disruptive creativity.

Our program fosters our students’ sense of purpose by raising their awareness of the wider impact of their future. It is designed to introduce students to their practical wisdom: “a true and practical state involving reason, concerned with what is good and bad for a human being” (Aristotle). While practical wisdom involves a conception of what is good or bad for human flourishing, it is not just theoretical but also the capacity to act on such knowledge. Practical wisdom can only be acquired through experience. This capacity has become especially critical for the crucial challenges facing the coming generation regarding the questions of human flourishing. Our pedagogical approach builds on the three complementary leadership levers for growth (Know, Be, Do):

  1. Develop knowledge on long-term sustainability challenges: analytical skills and critical thinking through lectures, readings, field interviews and data analysis.
  2. Develop students’ sense of purpose, imagination and practical wisdom: by requiring students to position themselves, deliberate about ends and means, and rate other proposals.
  3. Capacity to propose change and act as entrepreneurs: addressing students as change makers from the start, giving them guided autonomy, and allowing them to formalize their proposal in front of the student community.

A culture of change and personal responsibility is maintained, as epitomized by Gandhi’s invitation to be the change you want to see in the world. The program allows students to create relationships with companies, research units, NGOs, governmental organizations, alumni and especially within the school. It definitely fosters a class spirit and school culture that can become a well-needed impetus for change towards a systemic sustainability capability.

All enjoy it thoroughly, don’t miss the experience and come and change the world in 2019!

*Ezvan, C., P. Langohr, C. Renouard, and A. Colson, 2018, “Final End at the Forefront: Lessons from a Pedagogical Experience at ESSEC Business School,” Journal of Business Ethics Education, Vol. 15 Special Issue 2018, pp.59-70

**Comprendre et Changer le Monde