Campus - 22.11.2021 - 00:00 

Business as usual? Not with Student Impact

Responsibility, commitment, encouragement – these are the three values which the members of the Student Impact association share. The student association champions entrepreneurial sustainability in business and at the HSG. Two of the members, Johannes Tschiderer and Nadine Hefti, talk about sustainability consulting and what has motivated them for years to be involved in the association.

22 November 2021. As one of the biggest student associations at the HSG, Student Impact has championed sustainable economic activities for just under ten years. At the time when the association was established, the first generation of Student Impact members recognised the future potential of what was then a “niche”, namely to link business and sustainability in an integral manner. “Meanwhile, this niche has become the biggest entrepreneurial challenge of our time, and the goal of sustainable management has become the mainstream,” says Johannes Tschiderer, president of the association and a student in the Master’s programme in Banking and Finance with a Master’s certificate in Managing Climate Solutions. The demand for sustainability consulting, but also for young, fresh heads who think outside the box, are intrinsically motivated, have a sense of responsibility and are full of ideas, is high. Usually it is SMEs, start-ups and NGOs which lack the financial or personal resources that address the association directly – frequently also on the basis of recommendations. The projects of Student Impact differ from practical projects that are part of degree courses. They do not entail any grades or credit points for members; instead, members are able to gain hands-on practical experience and profit from many-layered personal and professional development and close supervision by older, experienced students, so-called project leaders, coaches or mentors. “The members of the association are individually treated according to their knowledge and experience. There are feedback meetings before every semester, project and workshop,” explains Nadine Hefti, project leader with Student Impact and a student in the Master’s programme in Business Innovation. In addition, information or training sessions take place every Monday; these complement the HSG curriculum. Thus members are able to continually become acquainted with new issues ranging from inputs to project structuring, feedback provision, design thinking and leadership, as well as various aspects of sustainability such as climate change, biodiversity and the circular economy.

From consulting to a community

For Johannes Tschiderer and Nadine Hefti, student involvement means campaigning alongside their studies for something which they feel very strongly about. Their activities in and membership of Student Impact will also remain imprinted on their memories when they look back on their student years. “It can be compared to a ‘boost’ for professional and personal development,” says Johannes Tschiderer. The two also connect their private circle of friends with Student Impact. SI project work also merges into their spare time, a great deal of time is spent together, successes are celebrated and a strong network of relationships is established. Nadine Hefti adds that owing to the voluntary nature of the involvement, the project team’s commitment and ambition are very high. Members are willing to make positive societal contributions and give their best. The fact that they share the same values strongly enhances the community feeling and cooperation based on trust. The group is always a mixed bunch, with members from the Assessment Year up to the Master’s Level across all the majors. This diversity provides them with a plethora of perspectives beyond the “business management spectacles”. Today, the alumni network has more than 350 members with many years of practical knowledge. Both students know from their own experience: “People come to the association for consulting but remain for the community.”

During last year’s lockdown, all the events and meetings were conducted in a hybrid format as far as this was possible. Also, it turned out that Student Impact’s consulting model was very flexible and resistant to crises. Besides sessions focusing on content, however, members also continued to cultivate personal contacts in small groups. The number of applications even increased, Johannes Tschiderer remembers. “Especially for new members, and for Assessment students in particular, the activities of the association were important because relationships and contacts from everyday student life had ceased to exist. Onboarding weekends could also be organised in flat-sharing communities, but the recent weekend in an Alpine hut in the Appenzeller mountains with the entire 50-strong group was of course a welcome return to normality.”

Projects unite younger and older generations

Today, the president of the association is convinced that Student Impact creates added value for customers while at the same time accompanying them in the course of their development and preparing them for their future professional lives. “It’s nice to see how students are taken seriously and on an equal footing by older generations. Elsewhere, the combination of different generations tends to be untypical, as in the area of SMEs for example.” The more projects that are being worked on, the higher the degree of specialisation in the team. With a view to future projects, the integration of sustainability in corporate strategies is becoming increasingly relevant. If past cooperation only took place with companies that were already sustainable at their core – for instance the HSG’s Climate Solution Taskforce (attainment of sustainability goals), a start-up in the construction industry (introduction of cement-free concrete) and a 2nd life battery producer (battery life-cycle extension), there are also projects today with organisations which are only now expressing their desire for sustainability and require a fundamental adaptation of an originally profit-oriented corporate strategy. Thus currently, employee interviews and assessment tools are being applied to a company that sells safes, and a further project partner is being supported with regard to decarbonisation. The objective in both cases is to revise their corporate strategy while taking into consideration sustainability – a customer request that is on the up and up and has to be satisfied. Project leader Nadine Hefti adds: “Each year we gain new experience and our student ‘agents of change’ are learning new things at a rate of knots.”

Bridging the gap between University, students and companies

In the current autumn semester, a course is on offer for the first time which packages the SI format according to the motto “from students for students” into a classroom event of contextual studies. The idea of this “curriculum innovation” is to impart the practical experience gained in the last ten years to committed and interested students who are also outside SI, explains Johannes Tschiderer. “Student Impact is meant to be one of the many associations that ‘build bridges’ between the University, students and companies and so are actively involved in the configuration of the management of tomorrow.”

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