When Russia invaded Ukraine, the president of ESMT Berlin, Jörg Rocholl reached out to Ukrainian students to understand what the war has meant for them and what the German business school can do to help. Throughout the past year, ESMT has initiated several projects together with students, including a campaign with a benefit concert to raise money and collect items for a humanitarian organization providing relief in Ukraine, and for displaced persons in Berlin.
Those are part of a wider effort among business schools around the world to support those displaced by the war. At ESMT, with the support of the carmaker BMW, the school has awarded 10 full MBA scholarships to female students displaced from Ukraine. Additionally, the school established the Ukraine Impact Project, a pro bono initiative to help Ukrainian companies expand into international markets and thus survive the war.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine could not stand in any stricter contrast to what we as ESMT Berlin stand for: our strong belief in freedom and advocating respect for the individual. We believe that it is our duty to support our Ukrainian students and colleagues, the Ukrainian community here in Berlin, where many displaced persons have come to live, and our fellow Europeans – the Ukrainians still living in a war-torn country,” says Martha Ihlbrock, director of corporate communications at ESMT.
She believes that business schools can support those affected by the humanitarian crisis in a number of ways. “First, they can provide a network of support for the students, faculty, and staff members who have been personally affected. Professors can also use their expertise to advise policy decisions and help the wider public understand the economic implications of the crisis. Additionally, groups within the school can raise money and collect goods to provide support in the country of crisis or for those displaced,” Ihlbrock says.
Free learning sessions on geopolitics
Across the world, other schools are doing exactly that. In Barcelona, IESE Business School is launching a scholarship fund aimed at young Ukrainians displaced from the war to study in its MBA and other programs. In addition, IESE has provided a series of free learning sessions from faculty and guest speakers that analyzed the war in Ukraine and its geopolitical, economic, and humanitarian effects.
María Puig, director of the Dignity, Diversity and Belonging office at IESE, says: “As centers of innovation and learning, business schools should be challenging and teaching everyone to use their talents beyond themselves and their own advancement. A humanitarian crisis is a critical opportunity to do just that, and look beyond our own needs towards those of others.”
Moreover, IESE believes that business should be a major player in promoting the common good in society. “There’s nothing worse to the common good than war – and all the humanitarian crises that accompany war. Therefore, it is also a chance for business – and business education – to take the lead in moments of crisis,” Puig adds.
For Ukrainian students and for Ukrainian staff, the war has meant destruction of lives and families. Many also grapple with the dilemma of whether to move back home to help or to help from afar. On the positive side, it has been a good opportunity to see how the business school community can be a force for good, Puig says.
Business schools: a force for good
In Milan, the POLIMI Graduate School of Management has partnered with three Ukrainian Business Schools — KSE (Kyiv Schools of Economics), KMBS (Kyiv-Mohyla Business School), and UCU (Ukrainian Catholic University) — to offer courses and content free of charge. For example, POLIMI co-designed and co-delivered classes in leadership and management, operations and project management, data analysis for business, and strategic management with KSE.
“When the crisis arose, we realized we could harness our relationship-building skills to give back to the Ukrainian business schools that would benefit from our support. We hope that this support will assist future generations to have as much opportunity as possible to focus on their education,” Tommaso Agasisti, associate dean for internationalization and quality at POLIMI, says.
The Italian school also secured access to its digital learning platform for MBA students at KMBS and some faculty members. “In this crisis, the damage goes beyond destroyed infrastructure, as it also impacts scientific and educational facilities,” Agasisti says.
“This is where other institutions can step in, helping to rebuild and implement foundations which can help Ukrainian educational institutions to continue to operate as best they can. We hope that this can help students to connect to much-needed resources, and to broaden their communities during this difficult moment.”