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The “Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge” is a one-week leadership course at the outset of WHU’s MBA program that is designed to teach leadership through experience, to preview topics covered throughout the MBA program, and instill in students a lasting sense for leaders’ social responsibility beyond their organizations. The students work in teams on a different challenge every day. The ideas produced during the week and the funds that the students raise benefit the children’s rights organization Save the Children. Since April 2016, the MBA students have raised more than €150,000 for Save the Children.
Why was the “Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge” developed?
In 2016, Professor Jochen Menges and his team at the Chair of Leadership and Human Resource Management at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management launched the “Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge” – an innovative pathway of teaching leadership in the MBA program.
There were several drivers for this innovation. First, we were dissatisfied with the way that leadership was taught. We felt that theoretical discussions and hypothetical case studies helped students to analyze and cognitively understand leadership challenges, but that they were removed from the emotional and relational reality of leadership in organizations. We believe that this problem contributes to the knowing-doing gap: business school graduates may know how they should act as a leader, and yet when they have to do it they often fail. Under pressure they draw on long-standing habitual behavioral responses rather than on the effective leadership behaviors that we teach them in the class room.
Second, we felt that we needed to more strongly motivate our students to invest time and effort into building their leadership skills and take to heart the contents delivered across all courses in the MBA program. We therefore wanted our students to learn early on in the program how difficult leadership really is and what they lack in knowledge with respect to the contents of the MBA program.
Third, given the frequent moral and ethical failures of business leaders in today’s organizations, we wanted to find a more effective and lasting way of imbuing our students with a sense of social responsibility.
How does the “Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge” work?
The “Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge” is a 5-day leadership course that takes place at the beginning of the MBA program. The students work in teams of 4-5 students, accompanied by an MBA alumni mentor, and they face a new real-life challenge each day.
For every challenge, one student has to lead, the other 3-4 students work as team members. Thus over the course of the week, each student steps up as a leader once. The students select their leader on the morning of each challenge, and they sit together in the afternoon, once the challenge is over, to first individually reflect on the leadership and team process, and then, moderated by their mentor, to collectively discuss the learnings of the day in order to improve leadership and team dynamics.
The challenges feature core topics of the MBA program: product development, marketing, strategy, negotiations, and logistics/product distribution. All challenges are extremely demanding: students work under enormous time pressure, in fierce competition with the remaining student teams, and with team members that have diverse experiences, strong characters and various cultural backgrounds. The students receive input in the morning of each challenge from a subject matter expert, and they are judged by a panel of experts on their performance in the evening. Each day, one team wins the challenge.
The challenges all serve to support the work of Save the Children, a leading children’s rights organization. As part of their challenges, the students create concepts or raise funds for Save the Children.
What are the results of the “Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge”?
The “Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge” has a profound impact on students. They experience within their first week of the MBA program what it means to be a leader. They realize that leadership is as much about structure and careful analysis, as it is about making relationships work, handling team dynamics, and setting the right emotional tone for the team to succeed. Through experience, guided reflection, and mentoring, the students learn first-hand how to effectively lead a team.
In their reflections, students described how difficult leadership is and that they wish to expand their expertise in core areas taught in the MBA program. These insights give them a motivational boost to build their leadership skills and develop business acumen from the very beginning of the program. As a result, we expect the students to be more successful leaders in the future.
By working for an entire week for a children’s rights organization, the students developed an understanding for societal challenges and the responsibility that they bear as business leaders. Through their work on the challenges, they have made a difference in the lives of children around the globe by developing strategic concepts for Save the Children that the organization will implement, and by raising an amazing total amount of €46,421.55 for children.
The “Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge” was so successful that WHU now runs it twice a year. It has been covered in the media, bringing reputational benefits to WHU.