Between Wednesday 6th and Friday 8th March four higher education institutions hosted the first ever Amsterdam Sustainable Business Challenge. With 100 students from Newcastle University, University of Liverpool, Vrije University and the University of Groningen, 16 business experts including organisations such as Enterprise Rent A Car, ARUP, Santander and IBM, the challenge was fast paced, intense and a huge success!
Hosted by Amsterdam inbusiness the challenge focused around how students could develop an initiative to support foreign companies in Amsterdam to engage in CSR at a local level. The challenge was conceptualised by Newcastle and Groningen Universities, with the addition of Liverpool and Vrije University meaning that students could work in truly cross-cultural teams. Mixed student teams engaged with idea generation, the business model canvas tool and business meetings with the external experts to generate a pitch resulting in an exhilarating elevator pitch final in front of a panel of Amsterdam inbusiness delegates.
Liverpool and Newcastle’s shared need to provide aspiration raising employability opportunities for underrepresented student groups provided a diversity focus for the project. All students from Newcastle University and University of Liverpool were from widening participation under graduate schemes with the students from the Netherlands a much wider mixture including Masters students.
The event was designed and co-ordinated via a series of planning conference calls. Each University took responsibility for different elements of the event, including logistics, and designing the challenge brief working with academic colleagues and main sponsors Amsterdam inbusiness. All universities worked to recruit aspirational employer partners covering different areas of expertise.
For employer partners, this event provided a means to meet objectives relating to diversity and social mobility and the opportunity to promote their employer brands and spot talent. Amsterdam in Business, used the event to develop different perspectives around their real challenges which will contribute to future sustainability initiatives.
In order to verify impact and skill development a competence questionnaire was generated which all students completed prior to the commencement of the event and over 90% of which completed post event. This data shows that all of the 15 competence areas were improved upon and for Newcastle University students in particular, they were below the group average on all of the pre challenge results but above average in 12 of the 15 in the post challenge results – an amazing achievement!
There were a number of challenges which the team needed to overcome, including the logistical issues associated with organising an event for multiple partners, and students, in an international location. It was difficult to persuade employers to support an untested event concept spanning two very different graduate recruitment markets. The most difficult element was designing a challenge which would add value to our business partner, Amsterdam inbusiness, whilst being broad enough for the students to engage with.
“From a stakeholder satisfaction perspective this is one of the most successful events we’ve ever run. Students loved it, employers loved it, we loved it! Results wise, early quantitative and qualitative student feedback shows all students have improved across all skill categories, with the most positive increases showing against the time management, pitching and global awareness dimensions.”
Emma Moore, Director of Careers & Employability, University of Liverpool
“Global inter-university collaboration is still rare in the sector – this event made it possible for me to meet lots of engaged students from a wide range of different academic and social backgrounds at one event. I was so impressed with the students I offered them all a guaranteed face to face interview with one of our recruitment team – fast tracking them, through our process.”
Ashley Hever, Talent Acquisition Director, Enterprise Rent-a-Car
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to network and work with students from a myriad of disciplines and backgrounds. For me personally it was also a great opportunity to develop my academic and professional skill set.”
“This event provided a fantastic opportunity to work with both students and business professionals. One of the best things about this challenge was that it felt very much like we were in the “real world” of business, while preserving the support network of a multitude of willing, helpful and kind people, both academics, and experts . I absolutely loved the opportunity that this event brought with regard to helping me gain vital experience in the field of networking, international teamwork, and focus on real world issues. I would highly recommend this challenge. I was initially fearful about visiting a foreign country with no prior connections, but I am glad to say that not only has this event helped me gain clarity in my future aspirations, but also I have come away from it with a group of fantastic, like-minded friends, spearheading the way to human progress whom I very much hope to remain in contact with.”
Dr Charlotte Hope, Enterprise Adviser, Newcastle University