Going Bananas in IB’s Glocal Challenge

How might we equip future responsible business people to think globally and act locally? 

When was the last time you ate a banana? 

Did you ever consider the system behind this banana? Did you ever wonder who grows them, sells them, transports them, ships them across the world and who makes sure you can buy them around the corner? Any idea who benefits how much from this process? Did you ever consider what happens to the bananas that don’t make it to your supermarket? Did you ever consider how you, as a future international business person, could make a difference by changing a part of the banana trade process?  

If so, how would you know your efforts would actually make an impact? 

Welcome to the Glocal Challenge 

Only seven weeks ago, we introduced our fifty TYP second years to our brand new project with the message above. Little did they know that they would be pitching interventions to reduce the waste in the intercontinental banana production and trade during a hybrid symposium, engaging professional stakeholders in the banana production and trade in both the Netherlands and Colombia. Little did they know that those stakeholders actually saw a lot of potential impact in these ideas – which the teams developed in close consultation with retailers, importers, traders, environmental engineers and project managers in both producer and consumer countries.  

Little did they know that we, Armand van Oostrom and Marloes Ambagts, were very much in the middle of a mirroring design thinking process. In our own challenge, we were designing a transformative, experiential learning experience, enabling students to think globally, act locally and consider the impact of their actions and choices throughout the processes. In this vlog, we will describe our own parallel design process using a number of quotes from our students’ final reflection vlogs. 

‘Our diversity really helped us to use the different strengths in the team and helped us to see our blind spots.’(Final vlog, Team Bananaverse) 

As lecturer-researchers with completely different fields of expertise, we seemed to be an unlikely duo. As a former consultant and COO, Armand teaches supply chain and operations courses and explores sustainable transitions within THUAS’ Centre of Expertise Mission Zero. As an educational specialist, Marloes designs and facilitates innovative project courses and researches what lecturers need to capitalize on students’ diversity at the Centre of Expertise for Global and Inclusive Learning. However, when we started brainstorming about creating an opportunity for the students to explore systemic changes to increase the sustainability of a given supply chain AND to engage closely with different local and global perspectives, forcing them to check their own assumptions and find common ground, we realized that we should leverage our expertise, experience, and networks to create a learning experience we could not create separately.  

‘We dug deep through research, networking, and fieldwork, constantly weighing the pros and cons of our ideas as we went along.’ (Final vlog, Team Cavendish Plantano)   

Hence, we started exchanging good practices, experiences from earlier courses, and input from our research (groups). Quite soon, we decided that our project would be grounded in an experiential learning cycle of reflective action in which we would create an environment that stimulated the students to explore a concrete wicked problem in direct contact with multiple stakeholders, representing different, possibly contradicting perspectives and interests. Building on our expertise in system thinking, design thinking, and student-led pedagogies, we outlined a hybrid project in which student teams would be in the lead collaborating toward a series of deliverables translating a global (wicked) problem into a focused local challenge and address this challenge with a feasible intervention. Structured weekly team deliverables, leaving a lot of freedom and room for ambiguity would allow students to make their own choices. We set out to share this, rather abstract, outline to find potential stakeholders and partners to create a good hook for the project and an appropriately glocal international business environment.    

‘At times we thought we were onto something, but then we realized it was not possible at all, so we needed to adapt and change our route.’ (Final vlog, Team 007) 

We set out to combine our networks in the local, sustainability-minded industry and international, global learning-minded partner institutions would help us to create a truly glocal learning community. Building on Armand’s warm collaboration with Wendy van Vliet at Greenport West Holland, we decided to take the intercontinental fruit trade as a starting point. To be fair, we pursued quite a few dead ends. We reached out to educational partners that appeared to have a different educational vision, in the end, companies that were quite open to collaboration, but engrossed in more urgent business.  

When Marloes reached out to her collaboration partner Javier Naranjo, lecturer in environmental engineering and sustainable development at Universidad Catholica de Manizales, we found our two key stakeholders in this process. Wendy and Armand engaged stakeholders in academia and industry on the Dutch side of the intercontinental trade and Javier appeared to have a strong network in the banana plantations in the Manizales region – and Laura, an ambitious graduate student eager to be a spokesperson in the intercontinental, interdisciplinary dialogue.  

In the first weeks of the project, we connected our key stakeholders to the students in a series of guest lectures, exposing students to different perspectives, parties, and interests in the banana trade, asking them to incorporate these in system diagrams, process charts and vlogs demonstrating their research and perspective-taking.  At the same time, these plenary meetings laid the groundwork for the students’ independent networking and fieldwork in later stages of the project, in which student teams zoomed in on particular parts of the systemic problem they explored and worked towards interventions in close consultation with the key stakeholders they identified. Meanwhile, we closely monitored their progress and experience as coaches, adjusting our design, online material and set up of the work sessions whenever needed.   

‘Scrolling down our portfolio, makes me realize how far we have come in just six weeks. We presented our idea to people who just woke up in Colombia –  and our idea really made sense, because we had been discussing our ideas with our stakeholders in detail.’ (Final vlog, Team Cavendish Plantano) 

Looking back at the pilot project we are finishing up at the moment, we think we addressed our own How Might We statement successfully. In merely seven weeks, we facilitated a project that made students think globally and act locally, aiming to make a real impact on the banana trade of tomorrow. Moreover, we facilitated a project that taught our teams to leverage their strengths and develop their entrepreneurial skills in the process. In doing so, we hope that we provided this cohort of young business professionals with the mindset and a number of key skills to make a difference in the business world of tomorrow. We also hope that we provided our program with a prototype that may be at the basis of a wide range of glocal challenges in our future International Business lab, aiming to create an impact on tomorrow’s international business world and society through sustainable and impactful collaboration within the triple helix of industry, education and research.   

On behalf of International Business, I would like to thank our amazing stakeholders Ms. Wendy van Vliet (Greenport West Holland), Dr. Javier Naranjo and Ms. Laura Reyes (Universidad Catholica de Manizales), Dr. Olga Ocampo, and Ms. Stefany Fisscher (Universidad Autonoma de Manizales), Mr. Juan Carlos Lopez (Global Strategies and Tools) and Mr. Luud Clerx (Agrofair) and many other stakeholders in the banana trade. We are very grateful that you shared your perspectives, expertise, and time with our students and look forward to building on this collaboration in the years to come.  

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