Creating Social Value Blog / Corporate Social Relevance

Creating an Ensemble Educational Experience

Since its inception, The Lewis Institute recognized that leading our community through the journey of creating economic and social value simultaneously was going to take a team of teams. And with the right team of teams, we could design an Ensemble Educational Experience both inside and outside the classroom.

How do you begin building an Ensemble Educational Experience in the classroom? You begin with who you know, who you are influenced by, and those with whom you have cultivated a strong relationship over the years. Then you scan the landscape for those individuals who have deep experience in creating social value and social impact. Whether they are practitioners and influencers in moving companies from Corporate Social Responsibility to Social Innovation, or starting a social enterprise, or solving some of the world’s thorniest societal dilemmas, collectively they have decades of experience in leading conversations, influencing social change, and taking action.

They are consultants, educators, social innovators, entrepreneurs, designers, and leaders in policy and the social sector. Most importantly, they are all effective at challenging the status quo. They are change leaders in the domains of sustainability, social design, corporate responsibility, public policy, and the UN Global Goals. These folks are Babson’s Senior Fellows in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurs in Residence at The Lewis Institute. Babson is honored and privileged to have them affiliate with us and provide enormous value to our expansive community.

Our MBA Intensive Elective called “Leading for Social Value” was an Ensemble Educational Experience, co-delivered with five Senior Fellows in Social Innovation along with five corporate executives who brought real and relevant challenges into the classroom. These challenges focused on current struggles inside of each company where our corporate guests might benefit from additional mindsets and skillsets in thinking through solutions.

In designing the course, we understood that traditional teaching cases were insufficient in portraying the real grasp of how messy and hard it is to lead strategic and aligned social innovation efforts inside organizations. We brought the Educational Ensemble Experience into the classroom to help frame the big notion of creating economic and social value simultaneously, and to help map to our stated learning outcomes.

At times, there were solo performances by company executives helping us better understand the company, its culture, and its context. Then there were times when we performed more like a jazz quartet, where Senior Fellows jumped in to share experiences, tell stories, ask questions, and share failures – all in real-time reaction to whatever arose in the classroom at a particular moment, and all in an unpredictable and powerful way.

After the first day, students were activated and already living with the ambiguity that comes with navigating social value creation inside organizations. In addition to our corporate guests and challenges, we provided frameworks for anchoring how a company creates and measures actual ROI for its social value creation initiatives and metrics, and cultivated many opportunities for “Conversations Unplugged” with our Senior Fellows. These were designed to help our students get as much understanding as possible of how to create social value in order to jumpstart their thinking and help them create their final presentations to be delivered to those corporate executives next month.

When you are teaching highly ambiguous information, static cases are good, just not good enough. Living cases provide more texture to understanding the content and seeing what the journey is really like from the people who live with the ambiguity every day. In the end, creating Ensemble Educational Experiences is a bit riskier and more unpredictable, but a lot more engaging, fun, and probing on multiple levels. Here are a few rules that we applied for creating this kind of journey around social value creation:

  1. Start the class with a clear conceptual framework on what Social Value Creation is and how the remainder of the class will fit into that framework.
  2. Choose your ensemble wisely, as your creators must play well with others as well as play off of others.
  3. All participants, including the students, must understand that this is not a usual classroom design. This is a journey.
  4. All content and conversations happen under the Chatham House Rules so that company executives and Senior Fellows can share stories freely without fear of attribution or unexpected social media comments.
  5. Everyone agrees to the desired learning outcomes for our students and the expectations for everyone to be co-creators of the content.
  6. We ask that people bring their experiences, knowledge, and most importantly, their creative energy as it is the creative energy that makes the class really sing.

In the end, while a lot is left to the curation and facilitation of multiple players, this approach elicited such rich knowledge in so many different ways from each of the participants. It became a highly engaging learning journey. All I can say is trust the process, trust the people, and lean into the unknown. Have fun!