MBA Social Impact: a game to foster social growth through creativity, sustainability and collaboration.

MBA Social Impact, a challenge to create a change.

(By Nyree Grifeo; Luca Bruno; Luca Avitabile)

During our MBA program, on January 9th, instead of attending the usual lessons, we participated to a competition as part of the “MBA Social Impact - MBA for Africa” initiative. That was the first time we addressed, as MBA students, the sustainability topic from a social impact point of view that a firm has to manage. Being in a very complex ecosystem, together with global and local communities and institutions, requires a strong understanding of what is outside the firm’s boundaries, and how these boundaries themselves are becoming increasingly blurred, so that what happens outside the firm has an influence almost equal to the one exerted by internal events.

In a world made up of multiple connections between the firms and the surrounding environment, the keyword is “immersion”. This means working under  continuous pressure coming from any direction (thus unsustainable by an individual), and facing as much standard business problems as “social” ones, which in turn have an impact on the business itself. For this reason we think that the social responsibility is a key feature of a contemporary manager, and we are all involved, as MBA students, in building a common framework of collaboration.

Just to start our journey to the awareness of our social impact, we were asked to invent a game to be played by the children in a school in Senegal. A precious help was provided by volunteers of the association “Energia per i diritti umani”. They gave us some basic rules to follow and a box containing a few things to be used for the assigned task, basically those things that “we” (i.e. the so-called developed countries) consider just rubbish (such as plastic bottles, pieces of strings, wastepaper, ...). Starting from these very few things we had the great responsibility to create an attractive game having the double aim of explicitly teaching something and implicitly educating about the importance of collaboration to children aged from 3 to 5 years. None of us are parents and, if at a first glance the range of ages could appear narrow, we realized, thinking about what they could do, that was not simple at all. At this stage the difficulty was even greater because the game had to be flexible enough to be played by an entire class formed by children of different ages.

We started then from a simple game played to have fun even in a tourist village, that is a blind folded person guided through a path by another person, and we adapted it to our target children and then we linked it to a story in order to make it more enjoyable. The name of the game is “Save the Colours” and it precisely consists in saving all the colours from the “Colours Stealing Monster” using a very special shield built by the children. In order to build this shield the class, usually formed by about 30 children, has to be split in 6 teams, each of which consists of 5 children and has an assigned colour. Each team has to rescue a piece of the shield by following the path of the assigned colour. The 5 children have to form a single line and they are all blind folded except the last one that has to indicate the right direction to follow by tapping the shoulder of the child that comes before. Every child in line has to pass to the preceding mate this information about the direction, thus guiding the whole line.

The game will end when all the shield pieces are rescued from the “Colours Stealing Monster”.  To make the game more enjoyable for the children, we created a kind of cart using the contents of the box we received. We used a cardboard box, 4 plastic bottles, a pencil, a bit of tape to link some pieces together, some little stones in the bottles to make noise, a rubber band and an old CD to use as a wheel. This game can teach children to recognize colours, or it can be optionally adapted to teach numbers or other concepts.

The most interesting feature of this game, however, is that it teaches collaboration. An entire team has to trust one member to reach the objective, moving all together, following his/her indication. Moreover, all the teams collaborate to build the shield. This game is not about competition, it drives all the children to work together to solve a problem (i.e. the “Colours Stealing Monster”). All the class, in the end, should collaborate as a unique team.

It was very fun to create this game because it required a very strong creativity both for the game and to build a toy from recycled things. It actually was a great responsibility because, conversely of other situations, we were afraid to win and that the children could really play our game without enjoying it or learning what we imagined they should learn. We faced this problem as any other business problem in an ordinary situation: doing some brain-storming, organizing what we knew, understanding which was the aim, optimizing our resources, identifying our final “customers” and defining what we could offer to them.

During the work we also thought about living conditions and about their habits. For example, we were not able to realize what could scare them, what could represent a “monster” in their culture. We were told that the most scaring “monster” was the malaria mosquito and not a dragon or a monstrous character of a cartoon, as we would thought. At the end, we created the “Colours Stealing Monster” that probably will be replaced with a local character once the game will be implemented, and we thought it could be adapted to any situation. Another surprising thing was that we were concerned that children of 3 years old were not so able to walk through the path but, again, we learned that those children have to walk kilometers before getting to school or to drink. We can state that it surely was a chance to understand a different culture, learning a lot of their situation. We always look with eagerness to the most technology advanced countries and the welfare of their inhabitants and was strange to think that for them the wealthy people are “us”. We are full of stuff and we want always more while they have lots of fun with recycled things.

Apart from the fun of the game, we enjoyed the entire activity and the meaning of it. We learned how to generate new ideas, with any particular expertise and limited resources, throughout collaboration, discussion, and creativity. A game that should teach collaboration forced us to work as a team, actually teaching it to us. The ethic aim probably pushed us to maximize our efforts and results. This aspect is fundamental during the education of all managers, present and future. The insertion of this kind of activity in our program was highly appreciated. A special thanks goes to the volunteers of “Energia per I diritti umani”, who spent the entire day with us, sharing their experience, their feelings and teaching us about a different culture.

Hopefully, Senegalese children will have fun playing the game as much we had inventing it for them.



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