Exploring Corporate Responsibility A market research project generated by W&L students is helping a Danish company to align its initiatives with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
“The work done by Andrew, Elle, Austin, and Jordan was W&L at its best — students with broad but overlapping interests working to frame a complex problem, debating various analytical approaches, and finally communicating a very elegant means of advancing our understanding of the SDGs and their use in business.”
~ Dean Rob Straughan
Novo Nordisk, a global health care company, has released a market research project that was generated by four W&L students during a Spring Term course in Denmark. The report was released in connection with the publication of the company’s annual results for 2018.
Andrew Agrippina ’19, Elle Chancey ’19, Austin Jennings ’19 and Jordan Watson ’19 conducted the project during Spring Term 2018 as part of a course called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Practicum. The project-based course explores the concepts of CSR and sustainability as practiced in Denmark, where Novo Nordisk is headquartered. The students worked for the company for four weeks, creating a map that presented how it interacts with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
Novo Nordisk’s key contribution is to discover and develop innovative biological medicines and make them accessible to patients throughout the world. The company aims to drive change to defeat diabetes and other serious chronic diseases.
Anne Gadegaard, associate director and senior advisor for corporate sustainability at Novo Nordisk, came up with the idea of visualizing the connections between the company’s initiatives and the SDGs. The students then created an advanced model using Kumu, a data visualization platform.
“People typically look at each SDG as sort of a separate entity, but there are 17 of them,” Austin said. “And in fact, they actually interact together very intimately and have cause-and-effect relationships.”
The map created by the students works as both an external and internal communications tool that helps the company see what initiatives it is doing and which SDGs those initiatives align with “so that they can see where they might be lacking in trying to work towards achieving some of these SDGs and direct initiatives and projects there,” said Chancey.
The four students, who come from interdisciplinary majors, went to Denmark with different goals in mind.
Chancey, a business administration and environmental studies double major, is interested in a career in social responsibility or sustainability. She considered the trip to Copenhagen a perfect opportunity to get her feet wet in that field. Agrippina, a business administration major who is minoring in creative writing, thought it would be interesting to learn about corporate social responsibility “directly from a country that does it so much better than the U.S.”
Jennings, a math major, looked forward to a Spring Term abroad opportunity during his junior year that would enrich his career interests. “It just looked like a great fit in terms of getting that consulting experience in an area that I wasn’t familiar with,” he said. Watson, an economics major, talked to students who had very positive experiences in the course, and she thought the real-world experience of working for a client would help with her job applications.
Although their reasons for going to Denmark are not the same, the students said they worked very well as a team, contributing to different aspects of the project by deploying their major skills. “We all had a lot of skills to bring to the table,” Jennings said. “Having that broad background among us is really helpful for getting the project done.”
Chancey added: “We were all able to collaborate pretty well, and we each contributed to the project in ways that others might not be able to. At the same time, we educated our other group members.”
In addition to their academic achievements, these four students are also active on campus. Agrippina is a first-year residential adviser and chairman of the Student Judicial Council, and has been a university track and field athlete for three years. Jennings is the president of University Singers and was on the swim team for two years, while Chancey and Watson have been on the swim team for all four years and are currently on its senior leadership board.
“For our group as a whole, the fact that we have all done collegiate sports made us very disciplined,” Watson said. “For this job we were given a problem and then it was up to us to put in that work during the week. We had no set schedule except for on Wednesdays, when we went to the company, so it definitely helped us to make our own schedule and really put in the work so that we could have a really awesome final product.”
The two course instructors, Williams School Dean Rob Straughan and Associate Dean Elizabeth Oliver, also helped students when they were working on the project. They traveled to Copenhagen before Spring Term to set up and stayed for one week to guide students. They went back during the last week to help students do their presentation.
“They pressed us with questions,” Agrippina said. “We presented to Dean Oliver nearing our final presentations and she gave very helpful feedback.”
Straughan said he’s very satisfied with the results of the students’ project.
“The work done by Andrew, Elle, Austin, and Jordan was W&L at its best — students with broad but overlapping interests working to frame a complex problem, debating various analytical approaches, and finally communicating a very elegant means of advancing our understanding of the SDGs and their use in business,” he said. “The smiles on the students’ faces when Anne Gadegaard immediately turned to her team and said, ‘This is something that will prove very useful to us!’ will stick with me for a long time.”
The students said this experience is valuable to their career development.
“It was a taste of what a real consulting engagement would be like in that we were totally on our own to interface with the client,” Agrippina said.
Jennings said it was interesting to work for a company whose mission statement is to defeat diabetes. “Their number one goal is to defeat diabetes, so it totally flips a normal business strategy on its head. It was really interesting to work with that company and see how they think about problems as opposed to companies that focus more on growth or profits.”
Employees at Novo Nordisk said they have been enjoying working with W&L students and are satisfied with their contribution.
“It has been great to work with the W&L students, as their spirit, engagement and hard work helped us get to grips with how we wanted to highlight one of the most important principles of the SDGs; their inter-connectedness,” Gadegaard said. “Our next step in this journey is to figure out whether we can add actual impacts to this work, and I look forward to meet the next W&L student team.”