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Ivey faculty deliver international course experience despite pandemic challenges

  • Communications
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  • May 11, 2021
Ivey faculty deliver international course experience despite pandemic challenges

Part business insight, part adventure, a class trip to far flung locations has been a staple elective for MBA students at Ivey over the years. But this past year, as we all know, has been unlike any other.

COVID-19 ground global air travel to a virtual halt leading to the cancellation of MBA student trip experiences to both South America and Southeast Asia. But in the face of adversity, Ivey faculty Lucas Monzani, Rick Robertson and Andreas Schotter opted to trade connecting flights for wifi connections and proceeded to redesign their International Connections Elective (ICE) for a virtual environment. 

“Indeed, it would have been much easier to cancel everything, but that is not the Ivey way,” said Lucas Monzani, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour. “In my personal view, as an institution, Ivey is committed to providing an excellent educational experience for our students, whether it rains, snows, or shine.”

Even under pandemic circumstances, the ICE course’s core objective is to develop leaders who think globally and understand the impact that cultural differences might have on business decisions. Besides purely business-related information, the aim was to provide students with insights regarding the history and traditions of each region.

“The ability to navigate diverse cultures is a critical component of a global leader’s “toolbox”, stated Monzani. “We know from scholarly research that the ability to incorporate cultural differences into a decision-making process has been recently called cultural intelligence and is a useful complement to other intelligence domains, such as social, emotional, and cognitive intelligence.”

Another core learning goal is to illustrate similarities and differences across regions on opposing sides of the globe. According to Monzani, the underlying assumption is that their culture will influence most business leaders, since business exchanges do not occur in a vacuum. However, despite cultural differences, there are also cultural similarities that seem to generalize across cultures.

“We hoped the course would keep challenging our students to consider cultural tensions in their future leadership roles.”

In a usual year, students would choose to jet off with Ivey professors to either South America or Southeast Asia for ten days of business and cultural immersion. Jam-packed days would consist of company visits, meeting local corporate leaders, and experiencing first-hand the business practices and culture of the region.      

Ivey professors decided to “join forces” to combine both the South American and Southeast Asian trips into one cohesive, virtual experience, inviting the students to become part of the course design process.

The course, designed and delivered using Zoom over several weeks, was divided into three modules. First-stop South America. The focus here was on active learning experiences emphasizing regional sustainability and positive organizational leadership. On this leg of the tour students were tasked to provide consulting advice to a cyber-security start-up in rural Argentina after learning about their business challenges. After “leaving” Argentina, the students, along with guest lecturer Professor Oana Branzei, linked with B-Corp entrepreneurs in Chile focusing on recycling and the circular economy, and then with a Peruvian conglomerate group focusing on ESG investing and making industrial operations sustainable within the cement industry.  Lastly, for a bit of fun, students learned salsa, tango and samba dance moves with experienced instructors.

“I am proud that we could showcase the immense potential that the South American region offers to business leaders, and in particular, to help them move beyond the logic of ‘commodity extraction’,” said Monzani. “South America and its people have lots to offer the world beyond commodities. There is a huge sustainability movement in Chile and Peru; the software industry is a dynamic sector in Argentina and Brazil is the region’s manufacturing powerhouse. On a more personal note, it was super fun watching the faces of enjoyment and positive energy that emanated from our students while attempting to dance Salsa through Zoom.”

The second module focused on Southeast Asia and China. This portion of the trip concentrated on connecting students with leaders in different sectors, including manufacturing, cyber-security and private equity investment. As part of their asynchronous work, students explored how cultural differences in work and management styles impacted Southeast Asian firms’ operations in North America. Beyond learning about regional business practices, students explored the rich cultural and philosophical traditions that underpin the practice of Tai Chi.

The final component explored the connections between South American and Southeast Asian firms. Students heard from South American experts that operated with Southeast Asian firms looking at the nuances between the two cultures.

According to Julie Hind, MBA '21, the ICE course provided a valuable insights from a wide perspective.

"As an individual who lives abroad, having the opportunity to take a course at Ivey that looks beyond the business landscape in North America was very important to me," reflected Hind. "The course was thoughtfully designed and brought together a diverse group of speakers with unique perspectives which led to thought-provoking class discussions. The highlight for me was having the chance to consult for a small business from Argentina which challenged us to consider the local context when making recommendations. However, the most memorable moment was definitely learning Latin American dances on Zoom with my classmates!"

“Throughout the course our students remained committed as active members of the learning experience,” expressed Monzani. “Our students’ commitment was evidenced in their preparation to engage with the activities we proposed, regardless if activities were a case, an interview with a “client”, or a cultural activity. As active members of the design process, our students kept providing us with ideas and insights to improve the course as we executed it.”

Finally, Monzani feels strongly the success of the ICE course was firmly a team effort, through and through.

“I believe that in the face of adversity, Ivey’s faculty and staff have the potential to rise to the challenge and deliver such excellent education, even within a global pandemic. Consequently, I am not surprised that our teaching team and the MBA program office rose to the challenge.”