As of December 2019, Grenoble Ecole de Management mobilized its resources to overcome an unprecedented health crisis. Our leitmotif? To be a responsible, solidary school and employer that protects the health of its students and staff. With educational programs being continued online, what is the economic and societal vision offered by GEM?
Interview with Loïck Roche, Dean and Director of Grenoble École de Management.
72 hours before the government decision to implement a nationwide lockdown, Grenoble Ecole de Management decided to stop two essential activities: face-to-face teaching and working at the school. What was your analysis of the Covid-19 crisis?
At the end of December 2019, beginning January 2020, Grenoble Ecole de Management was receiving feedback from students on exchange in Asia or at our campus in Singapore. These were the first worrisome signs. In February, the school forbade travel to China for its students and staff and asked all staff and students in the country to travel back to their home countries.
Beginning March, we set up a crisis unit that met every day in order to ensure what has always been our number one priority: the safety and health of our students and staff. As part of this process, we decided to close all of our locations, which meant that all of our activities, management, organizational and teaching, were switched to telecommuting. This decision was made well in advance of government recommendations and most certainly helped limit the spread of the virus within our institution, which welcomes 5,000 people every day.
What has changed for everyone?
In terms of teaching, little has changed in reality. The switch enabled us to implement 100% online teaching, but teachers and students at the school were already used to online formats. Of course, for a minority of participants, this switch was extremely anxiety inducing. We have to remember that contrary to general opinion, this is not a normal telecommuting context. In other words, a key factor is missing: freedom of choice. We are required to telecommute while dealing with a lockdown which can have a strong, negative psychological impact. It can't be compared to a freely chosen telecommuting situation.
The largest impact for us is in terms of our activities with businesses. As many companies are suffering from this crisis, we also suffer. For example, almost all of our continuing education programs were simply frozen. Despite all of our agility and solidity, we are not unsinkable. We share the same challenge as all companies: how to start up again, together, in a New Deal that we would like to co-construct with them.
You predicted: "It's essential that we better understand what is happening because there will be no going back to normal." What are the major areas of change for GEM?
This global health crisis and the violence of the shock reveals the end of a world. Leaders and global actors are living illusion, namely, that globalization and unrestrained exchanges are an all powerful solution. But the world is turning upside down. The task today is to set society back on track.
For GEM, I believe that our position since 2013 to become a School for Business for Society has become all the more relevant. Our focus on innovation, technology management and our ties to the region and our ecosystem are all the more essential.
Yet we have to take things a step further. We have to promote what I like to call "humane ecology"—a means to radically change how we think about relationships between governments, companies and people; a means to act with real efficiency to manage issues related to the environment, global warming and all living beings.
This also means we have to go beyond our idea of traditional business schools. The world of tomorrow has to be invented, not re-invented, which is just synonym of repeating what has already been done. In this change, some schools will stand out, those that understand they have to go beyond their mission, beyond education and research. They have to engage with the major challenges of the 21st century, which I believe are only really starting today.
How will the school's activities be organized in coming months?
Our strategy since the start of the crisis has been extremely clear: to decide and act in order to provide a reassuring framework within an extremely uncertain and painful environment.
We are preparing for the next school year to start out as 100% e-learning. If things calm down beforehand, it's easy to switch our management, organization, and teaching activities back to a physical format.
Most importantly, we are working relentlessly to collect every bit of knowledge and understanding we can from the crisis we are currently living. At the same time, we are working to guarantee our students have better support and teaching. We are also working side-by-side with companies. Finally, as we want to play a role in solving the challenges created by this crisis, we are taking the utmost care of GEM. In other words, we are taking the utmost care of our employees, who are the number one factor that will enable us to take care of all of our partners.