When I started HEC in September, I was buzzing with the excitement of a new school and a new country. With ten months on the clock, it felt like every moment was precious, and every opportunity needed to be seized. There were no bad opportunities – to be correctly integrated into campus life, partying at the POW (Party of the Week) is equally as important as pre-term modules. Another rite of passage is attending the societies and clubs showcases and enthusiastically overcommitting yourself to a selection of activities. Looking back in March, I don’t think it was even two weeks later, for me, when I was blind-sided by a timetable which made actual participation seem near impossible.
BUT amazing things happened to me by fighting that gut instinct to drop all non-mandatory activities. I had to make a decision: if I only had the energy to dedicate myself 100% to one activity, it had to be something my heart was in. With this in mind, I found an amazing group of students who were starting their own adventure – bringing the Hult Prize to HEC Paris.
A social business world challenge
The Hult Prize is a global student competition for social business, centered annually on a world challenge; for 2018, this was ‘Harnessing the Power of Energy to Transform the Lives of 10 Million People’. Every year, six teams from across the world compete in the final at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and the winner walks away with a startling $1million in seed money for their start-up! Winning is incredibly easy, you only need to have the best idea of a measly ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND other students… Simple. But before a team gets anywhere near the UN stage, they must get to a regional final, and that means they have to win a campus competition. Three other amazing MSc Sustainability and Social Innovation students welcomed me to their team, devoted to making this competition on campus a reality.
Organizing such an event on campus turned out to be no small commitment. Between spreading the word about the competition, supporting the formation of teams, and securing the perfect juror composition, there were emails coming out of my ears. Before I could blink, it was November, and the jurors were sitting in a row watching student teams pitching their models. After a bumpy night of last-minute team withdrawals, we four organizers were quick to hug, jump and high-five as soon as the room was vacant and we could put away our business faces. We were so excited by all pitches, and couldn’t wait to see the winning team, Team Kilowatt, compete in London.
An HEC team in London
So why then, if the competition was over, does this post appear in March? Because just last weekend, I was lucky enough to follow HEC Team Kilowatt to London and assist the competition as a campus director team-coordination volunteer at the regionals!
In London, before all the competitors arrived, the Campus Directors had an evening to prepare. I loved Hult on campus for the opportunity to meet people from beyond my own masters, and now I was meeting people from masters across Europe and Africa! Knowing how intense the competition would be, we took this time to explore London. It touched me deeply when a director from Tanzania said she was surprised to see the homeless in London; like Harnessing the Power of Energy, homelessness is another issue that crosses borders and unifies global experiences.
Unifying students across global issues is at the core of the Hult Prize and was emphasized earnestly when the competition kicked off the following day. Stephen Hodges, President of Hult International Business School addressed the room. His message: Hult prize is “not a zero-sum game”, everybody in the room has an idea worth pursuing, and the world will only change if you keep pursuing them, regardless of the outcome of this weekend. The atmosphere changed! Whilst there was still one (spoiler alert, actually two!) regional winners, there were not 34 losing teams, rather there was a bigger team of 35 universities fighting to make the world a better place.
I have said 35 teams, but in fact, this was in honor of the many, many teams who did not have their pitches heard in London. Where here we stood a group of international people bonded in a positive journey, we could not help but see the irony that around ten teams were denied visas or entry to the UK. Before the final pitches, we were invited to reflect on how this sad occurrence is symbolistic of the desperate state of the world we live in. Also in this sad occurrence, I had a humbling moment of similarity between the London and Campus competitions, both of which were thrown into a mild chaos from absent team. Our campus team had tried hard to cover up the changes, and watching the London team do the same, I realized that everyone, even jurors, understands when perfect plans shatter.
One plan which went very smoothly, on the other hand, was the after party. 10 pm on Saturday night, standing in the Church where the final pitches took place, and the winner was announced, I knew for sure (this time) that my Hult Prize was over. Now to hit the town!
To sign off, I leave my advice for embracing HEC: never anchor yourself to only your classes, and if you can’t find your dream activity, build it.