Experience level: 
Intended Audience: 
Bruno Anicet Bittencourt; Luciana Maines da Silva; Claudia Cristina Bitencourt

Real-world experiences for training future leaders: the case of service learning in pandemic times

Training future leaders and managers with the capabilities to create solutions for environmental and social problems has been one of the great challenges for business schools around the world. Calling on education to contribute to a sustainable society will therefore not be so easy. Higher education is not yet fully integrating sustainability issues via a holistic, inter and transdisciplinary approach, despite the request by the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (Lambrechts et al., 2013). Study programs have to be adjusted to be able to allow students - the leaders of the future - to acquire competencies for sustainable development (Molderez & Fonseca, 2018). The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the need to develop managers capable of dealing with a changing world's uncertainties and connect a social and economic vision. Service-learning can be seen as a strong pedagogical approach to fostering sustainability (Dal Magro, Pozzebon & Schutel, 2020). It differs from traditional education in numerous aspects: students are invited to live and intervene in a different and unfamiliar context (Brower, 2011), students are active agents, and the community is a valuable source of knowledge from which faculty members can learn (Barin-Cruz and Pozzebon, 2017). Real-world experiences focus on solving actual sustainability problems and consist of hands-on activities (Bielefeldt, 2013; Remington-Doucette et al., 2013). Therefore, this paper defends that Service Learning – solving real-world problems-contributes to developing managers with competencies for sustainable development. Thus, the question that has oriented this research is “how can Service Learning contribute to business schools to develop sustainable competencies in future managers?” To answer this question, action research was conducted with a project – GIL Pequenos Negócios (GILPN), in which undergraduate students in management provide online consultancy to small companies under the mentoring of professors and graduate students. The economic effects of isolation policies resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have led small companies to look for alternatives to survive. In this scenario, the GILPN (based on action research) arises. The project consists of four meetings to help small businesses with solutions in management. It was involved 90 students at different levels, and 120 companies were impacted over four months. We realized that the service-learning experience had its main results: helping small companies during the pandemic, bringing the university closer to the community, the possibility of practical learning, and the increase in social awareness among students. In addition to the possibility of applying management knowledge, we identified that students developed skills such as teamwork, empathy, adaptability, and critical thinking. As key factors of the project, it is possible to list the collective construction of the project, the mentoring of faculty members and graduate students, and the university's support. The main results of this paper highlight the university roles. This role is not only the generation and dissemination of knowledge. It is also to be close to society, contributing to minimize negative impacts, such as those caused by COVID-19.