“Boosters to launch a satellite”

Masters students introduce “batteries of change” within MSF

“Too bureaucratic” was the diagnosis of Charline, Ruben and Hendrik after their first contacts with the medical department at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). This was not news to Medical Director Sebastian Spencer, but what did surprise him was what our students managed to achieve in the next couple of months: “Their intense, honest approach resulted in a remarkable openness with our people. Their ‘batteries of change’ were like the boosters to launch a satellite.”

In-company project at MSF (Vlerick)
From left to right: Ruben Van Iseghem, Charline Ampe, Sebastian Spencer and Hendrik Van Eldere

“How can we monitor the outcome of the circles we introduce via our change management track?” That was the question Sebastian Spencer presented to our Masters in General Management students Charline Ampe, Ruben Van Iseghem and Hendrik Van Eldere when they started their in-company project with MSF. “They kicked off with 16 interviews in one day,” Sebastian recalls. “And the outcome was clear: we weren’t far enough advanced with the change project to start working on a monitoring tool.”

Too organic

However, instead of stepping back, our three students took up the challenge to finalise the design of the circles and get everyone on board. Sebastian: “Our burgeoning management infrastructure had grown too organically. The result was a typically corporate, indeed bureaucratic structure: business units headed by managers, who operated in silos with no clear purpose and, as a consequence, no clear deliverables for our field projects.”

“Our burgeoning management infrastructure had grown too organically” Sebastian Spencer, Medical Director at MSF

Thematic circles

But what did our students come up with? “We helped to implement the new ways of working, an agile structure based on thematic circles,” Hendrik explains. “People can be placed in one or more circles. In practical terms, this means that they no longer have a conventional job title, but rather a set of roles in one or more circles. Over time, their contribution can morph by altering the specificity and the balance of their roles. So then we started asking people: how do you see your role in the new structure? In order to give the project visibility, we created posters, gave presentations and organised workshops.”

In-company project at MSF (Vlerick)
By visualising the circles, the students made the change within MSF more tangible.


But it took some time before the batteries of change were fully charged. “Every change management project meets resistance,” Charline points out. “It took a while to win people’s trust. Also, an NGO operates in a specific way, and the medical environment has certain sensitivities that you simply have to take into account. But we had a very positive response, because we explained clearly and simply what exactly was going to change for them.”

“We explained clearly and simply what exactly was going to change” Charline Ampe (Masters in General Management 2018)

“A line in the sand”

How has this in-company project ultimately impacted on MSF? “The impact was huge,” Sebastian stresses. “And not just for the change project at our Brussels HQ. The students also went to our MSF office in Beirut to check if ‘the circle way’ would work for the delocalized staff of the medical department but also for other MSF entities around the world. We now have 15 active circles, we’ve reviewed our evaluation process and have introduced a buddy system in order to support and empower our people. Their main achievement was, however, that they drew a line in the sand for us. And they inspired us with their enthusiasm!”

“They drew a line in the sand for us” Sebastian Spencer, Medical Director at MSF

Social Entrepreneurship Award

The MSF project won the Social Entrepreneurship Award, which annually rewards MBA or Masters students for the social and entrepreneurial impact of their in-company project. This award is an initiative of the Vlerick Social Forum.
Interested in engaging Vlerick students for your social project? Send an e-mail to [email protected].

“Six Batteries of Change”

The “batteries of change” methodology, developed by three Vlerick professors, Peter De Prins, Geert Letens and Kurt Verweire, is detailed in the book “Six Batteries of Change”.

Download the white paperSix Batteries of Change” for free
Order the bookSix Batteries of Change” (print, e-book or iBookstore)

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