Aspen Institute Competition Prompts Students to Innovate for the Good of Business and Society

May 10, 2016

Trisha King
The Aspen Institute Business and Society Program | 212-895-8065

Business & Society International MBA Case Competition

NEW YORK, NY, May 09, 2016 – Nineteen MBA students – selected from more than 1,000 worldwide – have won a share of nearly $35,000 in scholarship money by tackling a real-life business decision at the intersection of corporate profitability and positive social and environmental impact.

Through the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society International MBA Case Competition, along with lead partner BNY Mellon, students representing 25 leading business schools analyzed a brand new case study, authored by the Yale School of Management, about the coffee supply chain. The case focused on illycaffè, a global premium coffee company aiming to create a more equitable coffee industry for all people involved in the production from the grower, to the roaster, and to the barista. Prizes were awarded at a breakfast event on Friday, April 29 at the Yale Club of New York City attended by 150 guests, during which Andrea Illy, Chairman and President of illycaffè, shared pre-recorded remarks.

This year’s winning teams are:

1st Place: Wilfrid Laurier University, School of Business and Economics (Canada)
2nd Place: University of Denver, Daniels College of Business
3rd Place: University of Oxford, Saïd School of Business (United Kingdom)
4th Place: Concordia University, John Molson School of Business (Canada)
5th Place: Villanova University, Villanova School of Business

And honorable mentions were awarded to five additional teams:

Griffith University, Griffith Business School (Australia)
Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Fisher MBA in Global Impact Management
Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Business
University of Delaware, Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics
University of Massachusetts Amherst, Isenberg School of Management

About the Case
illycaffè, the company at the center of this year’s case, is a global premium coffee company. Andrea Illy, Chairman and President of illycaffè, believes the coffee market can be transformed to do more good for all people involved in the production. This grand vision, called the “virtuous circle,” encourages consumers to take an interest in the complexities of coffee and to view the product as an art form, instead of just a commodity. Ultimately, illycaffè wants all coffee drinkers to feel better connected to growers, roasters and baristas, which will encourage customers to pay a premium price for higher quality coffee, allowing all people involved in the supply chain to be fairly compensated. Students were asked to propose innovative solutions that would help Andrea Illy’s dream become a reality by suggesting ideas to improve the livelihood of growers and increase coffee connoisseurship.

“We hear a lot about the ambitions of Millennials and Generation Z to make a positive impact in their world,” said Claire Preisser, Associate Director of the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program. “But from our research, we know that the business school experience often steers students away from these aspirations. This competition is a powerful antidote. It is an immersive and practical experience in decision-making that drives business success – and is at the same time aligned with the desire to make a lasting impact on society.”

Students had just 72 hours to review and respond to the new case study. On-campus competitions determined first place school winners, whose case analyses were then blindly reviewed by an academic panel assembled by the Aspen Institute to determine the five finalist teams. All finalist teams received prize money, with the first place team receiving $15,000 in scholarship funds. Now in its seventh year, the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society International MBA Case Competition encourages the next generation of business leaders to think innovatively about the role of business in solving the world’s most complex and pressing challenges.

Sponsors and Partners
The Aspen Institute’s Business & Society International MBA Case Competition is grateful for the generous support of its corporate partners:

BNY Mellon

“At BNY Mellon, our employees are consistently taking creative approaches to evaluate global market trends that define the future of finance and impact our clients worldwide,” said Jyoti Chopra, Head of Global Citizenship and Sustainability. “We are proud to support innovative thinking in partnership with the Aspen Institute over the past several years through the International MBA Case Competition. Irrespective of the challenge, these talented students’ unconventional ideas and real-world business solutions create powerful models that will impact the evolution of business and our collective financial future.”

The Aspen Institute is also thankful for the support, time, and enthusiasm of this year’s judges: Lee Ballin, Head of Sustainable Business Programs, Bloomberg L.P and Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow; Todd Cort, Faculty Co-Director, Yale Center for Business and the Environment; Damien Fisher, Executive Director, Mergers and Acquisitions, J.P. Morgan; Faith Frank, President and Chief Executive Officer, AXA Foundation, AXA US; Guy Gresham, Head of Global Investor Relations Advisory, BNY Mellon Depositary Receipts;Jennifer Johnson, Research Consultant to the Aspen Institute; Thomas Kamei, Investor,Growth Team, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow; Mark Romano, Senior Vice President, Education, Quality & Sustainability, illy caffè North America; Sarah Sasaki Tsien, Practice Lead, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, Addison and Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow; Maureen Scully, faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s College of Management; Carsten Tams, Senior Vice President and Ethics & Compliance Executive, Bertelsmann; and Meng Zhao, Associate Professor in the Business School at Renmin University of China.

In addition to the schools mentioned above, the Aspen Institute is proud to celebrate the other partnering schools in this year’s program:

• Athens University of Economics and Business (Greece)

• Audencia Nantes, School of Management (France)

• Baruch College – CUNY, Zicklin School of Business

• Boston University, School of Management

• Business School Lausanne (Switzerland)

• Duquesne University, Donahue Graduate School of Business

• ESMT European School of Management and Technology (Germany)

• Fordham University, Graduate School of Business

• Lamar University, College of Business

• Rutgers University, Rutgers Business School

• Seton Hall University, Stillman School of Business

• The George Washington University, School of Business

• University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

• University of Iowa, Henry B. Tippie School of Management

• University of Jyväskylä, School of Business and Economics (Finland)

Learn more about the 2016 Business & Society International MBA Case Competition by visiting the competition’s official website:

Established in 1998 and building on over 60 years of Aspen Institute programming, the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program helps established and emerging business leaders put values at the heart of practice. Through dialogue, research, and outreach, Aspen BSP creates opportunities for executives and educators to explore new routes to business sustainability and values-based leadership. For more information, visit


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