International collaboration project wins UN prize


Some fifteen years ago, HU lecturer Paul Jaspers helped to establish the Global Enterprise Experience (GEE). GEE was founded to support students from different countries in starting their own business. Last year, HU students began participating in the scheme once again. On the 29th of November, the GEE project leader will be awarded a prestigious prize at the United Nations in New York.

International collaboration sounds great, but how exactly do you go about designing it? Paul Jaspers, lecturer of International Business at the Hogeschool Utrecht, can shed some light on this question. In 2003, in collaboration with Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, he established an ambitious project which involved students from both educational institutions working together on a project about entrepreneurship. “You have to imagine that, back then,” Jaspers notes, “collaborating from a distance was not as easy as it is today. Skype barely existed, everything was done via e-mail.” Students on opposite sides of the globe had to work together on the Abel Tasman project, which focused on the production of a boat in Europe that was to be put on the market in New Zealand.

Different cultures

Several graduating classes worked on the project back then. “At some point, we had the idea to expand it”, explains Jaspers. “New Zealand took care of the development. They did a really good job, appointing someone to take on the task and seeking out various partners.” That’s how the Global Enterprise Experience - GEE for short - came into being; over the ten years that followed, it experienced an incredible development.
Last year, the GEE and the HU crossed paths once again. Jaspers tells that “the International Business curriculum was modified, so there was space for a project that brought students into contact with other cultures and nationalities. My co-coordinator, Marta Carabba, and I then registered our 153 first-year students with GEE.”


Straight away, the HU contingent formed the largest group within the GEE. Jaspers points out that the HU was “also the only higher education institute to include the GEE in the curriculum.” The HU students worked in teams with students from many other different countries in order to come up with a business plan focussing on a topic that tied in with the UN Millennium Development Goals. A winning idea was chosen from the ideas submitted, the winner being eligible for a cash prize. “The winning team contained HU students”, explains Jaspers. “The results were outstanding across the board. The project received a positive evaluation and the students were happy with it.”


A while later, some good news arrived from New York: the Global Enterprise Experience had won an Intercultural Innovation Award. This is a prize awarded by the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC), a division of the UN, and car manufacturer BMW. “The prize stimulates ‘global citizenship’: contact, exchange and collaboration between cultures”, says Jaspers. “So, the GEE ties in well with this.” The International Innovation Award comes with a cash prize, but the winning organisations also gain access to workshops on strategy, leadership and media. Ten initiatives receive the award every year.


On the 29th of November, the prize will be presented to Deb Gilbertson, the New Zealand coordinator of the GEE. The event will take place at the United Nations headquarters. The UNAOC asked Gilbertson for some images to create a video about the GEE. Gilbertson asked the HU to contribute. “We then made and sent a short film and she was delighted with the quality. The prize and the attention are obviously a wonderful recognition for the GEE, and the cash prize can be used to expand the project further.”