Caterpillars and butterflies

“Butterflies are not called butterflies overnight. They have to undergo tons of changes in order to acquire that name.”

— Michael Bassey Johnson,
Song of a Nature Lover

The 2021 annual meeting of the Academy of Management, the preeminent professional association for management and organization scholars, took place virtually from July 29 to Aug. 4. It was attended by professors, academics, Ph.D. students, and practitioners worldwide. This year’s conference, with its theme, “Bringing the Manager Back in Management,” had over 9,500 attendees and 1,662 sessions.

One of these sessions was our team’s presentation. Twelve educators from the UN PRME Sustainability Mindset Working Group narrated their stories in a workshop entitled, “The Caterpillar and the Butterfly: Stories of Real Transformation.” Our group, led by Dr. Isabel Rimanoczy, shared their unique experiences of intentionally developing those imaginal cells that create the most profound mindset shifts in their students, the future managers. Imaginal cells allow the incredible process of metamorphosis that occurs when a caterpillar changes into a butterfly (Winn, 2015). I am happy to share four of our stories.

Dr. Ekaterina Ivanova of the Graduate School of Business, HSE University (Moscow, Russia) shared her experience of having her students listen to an episode of a podcast, Outrage and Optimism. This podcast is recognized as one of the most informative and inspirational sources on the issues and politics of the climate crisis. The students were asked to reflect on their experiences. Dr. Ivanova wanted to engage students in a provocative conversation on climate action that most people are not comfortable participating in. As she read her students’ reflections and listened to their presentations, she recognized how many of them had started to change their attitudes and to shift their mindsets toward greater acceptance of a different public discourse on sustainability, circular economy, and net-zero transition, which is not yet the norm in Russia.

Dr. Amelia Naim Indrajaya of the IPMI International Business School (Indonesia) challenged her students to “Express Your Eco-Literacy Findings in the Most Out of the Box Approach Showing Threats and Opportunities.” Her students surprised her with how inspiring, innovative, and creative their performances were. Using videos and live theater, the students presented how a calamity in the jungle occurred when investors started to open up new businesses that caused a disaster in the communities’ beloved forest and how the disaster impacted everyone’s well-being. As a final output, the students wrote a commitment letter based on what they had learned and all the inspiration they had received from the day’s performance, and how they would respond to it and leave a legacy.

Dr. Aleandra Scafati of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica Argentina (Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Argentina) shared an exercise to teach students to self-regulate and manage their thoughts, and therefore their feelings and perceptions. The students were asked to track the number of breaths they take in one minute and then, after a short, guided meditation, to count again. They realized that after meditation, their breaths became longer and fewer. Consequently, they became more mindful of their responsibilities, changing how they relate to others, including the environment. Through this experience, students learned control and can now respond consciously instead of reacting instinctively to internal and external stimuli.

I shared my experience of how I had started my students on their journey to wholeness. Using experiential learning as the primary teaching pedagogy, I invited speakers to explore the different dimensions of integral human development (IHD). IHD centers on the idea that the dignity of a person is expressed not only in work and economic activity, but also in cultural richness, artistic creativity, religious belonging, and spiritual practice. The students had the opportunity to interact with our guest speakers, discuss relevant issues, and reflect and act on the insights gained from their experiences. Before the pandemic, I was able to bring my students to view the works of our national artists at the National Museum, experience a Chinatown food trip, watch Binondo, an original Filipino musical, and visit the GK Enchanted Farm. These experiences challenged them to create a life worth living — becoming more mindful, sustainable, learned, creative, caring, ethical, resilient, engaged, and deeply well.

These stories show how we are prompting our students to shape a new worldview, one of a world that works for all, in sync with their highest selves, values, purpose, and the ecosystem, to morph from being caterpillars to butterflies. As one of the presenters, Dr. Morgane Fritz, remarked, these exercises reminded her of Nelson Mandela’s quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

Pia T. Manalastas is an assistant professor of the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business. She will be teaching Integral Human Development virtually in the coming term. She would be happy to share with fellow educators the hand-out of her team’s presentations.

pia.manalastas@dlsu.edu.ph