The Student Business Project (SBP) is a much appreciated and anticipated module for final year EHL Bachelor students. Its aim: to give students real-life, hands-on, practical experience of what it means to set up and run a business from every possible angle, in conjunction with the requirements of a business partner who has enlisted their help, insights and know-how.
For over 21 years, entrepreneurs have been trusting the advice of EHL students to confirm, enhance or find new development strategies for their business plans, with many companies returning to benefit from our students' expertise and creativity. Since April 2019, one SBP per semester has been dedicated free of charge to the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility, an important priority at EHL that enables students to contribute and give back to their community.
This article looks at a recent CSR SBP on Pension Bienvenue, a women-only accommodation center in Lausanne that offers affordable lodgings to women in need of a safe, comfortable and peaceful setting. The client's mandate was to establish the definition of a new concept of reception and accommodation for the Pension Bienvenue, while respecting the values of the establishment, social commitment and exclusively female clientele. The six students, their EHL coach and their business client recount their experiences and learning curves during the 9-week SBP process and beyond.
"The first and foremost goal of Bienvenue SA is to offer housing to women going through a transitional phase in their lives. A cozy and affordable place where they will find the peace and quiet to plan their future." Pension Bienvenue website.
Bienvenue was opened in 1928 as a lodging and placement bureau for young women. It is located next to Lausanne's main train station in a beautiful Art Nouveau building that offers 28 boarding rooms. Since its inception, it's been a safe place where women going through difficult times have had the chance to reflect, start over and move forward in their lives. Today, the Sinn & Gewinn Hotel group, which works towards social goals via entrepreneurial means, continues the history and values of this special and historical place.
What really appealed to us was the idea of creating a whole new reception & accommodation concept; having carte blanche to bring something innovative to this feminine cause and to the building steeped in so much history. Keeping the identity of the hotel group, as well as the authenticity and soul of the building while modernizing it, was a real challenge but we took to it immediately.
Throughout the project, we had to learn to work with women from totally different backgrounds, situations and with different ideas, but all of them shared a common goal: building the future of Bienvenue. This is what made us feel united throughout the project. In addition, we also had the task of keeping a quota of rooms reserved for the Lausanne social services and adapting the place according to the rooms, shared spaces, etc.
The main CSR themes are the social aspect of the feminine cause: women's place in the world today, supporting women on both a personal and professional level. At the Bienvenue, whether it's the lodgers or the employees, each woman has her place.
The environmental side was also very important for us. Our generation is particularly driven by environmental challenges, so being able to work on a project where we have to breathe new life into ecological hospitality was a privilege and proved very interesting. We were fortunate that our clients were clear about avoiding any form of “greenwashing” in the renovation plans. The sister establishments in Zurich are dedicated to zero greenwashing and we were keen to continue this with Pension Bienvenue.
We were equally passionate about involving practices based on the Sharing Economy. With the Covid-19 pandemic, current changes, social and environmental issues, the Sharing Economy is playing a big role in our lives and is in full expansion. Shared access instead of outright ownership: our project promotes sharing the environment and the feminine cause. Working on a CSR project pushed us to go in the direction of wanting to change things and put in place ethical and concrete solutions.
I found the philosophy of offering housing to women in transitional times in their lives very appealing. The social dimension was a key element that also attracted me immediately. The board of directors of the Sinn & Gewinn group are all volunteers and their primary objective is to achieve social goals with entrepreneurial means. A concrete way to reach these goals is to allocate a few rooms at Pension Bienvenue to women who are looking to be housed by the Lausanne social services. This brings diversity to the clientele of the establishment, making the project unique.
It was meaningful to refresh a concept initiated in 1928, and to make it attractive and modern while at the same time respecting the values of the original "Les Amis de la Jeune Fille" association that founded Pension Bienvenue nearly 100 years ago.
The team had to work with numerous constraints, as the students had to make sure that the concept would work for the various stakeholders while taking into account the three pillars of sustainability: social, environmental and economic. The diverse stakeholders of Pension Bienvenue (the Sinn & Gewinn hotel group, the management and the clients of Pension Bienvenue, the social services of Lausanne) all emphasized slightly different objectives, making it challenging for the team to coordinate their recommendations and build consensus around shared objectives.
These constraints forced the students to refine their suggestions and magnify their creativity. As an example, research showed that a sports concept integrated into the establishment could be a major asset. This lead the students to suggest the creation of a fitness center reserved for women. Initially some parties were reluctant about this idea. However, the students were unfazed and pushed through, explaining at length the benefits of having a sports center offering. They went into specific detail such as the choice of activities, the colors of the premises and the specific atmosphere that would make it women-friendly. This thorough approach eventually convinced all stakeholders to accept the idea.
The ability of the students to listen and to manage the needs and wants of all the various parties is definitely a key takeaway acquired during this 9 week project.
What I noticed during this project is that CSR criteria are a natural match for many young people's values today. The students could easily relate to the CSR dimension, and they genuinely assimilated and absorbed the project’s goals. For the same reason, the students who worked on the Pension Bienvenue project were probably more emotionally involved than would have been the case in a less CSR-centric project.
The notions of caring, collaboration and respect are essential to Pension Bienvenue, along with the intergenerational aspect that is also very important. On the whole, such values that are typically less present in “traditional” SBPs.
It was an enriching experience from the start. Even if the project was not nominated for an award, it was definitely one close to my heart. The remarkable work delivered by the group of students demonstrated that an economically viable concept is possible while respecting CSR concepts. Watching this team work showed me their real and authentic adherence to the CSR values; they truly believed in their recommendations and in making a difference.
Sinn & Gewinn Hotels took over Pension Bienvenue in Lausanne three years ago. From the beginning, it was clear that the pension needed a thorough makeover. Lausanne is not our home market and it was also the first time that we took over a running business. Our idea from the offset was to give the evolution of the guesthouse time and thorough investigation. We also wanted to get to know the market in Lausanne without rushing. So when we heard of the possibility of an SBP – done by students based in Lausanne for a 90-year old Lausanne establishment – we immediately felt this was the right thing to do.
We are a very value-driven company. Pension Bienvenue stands in the tradition of over 90 years of feminine history in Lausanne – women who are committed to women. Affordable accommodation in a beautiful house in the middle of the city center, social commitment for young women and for women in emergency situations. With this operating concept, we are making a self-confident statement and showing our attachment to the history of the house and the numerous committed women before us. The further development of the guesthouse in the coming years is close to our hearts – we want it to evolve with the times without forgetting our roots and our mission.
The approach of the students has been so full of enthusiasm and youthful verve! The amount of research and ideas that were evaluated was astonishing. Also, the very organized manner in which the team worked impressed me. Enthusiasm paired with structure: project management at its best!
The idea of including a sports studio for women in the house totally convinced us. We have had numerous other ideas of what to do with the space on the ground floor and I am sure we would never have had the sports idea ourselves. It perfectly complements the Co-Living aspect of the project.
Staying true to our roots but nonetheless moving forward to start a successful new chapter. I imagine numerous women, old and young, coming to our house for whatever reason and from whatever origin, finding companionship, a true safe haven and a house full of life.