Published: March 15, 2021

Teams from DU take first and second place in the 2021 Net Impact Case Competition hosted by Leeds MBA students.

NICC Case Competition

Now in its 20th year, the Net Impact Case Competition (NICC) is the longest running graduate student competition exploring the balance between ethics and finance in business. NICC gives graduate students from across the globe the opportunity to create real world solutions to business challenges focused on the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. It has been run by MBA students at the Leeds School of Business since its inception and has hosted thousands of students presenting their solutions to pressing business issues.

“NICC gives students practical experience in thinking about the needs of all stakeholders and creates connections between sustainability-minded leaders from top business schools around the world,” said Julie Waggoner, Interim Director of the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR) at the Leeds School of Business. “This year, the student leaders achieved a particularly extraordinary task in running a very successful competition during the pandemic. NICC is an important part of the Leeds legacy, and we are excited to continue supporting it and seeing it grow into the future.”

The 2021 NICC was made possible through a partnership with AT&T which supported development of the case and provided financial prizes for the top four teams. The winning team may have the opportunity to present their proposals to the Colorado Vaccine Task Force.

The case

This year’s case challenge was “Economic Recovery in Response to a Global Pandemic.” In November, 85 registered teams from seven countries were invited to devise a vaccine distribution plan that created a path to recovery for a fictional country in the midst of a global pandemic. Students were asked to develop and pitch a system for ranking who to give the vaccine to first while balancing social and economic considerations in their approach.

The goal was to reach a 75% vaccination rate. Judges focused on the ethical reasoning behind students’ solutions.

The top 20 teams moved on to the finals where they were given a twist. New information required teams to address vaccine hesitancy and develop a set of proposals that would achieve country-wide herd immunity.  The best solutions considered both short and long term implications, contingency plans in the case of unforeseen challenges, and the ethics behind the proposal. While the case presented a hypothetical situation, it was based on a real world scenario so judges evaluated feasibility considerations like cost and timeliness, as well as the measurability and security of plans.

The top four teams then moved on to the championships where they presented their solutions to a panel of three judges who selected the winning proposal. To win the competition, teams needed a clear presentation, a persuasive road map to implementation and be able to articulate how their solution addressed financial, social and environmental impacts. The solutions students came up with for their fictional country were based in real world scenarios, and have implications for creating a more just and sustainable future.

The competition

In both the final and championship rounds students were given 20 minutes total time for their pitch. They gave a presentation with slides for the first ten minutes, followed by ten minutes for questions from the judges. The finals were held in the morning of March 6, 2021, with the championships following that same afternoon.

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“We are so grateful for the way that the sustainable business community has supported NICC over the years,”

said Julie Waggoner, Interim Director of the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR).

“This competition is a wonderful example of incredible student leadership, community support and connection building that engages so many passionate people around using business to make the world a better place.”

Nearly 40 business leaders participated as judges across the three rounds of competition. For the championship round, the three judges all had professional backgrounds connected to the delivery of healthcare from a variety of industries. The championship judges included Joe Cutrell, Director of Strategy & Innovation, AT&T Healthcare Solutions, Adeeb Khan, VP Corporate Social Responsibility & Executive Director, Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, and Kerri Webster, MS, RN, VP/Chief Analytics Officer Children’s Hospital Colorado.

NICC Case Competition
Left to Right: Julie Waggoner, Interim Director of CESR; Blair Simpson, NICC Co-President; Joe Cutrell, Director of Strategy & Innovation, AT&T Healthcare Solutions; Noah Kobayashi, NICC VP; Chelsea Myntti, NICC Co-President; Kerri Webster, MS, RN, VP/Chief Analytics Officer Children’s Hospital Colorado; Adeeb Khan, VP Corporate Social Responsibility & Executive Director, Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation; Shay Cardenas, NICC VP; Justine Roberts, CESR Program Manager; Cate Griffin, NICC judge coordinator

The winning solution

All four championship teams used a mix of incentives and penalties to convince citizens that vaccination was in their best interest. The winning team outlined five guiding values with which to align their plan: civic responsibility, community care, national urgency, discipline and patience, and public trust. They used this framework to develop their initial distribution plan. For their response to the twist, the team built on the success of their original vaccination drive and proposed a public engagement process to identify the roots of vaccine hesitancy in the remaining population. They then proposed using that data to guide future decisions made in partnership with local governments.

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“The case was well designed and really forced the teams to think in real time about the current COVID-19 pandemic and its long term economic repercussions,”

said Adeeb Khan, VP Corporate Social Responsibility & Executive Director, Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation.

The winning solution focused on the economic benefits of being vaccinated, and the financial cost of the pandemic, while side-stepping debates with the political opposition about free speech. They proposed funding their plan through bonds, and demonstrated that their vaccination campaign would be cheaper than the costs already imposed on the economy by the pandemic.

“Early in our research we realized there are too many different forms of vaccine hesitancy to use a one-size-fits-all strategy,” explained winning team member Hasib Nasirullah. “We also realized some of the reasons people are hesitant are symptomatic of greater underlying societal challenges. So we tried to think of strategies that would address these over the long term, and at their root cause.”

Specific proposals included a tax credit to companies to pay for employees to get vaccinated, and the threat of a potential future penalty if an unvaccinated employee creates a spreader event at the workplace. This approach was designed to make it possible for a company to insist on vaccination as an economic issue rather than a moral one. The team also identified, as a long term societal goal, reducing the number of people who were against vaccination on ideological grounds by emphasizing the costs of not vaccinating rather than arguing against their political views.

Another strategy the team proposed was creating an on-line dashboard with both public- and government-facing functions. This dashboard would include locations where individuals could access vaccinations, and an online health passport, among other information. The data collected by this system would help public health officials identify lags in vaccine uptake and other community-wide issues.

The team also recognized the real fear among some populations about vaccination based on historical discrimination and mistreatment. Their solution included the creation of a network of local ambassadors whose ability to listen to, and address, specific concerns could lead to systemic changes in the way the health care system cares for these communities.

Overall, their approach to the case focused on the immediate need to save lives and get the economy back on track while keeping an eye on how strategies implemented today could support long term positive social change.

“What stood out for me with the winning team was their plan addressing each type of unvaccinated individuals with a targeted carrot/stick solution,” said Webster. “I loved how they thoughtfully applied and highlighted the core values addressed throughout each phase of their decisions that were made. And I genuinely appreciated the data-driven decision making approach.”

Final results

  • 1st place – University of Denver, Daniels College of Business: $10,000
  • 2nd place – University of Denver, Daniels College of Business: $5,000
  • 3rd place – University of Utah: $2,500
  • 4th place – University of Maryland: $1,000