Championing the spirit of INSEAD around the world!

The story of the Salamander Challenge & Giving Day

The INSEAD community may be the most diverse of its peers, but if there is one common thread that runs throughout, it’s surely the love of a good challenge.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that everyone jumped at the chance to take part in a challenge on a global scale – the INSEAD Salamander Challenge.

The idea for the Salamander Challenge was born out of a conversation over dinner and drinks between two INSEAD alumni volunteers: Dirk Luyten MBA’89J and Chandra Leo MBA’02D.

“Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could leverage our global community and send two INSEAD mascots around the globe, spreading awareness about the importance of giving back to the school?” they said.

This led to the joint initiative being developed between the INSEAD Alumni Association (IAA), the INSEAD Alumni Fund (IAF) the 47 National Alumni Associations (NAAs) and Clubs, and the school. As well as spreading awareness about the importance of giving, the challenge aimed to champion the INSEAD community’s beliefs in diversity, tolerance and understanding around the world.

On 15 January last, the now familiar green salamander mascots, Sami and Sally, set off on their world tour. The mission was to send the pair to as many locations around the globe as possible before INSEAD Giving Day on 21 February. They would be hosted by INSEAD alumni and friends who would document their trip with posts on social media. Alumni were encouraged to be as creative as possible with their photos and posts.

Sally started her trip in Fontainebleau at INSEAD’s Europe campus, from where she was launched by the newly inducted MBA’17D class. She was then whisked off to Paris where local alumni showed her the main attractions. Staying true to the city’s reputation for romance, there was even a slightly risqué scene in a Parisian brasserie reminiscent of When Harry met Sally!

After the exciting start, Sally continued her whistle-stop tour of Europe, taking in the best of the Netherlands, Greece, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Italy and Portugal on her way.

Meanwhile, Sami was on the move in Asia.  Starting in Singapore, where he spent some time with the current MBA class, he then moved on to Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, India and Australia. If there was a prize for the most air-miles clocked up, it would definitely go to Sami, who managed to extend his trip beyond Asia and visit locations as far apart as the South Pole, Chile and London – all with the same group of alumni!

An interesting and unprecedented development occurred a few days into the challenge when a third mascot, Sadie, popped up on Facebook with a group of alumni at Google HQ. It appeared that two mascots were simply not enough to meet the enthusiasm of INSEAD’s global community, and our innovative alumni had cloned Sally. Not long after, Sami’s brother Lenny made an appearance in Lebanon.

In total, the four Salamanders travelled an incredible distance in five weeks, hitting 50 cities in 33 countries and no less than six continents.


Of course, covering such distances in a short timeframe was not without its logistical hurdles. Marina El Hajj MBA’91D, Vice President of the INSEAD Alumni Association, was one of the champions working hard in the background to ensure everything ran smoothly. Marina remembers one point towards the end of the trip when Sadie was delayed getting to Brazil.

“The Salamander Challenge period was about to end so the delay generated some anxiety for us!” she recalls. “To deal with the issue Nestor Casado [MBA’01J] President of the National Alumni Association of Brazil, had the innovative idea to request a high-resolution photo and used this to get some snaps of Sadie, so she could be there in spirit before the real mascot arrived!”

Despite such challenges, Marina has fond memories of the Challenge.

“As the initiative unfolded, it was rewarding to see the mounting enthusiasm and participation among the global community. While the mascots were travelling around the world, we came closer
together in the best INSEAD spirit, with smiles, fun, competition and creativity,” she recalls.

Another behind-the-scenes hero was Cintia Tavella MBA’07D, President INSEAD Alumni Association Singapore and IAF Global Director, who was in charge of the logistics for the salamanders’ travels in Asia.

“The Salamander Challenge and INSEAD Giving Day put the spotlight on an area where we have always been a bit shy at INSEAD: GIVING BACK!” says Cintia. “I’m pleased that, more and more, we are clear about how critical and beneficial it is to give back to INSEAD, both for the school itself and for our own reputation and value!”

True to its mission to spread INSEAD’s values around the world, an interesting theme developed while Sami was in Hong-Kong:  the idea of building bridges. From then on, our mascots appeared in photos in all corners of the world with a bridge in the background, playing on the idea that INSEAD builds bridges rather than walls.

Perhaps one of the most heart-warming outcomes of the challenge was how it rallied the entire INSEAD community – alumni, staff, faculty, friends and family – to highlight our truly unique and diverse spirit. There were many photos posted with INSEAD kids, with the post below perhaps the youngest fan pictured.

The Salamander Challenge culminated on 21 February for INSEAD Giving Day, when alumni and friends of INSEAD were encouraged to make gifts of any amount in support of the school. The event led to impressive results, with €323,156 raised from over 700 donors in 56 countries.

The Salamander Challenge and INSEAD Giving Day would not have been possible without the collaboration, enthusiasm and hard work of its organisers and champions, all of whom agree that the initiative was a success.

“From the first time I heard about it I absolutely loved the Salamander Challenge, it was really fun. More importantly, it was great at both raising funds and raising awareness of the strength of the INSEAD community,” says Emma Goltz MBA’98J, Chair of the INSEAD Alumni Fund.

“The travels of our mascots show that INSEAD’s message of tolerance and understanding is as relevant today as it was when it was founded. Building bridges and spreading love wherever they went, our mascots touched the hearts of the old and the young, the sceptics and the believers in our ability to make this world a better place,” says Sadia Khan MBA’95D, President of the INSEAD Alumni Association.

Note: The salamander mascots will be available for purchase in the bookstores on INSEAD’s Europe and Asia campuses from July 2017.

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