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Breaking through the barriers of a virtual year with the Rotman Commerce Innovation Group

President and vice-president talk about running a student group in a pandemic
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RCIG’s flagship event, Networking Night, was hosted virtually this year on a visualization platform called HIVE. COURTESY OF ROTMAN COMMERCE INNOVATION GROUP
RCIG’s flagship event, Networking Night, was hosted virtually this year on a visualization platform called HIVE. COURTESY OF ROTMAN COMMERCE INNOVATION GROUP

With a mission to inspire “disruptors and thought leaders,” the Rotman Commerce Innovation Group (RCIG) is a space for Rotman Commerce students with innovative minds. The Rotman club hosts various events such as workshops, networking events and case competitions that are centered around innovation in business.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired student groups to digitally replicate the traditional in-person experience as the world moved online. RCIG took this in stride and adapted their events to function virtually by embracing the innovation that has emerged during the pandemic. 

The Varsity spoke with Max Baevsky and Daniyal Ahmed — the president and vice-president of the RCIG, respectively — about the club, the events it has held during this past year, and its future plans.

Evolution of RCIG

Established over a decade ago, RCIG was initially called ‘Rotman Commerce Beyond Business.’

“The initial premise for the club was to let students from Rotman Commerce engage with events focused on social impact outside of the courtyards of business like accounting, finance and so on,” said Baevsky in an interview with The Varsity. “So it was really focused on sustainability, social impact, and over the… years, the club has gone through a lot of evolution.”

This past year, the executive team has focused on building events based on industry trends to equip students with the skills needed to tackle the world of business beyond university. These events included case competitions, design workshops and networking events. 

However, the pandemic also brought challenges for the club, and the RCIG executive team initially struggled to engage the student body in an online setting. “The pandemic has challenged a lot of our pre-existing mental models about how the world works,” said Baevsky, noting the example of the shift from in-person education to an online model that students faced in the past year.

But despite the pandemic, the executive team managed to find innovative ways to work around the roadblocks, making the past academic year one of the best years that the RCIG has had in terms of impact, reach, and engagement, according to Baevsky.

Reflecting on a virtual year

The past year has acted as a catalyst for RCIG to truly bring creativity and innovation to our event offerings. Having risen to the challenge of providing an immersive student experience in an online setting, we have explored new sectors of business and introduced events such as Deconstructing Design and the Innovation Symposium, Rotman Commerce’s largest inter-club collaboration to date,” wrote Ahmed in an email to The Varsity.

Workshop events hosted by the RCIG included ‘The Catalyst’ — for first-year students — and ‘Deconstructing Design’ — hosted in collaboration with the Rotman Commerce Business Design Association. 

“Another thing that the pandemic really helped us with was fostering collaboration between different Rotman Commerce groups,” said Ahmed. The Deconstructing Design workshop was focused on design thinking, which is growing increasingly relevant in the customer-centric world of business — especially during a pandemic, when it becomes crucial for businesses to meet customer needs.

The group also hosted a case competition in collaboration with Uber as a part of the tri-campus Innovation Symposium. Teams of students came up with solutions to help Uber and their restaurant partners navigate from working in a pandemic to serving their customers in a world that is gradually easing lockdown restrictions.  

A huge success for the RCIG was their flagship Networking Night. They broke away from using Zoom as their delivery platform and used HIVE, a new platform that enabled them to design a physical venue online and bring the event to life. According to Baevsky, “[Networking Night] was the peak of our creativity in terms of how we adopted the virtual format.”

Looking forward

The club is preparing for a future with both in-person and online event delivery. 

“The lines between online and physical are blurring. And this will be true for both how education is delivered. This will be true for how companies deliver their products and services,” said Baevsky.

Ahmed emphasized that in the coming year, the group will continue to focus on encouraging collaboration. Baevsky mentioned that he intends on leading the group back to their social impact objective. The student group plans to use proceeds from the club to support an NGO focused on sustainability.