The first weekend in November was a busy one for those of us who are student members of Net Impact at the University of Oregon. Twenty of us—first and second year Oregon MBAs and undergraduates in business, environmental studies, journalism, psychology and economics—flew across the country to participate in the 2016 Net Impact Conference from November 2 to November 5 in downtown Philadelphia.
Net Impact is an international membership organization of over 100,000 students and professionals who are interested in the intersection of business and social or environmental impact. The theme of this year’s conference was “Make History” and included a wide variety of keynote speakers like Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of #BlackLivesMatter, Jay Coen Gilbert, Co-Founder of B Lab, and Doug McMillon, President and CEO of Wal-Mart. Beyond the content of the conference, the opportunity to network with students from all over the country is a huge part of the value of attending the conference.
Eddie Rosenberg, a second year MBA student in the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship put it this way: “While the presentations, workshops, and cheesesteaks were amazing, the most impactful part was being with a community of incredibly smart, driven, and environmentally/socially engaged students. There are a lot of bad things in the world and big challenges to overcome…meeting and working with this group of Net Impacters gave me hope and more momentum to make a difference.”
The UO contingent was unique in its own right because of our make-up of undergraduates, first year MBAs, and second year MBAs—few other schools we talked to made such an effort to connect with each other across years.
The UO Undergraduate Net Impact Chapter is a powerhouse of active students and a full schedule of club activities. The undergraduates not only draw important industry speakers like former Patagonia CEO, Michael Crooke to their weekly meetings, but also host their own one-day conference each year at the UO. The consensus from the undergraduates was generally that the conference had renewed their motivation and (already impressive) energy to promote the work of sustainability in business. Audrey, a junior in advertising and the Vice President of the Public Relations for the UO undergraduate chapter summed it up when she shared that “The Net Impact Conference has provided me with opportunities to continue the movement and create an impact within our community.”
The Graduate Chapter was recognized as a Gold Chapter again this year and also kept busy by organizing a West Coast Net Impact Chapter Meetup with MBA programs from University of Washington-Evans, Willamette University, and University of Colorado—Leeds.
Our three brave first year MBAs had only been with the program a little over a month when they headed to the conference. It can feel like drinking from a firehose with the incredible amount of information available and the packed schedule of speakers and activities, but all three enjoyed the experience. Ben, a first year MBA in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, shared that his main takeaway was “how much acceptance sustainability is gaining in the corporate world. Major players are leading the way now.” His classmate Leah echoed that sentiment, sharing that she was impressed by “how integrated sustainability is becoming in the corporate world. It is something that most companies these days are considering and many across all operations.”
This trip marked the second Net Impact Conference for all of my fellow-second years who attended and I was curious to hear what they thought of the experience being now “older and wiser” than we were just a year ago. Andrea, a second year MBA in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices and Treasurer of the Graduate Chapter shared her impressions: “[The] biggest thing for me was the shift in how businesses are developed. Entrepreneurs are looking at what problems need to be addressed, then building a business to fix the issue. Also, [there’s a] definite shift away from siloed sustainability departments. [You] have to have sustainability in all teams.” Second years also came to the conference this year with a clearer focus on networking and jobs. Anna, a second year MBA in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices and the President of the UO Graduate Chapter heard some surprising advice: “I loved that both presenters on the sustainable apparel panel told us to not go out and get jobs with sustainability in the title—that we would be more effective implementing these practices in other industries/departments/projects.”
It was an action-packed three-day weekend in Philly listening to well-known keynote speakers, engaging with panels of sustainability professionals, participating in applied case scenarios and eating a lot of pretzels, cheesesteaks, fried chicken, and ice cream served on a doughnut! Most of the group even arrived early enough Thursday to see the Liberty Bell, the LOVE statue, and accidentally stumble upon the house where Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence. The knowledge gained from the 2016 Net Impact conference, and the powerful, evocative location, accomplished its mission of inspiring this group of University of Oregon Students to go forth and help make history!