Net Impact

Wandering with Purpose at the 2017 Net Impact Conference

It’s the night before the first day of the Net Impact conference and I’m furiously looking through their website, writing down all talks I want to attend and people I want to network with.  The list was long – if I wanted to get to everything, there would have to be 5 extraverted versions of myself. I went to sleep feeling anxiously prepared.

Standing in line to register the next day, I saw a looming sign featuring the theme of this year’s conference – “Path to Purpose.” It struck me that I didn’t know my purpose for attending. Yes, I knew I wanted to network and learn new things, but that’s not purpose. Those are actions to satisfy my purpose. Suddenly, I felt like a lost child in a giant shopping mall. Where is my purpose?! Where’s an adult that can tell me where my purpose is?!

This isn’t a new feeling for me. Most of the time, I feel like a cat constantly changing direction to look at the new shiny thing. Professors, career counselors, and parents ask me, “what do you love to do?” In the words of one of the keynote speakers at Net Impact, Cheryl Dorsey President of Echoing Green, “what makes your heart sing?” I mean, a lot of things. I love connecting and helping people on a deep level. I love coming up with new and creative ways to communicate an old message. I love traveling and food. I love being outdoors. I love movies and culture and art and their impact on society. DO I HAVE TO PICK ONE?

At the risk of going crazy trying to define a purpose that would further my career and define my life’s work, I decided to keep it simple – be curious, learn something new. I left the extensive list of people and sessions in my bag and made game time decisions. It felt like I was moving with a tide – going to sessions and exploring which conversations moved me, then finding sessions that dig deeper into that topic. For example, Paul Hawken, the author of Project Drawdown, walked us through the top solutions to reverse climate change. I was moved to tears to hear that women’s issues had some of the biggest impact – Solution #6 was educating girls and solution #7 was family planning. Giving the control back to women gave them the power to choose their own path, which usually led to smaller families and higher education. This led me to the gender equality panel, one I didn’t consider before hearing those statistics. It turned out to be my favorite session. I learned about the implications of cognitive diversity from Mary Harvey, a Principle at Ripple Effect Consulting and former US women’s national soccer team goal keeper. I found out from a fellow student that computer science started as a female-dominated field before the personal computer revolution made it a “masculine” endeavor. Later, one of the sessions I wanted to go to was closed, so I ended up at “Don’t leave your values at the door.” Cause marketing is another passion of mine and it just so happens that the woman who essentially invented it, Carol Cone, was leading the panel.

I satisfied my “conference” purpose – I was curious and learned new things. Did that lead me to my life’s purpose? Not exactly, but it did reignite my passion for impacting food systems. And it did make me want to explore and understand gender equality and its impact on the workplace and environment. Most of the successful professionals I heard from had winding paths to their current positions because they were curious individuals with multiple passions. And with each pivot, their purpose became clearer. So, for all my fellow wanderers out there: Having a wide range of interests is a good thing. Don’t be afraid to follow your passions through unconventional career paths. Go to that art opening. Volunteer at that organic farm. Reach out to that person with your dream job – the one you never thought would want to talk to you. With each new opportunity, you’ll discover the common thread that spells out your purpose.

Written by Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a 2018 MBA from the Center of Sustainable Business Practices. She spent most of her career working in digital marketing for non-profit clients in New York City. After graduating, she plans on combining her expertise in marketing with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her altruistic values.

Students Motivated to “Make History” at 2016 Net Impact Conference

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!


Written by Kate Hammarback

Kate is a 2017 MBA/MPA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. Originally from Wisconsin, Kate graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin with a political science degree and spent time working in state and national politics before pivoting to nonprofit resource and program development. Kate is an active member of LiveMove and Net Impact and is happiest when working at the intersection of policy, planning, and business development through social and sustainable enterprise. After graduation, she plans to work where she can use finance and sustainability strategy to impact the triple bottom line.

Net Impact’s Inaugural Impact Trek to Humm Kombucha

Four minutes before 10 o’clock, on a gorgeous sunny day in Bend, Oregon, the UO Net Impact Graduate chapter piled out of Suburus and Priuses onto Humm Kombucha’s lawn to kick off our chapter’s inaugural Impact Trek. Our plan was to use our diverse backgrounds, passion for sustainability, and graduate student can-do-it-ness to offer free sustainability consulting brain power to businesses in exchange for the opportunity to get to know their company and present our ideas to them at the end of the day.  The trip was organized by our president, Katie Clark (who is famous at Humm for dressing as a bottle of their Blueberry Mint Kombucha this past Halloween) and fellow second year Andrea Teslia. The trip was modeled after the UC-Berkeley Net Impact chapter’s Impact Trek to Patagonia in Ventura, CA.

After shaking ourselves IMG_8854out from the two hour drive from Eugene, we were met by Mike and Jeff—our fabulous tour guides, sounding boards, and supervisors for the day.  We started our behind the scenes tour at—where else?!—the Humm taproom where we each tried every flavor they had on tap!  Humm’s taproom has the distinction of having been the first kombucha tasting room in the contiguous US.  One of the first and lasting impressions we got from the factory floor was that everyone was smiling!  People were genuinely having a good time and all along brewing and bottling lines, employees waved, smiled, and offered us bottles of lemon ginger kombucha right off the line.  Everywhere we went at Humm, there was a feeling of operating from abundance.  Everyone we met was generous with their time, generous in their attitudes, and generous with their pours of kombucha.

This feeling of authentic good vibes was very evident in the “fermentation room.”  Kombucha is a fermented drink made by introducing SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) into tea and allowing it to ferment into the effervescent drink many of you are probably familiar with.  Referencing the work of Masaru Emoto—the scientist who discovered that Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 5.06.27 PMwater exposed to pleasant thoughts and words created beautiful crystals when frozen—Mike explained to us that the lavender walls, loving names like “Ulysses” written on the SCOBY drums, and the hand drawn hearts placed here and there were all in an effort to infuse their tea with love.

The tour was all fun and games and kombucha, but, after an hour, we retired to some picnic tables on the front lawn to get to work.  Our task was to offer solutions for the SCOBY and tea waste products that Humm ended up with each week.  Our team brainstormed together and then broke out individually to google, reference class materials, call professors, text ex-colleagues, and follow as many rabbit holes as we could.  After 4 hours of work, we compiled our best ideas to share with Jeff.  In the short term, we shared resources for offsite composting in farm supply markets and onsite composting options.  In the long term, we gave Humm preliminary specs for purchasing and operating an anaerobic digester, either as a community project or on their own.  We also talked about the leadership role that Humm could potentially take in the realm of zero waste and composting.

After a great day of IMG_8872working together, we also made sure Jeff knew that the next time Humm is looking for help with efficiency or sustainability projects, the Center for Sustainable Business Practices would be a great resource for eager, educated, free labor who will happily work for bottomless kombucha!  Net Impact spent the rest of the weekend in Bend working with Mt. Bachelor Ski Area (whew, this sustainability consulting is sooo rough…!) and visiting Deschutes Brewing (salmon safe hops were an educational highlight of the tour!).  On Monday, we all showed up to class tired, but elated from a fun, productive adventure weekend, and craving a tall glass of cold Kombucha.


Written by Kate Hammarback

Kate is a 2017 MBA/MPA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. Originally from Wisconsin, Kate graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin with a political science degree and spent time working in state and national politics before pivoting to nonprofit resource and program development. Kate is an active member of LiveMove and Net Impact and is happiest when working at the intersection of policy, planning, and business development through social and sustainable enterprise. After graduation, she plans to work where she can use finance and sustainability strategy to impact the triple bottom line.

How the Net Impact “Game On” Conference was a Game Changer


Chelsea Clinton at NI15For first year MBA students interested in sustainable business practices, the Net Impact Conference is a must have experience. The Net Impact Conference gives a well-rounded view of how sustainable business practices function in the real world and how a shift towards sustainability can alleviate many economic and social plights the world currently REI Opt Outsidefaces. In addition to the outstanding networking and career search opportunities, the Chelsea Clinton, Jerry Stritzke (REI), Cliff Burrows (Starbucks), and Daniel Lubetsky (KIND Snacks).


A favorite session among the Oregon MBAs was “Conservation Finance: Investing in Nature at Scale,” led by Joe Whitworth and Oregon Alum David Chen. David Chen is the CEO of Equilibrium Capital, a firm, “that David Chenbuilds sustainability-driven real assets investment strategies, funds, and products that generate institutional-quality returns and scale to investors”. The session was a mixture of lecture and group workshop that allowed us to learn from Whitworth and Chen, tackle problems they presented, and then receive feedback to the solutions our teams brainstormed. Most exciting for me, was the ability for Whitworth and Chen to fuse monetary value and conservation into a package which both provides return for investors and measurable ecosystem services.


One of the most compelling sessions that I attended was put on by CollaborateUp, a consulting firm that aims to bring people and companies together to solve big problems. In the workshop, “Nourshing 9 Billion Challenge: Planting the STEM in Food,” groups of 5 were teamed with an expert from Google, Monsanto, or Starbucks and pitted against each other to find solutions for integrating science, technology, engineering, and math education (STEM) into resolutions for feeding the planet. My team was composed of industry professionals, MBA students from all over the United States, and Mary Wagner, a Senior Vice President at Starbucks. This workshop reminded me of Sports Matters Panel at NI15the work we do at the Oregon MBA and reinforced my satisfaction with my choice and my cohort. Much like the Oregon MBA, my team had educational and cultural diversity that, paired with the expertise of Mary, aided in a strong presentation of our final solution.


Net Impact Conference 2015 SeattleThe Net Impact Conference was my first opportunity to see first-hand how sustainability initiatives and business come together. As a biologist with virtually no prior business education or experience, it is reassuring to see that social and environmental problems are becoming a top priority for many companies. These shifts in priorities are exciting and meaningful. The work being done by many innovative thinkers and practitioners are successfully creating shared value solutions that are more profitable than their archaic counterparts. The conference gave new insights into the types of careers available for sustainable business MBA’s and instilled in me a whole new perspective in creatively solving some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental matters.

Written by Eric Parsons

Parsons is a biologist with hospital-lab and field-research experience looking to integrate sustainability into mainstream corporations. Most recently, he served as a field technician for the Belize Raptor Research Institute and performed a study on migrating neotropical raptors. In that role, he identified migrating raptors, produced reports analyzing daily activities and assisted with public outreach. Through the Oregon MBA, Parsons plans to develop the skills necessary to integrate conservation biology with corporate sustainability programs to create value for the business and protect the environment. After graduation, he plans to create sustainability initiatives for companies with interests in neotropical regions or healthcare.

Defining ‘Sustainable Business’: Net Impact Conference 2014

Greenbiz, B-Corp, the three Ps, LEED Certified, CSR, ESG, SRI.  What do all these acronyms and buzz words mean?  And what exactly is a career in sustainable business?  If you’re like me, six weeks into the Sustainable Business Practices MBA at the University of Oregon, that last one is a pretty important question.

The Net Impact Conference, held in Minneapolis Minnesota, came at a perfect time to help me start to understand the broad variety of applications of sustainability in business.

The annual conference brings together thousands of students and business professionals who want to make a positive impact on the world.  It is a weekend for networking, inspirational speeches, exchanging ideas, and pushing boundaries

At this year’s conference, I heard about B-Corps from Andrew Kassoy, the founder of B Lab; discussed the pivotal role women will play in development with Suzanne Fallender (the director of the Global Girls and Women Initiative through Intel) and Faziun Kamal (founder of sourceFK a company that is bringing Bangladesh women out of poverty one silk garment at a time); and was able to ask Jason McBriarty, the Director of Global Community Affairs for Levi Strauss nagging questions surrounding cause marketing and engaging consumers specifically in regards to the Waterless campaign.  I also examined the future of sustainability in business with leaders from Kiva, Microsoft, Best Buy, The National Parks Service, Honest Tea and many like-minded undergraduate and MBA students from across the country.


Levi’s Water>Less Campaign advertisement started in 2012.

The presentations and conversations provided me with layers of insight into the vague world of sustainable business and by Saturday’s closing ceremony I had come to realize that there might not be one exact answer to my question.  Sustainability takes many forms.  Sometimes it’s providing girls and women in Africa access to the Internet.  Sometimes it’s a certification to help companies measure what matters.  Sometimes it’s a marketing campaign that tells you not to wash your jeans.


Intel global girls and women initiative. Karibu Centre, Kenya.

What intrigues me about integrating sustainability and business is that it’s open ended.  The Net Impact Conference excited me about the many options and helped me see that no matter what I decide to pursue after business school, I will have the opportunity to impact the world in a positive way.  There are countless ways to alleviate the issues facing our world.  ‘Sustainable business’ just comes down to business that commits to lessen, rather than increase, those issues.  They pledge to use their power and influence as a force for good, inspiring myself and the other attendees of the Net Impact Conference to further these principles.

Written by Natalie Colvin

Natalie is a 2016 MBA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. The experience of living abroad in Costa Rica, instilled in Natalie a passion for improving the world. After completing her MBA, she hopes to bring this passion to a career in corporate environmental and advocacy campaigns. Natalie received a dual undergraduate degree in development anthropology and Latin American studies from the University of Arizona honors college where she was also on the equestrian team.

The Environmentalist’s Dilemma

One of the best things about being a runner is that I get to be (have to be) outside everyday. Rain or shine; in my hometown or halfway across the world. I have gone to the tops of mountains, seen beautiful sunsets, traversed muddy trails, and viewed pristine lakes. Because of this, nature has always held extreme value in my mind and it kills me to think that someday this beauty will look very different.

This is what moved me toward sustainable business and ultimately led me to the Net Impact conference. It was immediately clear that most people there were brought there by passion like mine, motivated by a deep love for something they wanted to protect or improve. It was incredibly inspiring for me to see all the positive things people have done. There is a certain adrenaline rush that comes from being surrounded by people who share similar passions like this. It’s a very similar feeling to the one I get after doing well in a race at a big track meet. In both situations, there is a process to learning how to contain and properly channel these emotions. You want to keep the buzz of energy going to ‘go forth and produce good’, but if you come on too strong, you will burn yourself out and/or just turn people away from your cause rather than draw them to it.

As someone fairly new to the specifics behind sustainable business concepts, I learned many things at the conference that shocked me and changed my views on everything from what I ate and how I traveled to how I felt about modern conveniences. I wanted to stop drinking milk, stop eating beef and chicken, stop driving my car, stop taking showers and tell the rest of America that they should too….but before I did all that, I had to get home to Oregon…..3.5 hr plane ride (.19 metric tons CO2), 2.5 hr van ride (.04 metric tons C02), 4 plastic plane cups, packaged airport sandwiches, half dozen paper hand towels, etc…..

What place do I have to talk about how America should be more sustainable?!

This has to be something that every new cause advocate goes through. How do you jump into a conversation this big without seeming like a hypocrite for living normally in this society? Sure, you could just go and have a carbon negative life as a hermit in the woods but how would that help educate others or change how the world operated as a whole? It wouldn’t.

Throughout the conference, I tried to take note of how the most effective individuals approached these issues. What I learned was that these people chose the topic that they felt strongest about and pushed hard for it while at the same time chipping away little by little at everything else.  Being persistent and consistent but generally flying under the radar a little bit on the peripheral items. Like other concepts in business, sometimes you have to give before you receive. Spend a little carbon in order to meet people in the society of today to gain their trust and attention before sharing what you know and how you feel about the changes that can be made. At Net Impact, I learned that you don’t have to always be a radical or a hypocrite or the best person in the world or the worst but if you truly care about something you can make a difference.

Written by

Bridget was a 2012 Olympian in track and field and will be graduating from the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center this December. She originally returned to get her MBA in hopes of better understanding the business side of sports and maximize her experience as a professional athlete. While at Oregon, she learned about the opportunities in sustainable business and has been inspired to figure out a way to use her background in sports as a platform for environmental improvement and social good.

The Oregon MBA’s Sustainable Advantage

A few months after the fact, second-year CSBP student Shannon Oliver reflects on her experiences at the Net Impact Conference, and within the OMBA:


For the second year in a row, I’ve been shown that the Oregon MBA in Sustainable Business Practices has been, without a doubt, the right decision for me.

Last year I attended captivating presentations by industry experts, scientists, and decision makers, met countless like-minded students, and was reassured that there was support to help me in my quest for information and experience in this sector.

This year, I had a much different, yet equally inspiring experience.  Instead of soaking up knowledge from every breakout session, I was thrilled to realize that I already knew much of the material that speakers were presenting.  During one presentation, a classmate turned to me and asked “Doesn’t this presenter remind you of [Professor Joshua] Skov?”  How exciting to realize that the professors at your own program are clearly at the top of their field, and would be worthy of presenting at such a prestigious conference. The classes we have taken have already armed us with the skills we will need to go out and be effective agents of change.

In another workshop about valuing ecosystem services, we found ourselves broken out into small groups, each tasked with a case study in which we were to identify all considerations that could have direct or indirect financial considerations for the business in question.  At the end, each team presented their findings to the entire group and, lo and behold, it was the OMBAs in each group that presented the most compelling considerations.  Some might say we had an unfair advantage from our trip to Seattle last April, during which we met with companies like Starbucks and Microsoft and learned firsthand about the environmental considerations that are important to their financial bottom lines.  I call it the OMBA Sustainable Business Practices advantage.  Where students in other programs are able to take a class or two on the broad topic of sustainability, we delve deeper, with courses on Lifecycle Analysis, Energy and Ecosystem Finance, Industrial Ecology, Environmental Law, and Sustainable Supply Chain Management. Our emphasis on experiential learning has given us the opportunity to meet with top executives at international companies to discuss sustainable business best practices and lessons learned.

At this year’s conference, I also utilized the networking and job expo functions. One session allowed me the chance to speak with Kwami Williams of the MIT D-Labs. Kwami and I discussed international development and the challenge of implementing sustainability in developing nations for both environmental and socio-economic gain.  He highlighted many of the challenges that a typical Western approach might easily overlook, as well as key considerations on both cultural and logistical fronts.  The field of international/global development, though not yet well represented within the Lundquist College of Business directly, is one that many of us in the OMBA have been able to explore further through case competitions like the Hult Global Case Challenge, interdisciplinary course offerings, and conferences such as this one.

So mark your calendars for October 2013 in San Jose – whether you’re looking for education, networking, resources, inspiration, a career, or all of the above, you can find it at the Net Impact Conference.

-Shannon Oliver, Center for Sustainable Business Practices, MBA 2013

Written by Andrew White

Andrew is an MBA Candidate in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. A native of Massachusetts, he came to UO to refine his business skills and build his expertise in the sustainability arena. His primary interest is in helping organizations implement environmentally and socially sustainable strategies for long-term success, and he is a regular participant on many of the MBA intramural sports teams.

Positivity in Leadership: Celebrating MLK with Service

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leaders are always needed to create a change.  Sometimes those leaders need to be in the trenches, like the incomparable Dr. King. Sometimes they must leverage their unique advantage to inspire change, like Al Gore’s pivot from politics to climate activism.  And sometimes the place of a leader is on the sidelines, cheering on those doing the work.

Today, to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, some representatives from the Net Impact Graduate and Undergraduate chapters joined forces with Duck Corp, UO’s community service organization, to gussy up Eugene’s Willamette High School.  Our team was assigned to paint a studio theater classroom; it felt great to get a paintbrush back in my hands.

I was quite struck by one of the volunteer leaders.  She came into the studio we were painting and instantly took command.  She stood in the center of the room, and in a clear, upbeat voice, she thanked all of us for our attendance and hard work.  She spoke mainly about how fantastic the results of today’s event were, how dramatically it would impact the students (Willamette High has the lowest income student population in Eugene), and specifically how excellent a job we were all doing.  She provided clear directions (“Let’s wait 15 more minutes for the primer to dry.”) in between her compliments, and cheerfully provided additional resources after listening to a few comments from volunteers.

This woman was a great leader: she made us all feel valued and corrected any organizational confusion that is typical of volunteering events.  She was genuine and overwhelmingly positive, and her presence was a wonderful motivator.   Our group accomplished a lot, and though she didn’t lift a paintbrush, her role was incredibly important for the success of the project.  While there is plenty to make me feel great about Net Impact’s involvement in today’s volunteer event, I am especially appreciative of the reminder of how positivity and great leadership are essential to creating positive change in the world.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Written by Center for Sustainable Business Practices

The Center for Sustainable Business Practices teaches tomorrow's leaders to balance social, environmental and financial responsibilities and empowers them to change "business as usual".

Venture Investments in Social Enterprises

Venture Investments in Social Enterprises: Balancing Social and Financial Returns was a panel session featuring speakers from several funds. The funds all occupied a different space on the financial returns/ social impact matrix. One of the speakers represented a Private Equity/ Venture Capital firm (DBL) that aimed to get a high financial return while making some social impact. The speaker argued that all companies have an impact on the world around them and that his funds leverage the assets of the companies in their portfolio to create an even greater impact. He used online music service Pandora as an example. Pandora insisted on keeping its headquarters in Oakland rather than moving to another city. As Pandora grew, they continued to give back to the city and helped to revitalize the area. The company makes it a point to source as much as they can locally. Pandora has also arranged for music to be taught at inner-city schools in the Oakland area. These schools would otherwise not have had the budget to provide music classes for their kids.

The two other funds (Calvert foundation, Nonprofit Finance fund) aimed for high social impact while settling for below-market financial returns. These funds see providing capital to companies that do not have access to commercial capital as their main purpose. By doing this, they hope to set a precedent, thereby creating new markets. The capital they provide is patient capital, but the goal is to eventually put a company in a position where it can get access to commercial loans. When asked about career opportunities for MBAs in this industry the panel noted that their are career opportunities on both the finance/investment side as well as on the operational side. Especially the impact-first funds do a lot of hand-holding with their clients to make sure they have sound financial, management, and governance practices. As a result, these funds tend to have fairly large departments that offer advisory services.

Finally, there seems to be a trend of seasoned professional investors moving into the impact investing space. As a result the (perceived) risk of impact investments has decreased.

Matthijs Reinders, Sustainable Business Practices, Class of 2012


This post is part of a series from the UO Net Impact student group that traveled to Baltimore for the 2012 Net Impact Conference. The UO Net Impact Blog can be found at

Written by Andrew White

Andrew is an MBA Candidate in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. A native of Massachusetts, he came to UO to refine his business skills and build his expertise in the sustainability arena. His primary interest is in helping organizations implement environmentally and socially sustainable strategies for long-term success, and he is a regular participant on many of the MBA intramural sports teams.

Shared Value Creation: Not Your Parent’s CSR

Move over, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). You’re about to become outdated by a new contender in town. Shared Value Creation (SVC) is a new type of strategic thinking advocated by Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter. It’s an evolution and step beyond plain old CSR.

CSR vs. SVC:

A fix for a problem caused vs. Problems to solve
Philanthropy vs. Business strategy
Threats vs. Opportunity
I think of SVC as a way to realign business interests with societal and environmental interests. As in, when mainstream and business media starts chattering about the ethical shortcomings in the business world, you should be concerned. As in, look at the systematic flaws of what has happened to capitalism, and how do we get American businesses back on track? between This new type of thinking, Shared Value Creation (SVC), demands that business take a proactive role in solving societal challenges.

At this NI panel, I heard three stories from corporate representatives working on SVC, and Greg Hills, Managing Director, FSG  was the moderator for this panel.

Kathryn Brown, Senior Vice President, Verizon Communications Inc. Verizon wants to leverage core competencies in mobile to address healthcare, and is trying to break down the barriers such as ID fraud, security, HIPA compliance, etc. that stop us from using mobile to lower health care costs.

Robert Corcoran, Vice President, Corporate Citizenship and President and Chairman of the GE Foundation, General Electric Company. GE Foundation identified health care as its focus area. Bob Corcoran pointed out that there are billions of people with no access or prohibitively costly access to healthcare. The problem is worse than it was 10 years ago, so GE is working with Intermountain Healthcare to address standards of care, as a means of bringing down whole systems’ cost and thereby increasing access to care.

Barbara McAllister, Director, Global Strategic Initiatives, Intel Corporation. Intel’s focus is on education and increasing access to technology.

Setting Up and Measuring:

SVC is about intentionality. This means you have to start with the end in mind: social impact. The conversation begins with positioning, identifying the opportunity, and of course, the ever-present challenge of coming up with tangible, relevant, and useful metrics. Part of what makes SVC much more serious than CSR is measurement. For example, GE applies its lean six sigma and weekly reporting requirements for its SVC duties. You won’t see that with an annual CSR report. Corcoran said: When you put in a measurement system, it drives the organization to integrate the new way of thinking and systematically change. Data enables you to test and redefine your strategy, and metrics incent behavior change. Corcoran also went on to say “If the sole pursuit of your business is to increase shareholder values, you are guaranteed failure. Who does your business value?”

SVC also requires firms to examine net system impact. Products are sold, but there are also patient outcomes to consider. There’s revenue, and then there’s net system impact. Revenues are necessary but not sufficient.

Implementation is also an essential aspect of SVC. The way you embed the strategy within your company organization matters. It’s not enough to measure SVC. SVC metrics also have to influence everyone on your staff.

Partnership is another theme I picked up on. Partnerships are key to helping businesses do SVC in a serious, non-CSR way. Don’t forget: The internet age is all about collaborating while competing at the same time, and a landscape analysis is critical in working through the ‘who,’ ‘where,’ ‘when’ questions for partnership.

My brain definitely gained some weight soaking in information at that panel – even despite the massive West to East Coast jetlag my body was battling on Friday afternoon.

Grace Chang, Sustainable Business Practices, Class of 2013


This post is part of a series from the UO Net Impact student group that traveled to Baltimore for the 2012 Net Impact Conference. The UO Net Impact Blog can be found at

Written by Andrew White

Andrew is an MBA Candidate in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. A native of Massachusetts, he came to UO to refine his business skills and build his expertise in the sustainability arena. His primary interest is in helping organizations implement environmentally and socially sustainable strategies for long-term success, and he is a regular participant on many of the MBA intramural sports teams.