SOM does Net Impact

November 18, 2008

(cue me sticking my head out of the ground like a groundhog from lack of recent blogging. Guillermo’s shout out did prod me.) I went to Net Impact this weekend with over 70 of my SOM compadres. That’s about 25% of the school! For those of you who don’t know, Net Impact is an organization that links together social-impact minded MBA’s and professionals. Our chapter is extremely strong. They organize meetings, trainings, send newsletters about relevant events on sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility, and general issues for non-profits. They also motivated a huge chunk of us to roll down to Philadelphia together for a conference featuring dozens of engaging panels, social events and a Career Expo. We may be one of the smallest schools represented (class size-wise) but we are consistently in the top couple spots for the number of people we bring with us. So, yeah, the conference was a great respite from some of the quant-heavy stuff we do in the core. But really, there are two reasons why it was awesome. 1) It was a reminder that SOM is at the cutting edge of where business is headed and 2) SOM is such an incredible community. How does SOM get it right? Well, there were 2000 people at this conference, I went to some 6 panels, and read the descriptions of some 50 more and nearly every single one discussed the principles of Public-Private partnerships and “Doing Well by Doing Good”. SOM has some reputation as a non-profit school. That’s not true, though. What SOM actually teaches is the idea that you will do BETTER in business if you can figure out a way to enlarge the pie. That is to say, you will make more money and have a more successful business in the long run if you can figure out a way to make sure everyone benefits. (See Barry Nalebuff’s Co-opetition Book http://mayet.som.yale.edu/coopetition/). Everyone, in this case, includes customers, the environment, less influential members of society and more. I have worked exclusively in non-profits, and it is likely that I will go back into them, but at Net Impact the discussion was about how the future of business lies in taking responsibility for our actions, and as a result creating new and exciting markets. CK Prahalad ( I know he is at Ross, but we think he’s great) discusses the potential for growth in the Bottom of the Pyramid market. The poorest people on this planet need goods too. There is chance to improve their lives and make some profit with smaller margins but way higher volume. This isn’t cynical, it’s real and lots of people will benefit. SOM teaches us how to be conscious of our imprint on the world, whether it is environmental or in business. It just seems so obvious, right? But lots of schools don’t quite get it yet. This might be why an SOM team took home the gold (and a giant check, literally) at the Net Impact Case Competition. They (Michaela, Cara, Stella, Morley and Ari) beat out 27 other teams from schools across the country, including finalists from Ross, Wharton, USC and UCSD. I haven’t spent much time around other MBA’s, and I have certainly never seen their powerpoint presentations, so I had no idea how unique we really are. Our team was natural and had an idea that would make money, do good and engage a mainstream market by supporting local entrepreneurs. Why does the SOM community rock? So this ties into my last paragraph, but at the case competition final presentation, on Saturday afternoon, we got last minute emails to show up in a room if we were interested in watching. Fully half of our group, mixed second and first years, left their panels early to support our colleages. We ringed the back of the Wharton classroom and gave our undivided attention and positivity. It was really moving to see the cohesiveness of our group. Throughout the conference, I saw fellow SOMers everywhere. There was always someone to sit next to, to have lunch with, to discuss previous panels…I saw how we distinguish ourselves. We are small so everyone knows at least something about everyone else. That means when the team was thinking of creating a credit card for their project (which is what they did) they contacted Ishita, an SOMer who worked at American Express and has an interest in the industry. There is so much more to write even about FFT and the Intership fund and how even those people who aren’t necessarily interested in attending Net Impact are supportive and engaged. Remind me to write about that in another post. Small and Mighty, that’s what we are. Maybe John Bourne will write a new SOM theme song with that as the title.

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Rebecca Lehrer