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‘Powering Up’ at 2015 Net Impact Conference

Thirty-nine Yale students sat huddled over tofu scrambles and bagels, poring over conference schedules. It was the first morning of the Net Impact Conference this November in Seattle, and my classmates and I were making our final decisions about which panels and workshops to attend. I had circled all of the panels related to apparel, food and beverage, and social responsibility. I then scanned my friends’ marked-up schedules, and was struck by the fact that no two schedules looked alike.

The Net Impact Conference offered a unique opportunity for each of my classmates. Some had come to Seattle for the opportunity to widen the scope of their social impact knowledge, while others hoped to hone their focus down to one or two fields. Some sought out workshops and opportunities to engage with MBA candidates and professionals, while others preferred panels and the access to thought leaders. Regardless of each person’s priority, this setting allowed the exposure, networking, and skill-building to “power up”: to gain some new ability or benefit which could immediately reinvigorate their academic and professional experience.

Members of Yale SOM’s Net Impact Club enjoying the conference after-party hosted at the REI flagship store.

For me, the greatest benefit was a renewed confidence about the path I have embarked on. I worked briefly in social responsibility before coming to SOM, but had never formally recruited for such positions. Thus, I was unsure how my “elevator pitch” would be received. By being able to speak with10 or 12 different recruiters at the job fair, I recognized which aspects of my past experience resonated with them. One recruiter was fascinated by how some classmates and I have started a new Sustainability Working Group at SOM, and this story helped me demonstrate what our mission of being leaders for business and society means to me. This conversation eventually culminated in an interview the next day with a leading healthcare company.

For each of my classmates, this moment was different, and that multitude of experiences captures the value of this conference. It was a particular treat to have breakfast with Seth Goldman, an SOM alum who is deeply involved with Net Impact and, along with SOM professor Barry Nalebuff, provides the financial support that makes attending the conference possible for so many of us. Seth’s new work on meat substitutes was a great case for students interested in agriculture and sustainability, and his path modeled how impact-minded MBAs can leverage their skills in food and beverage. Others were blown away by Chelsea Clinton’s keynote address, and found her articulation of global health matters to perfectly capture their own motivation for dedicating their lives to health and global social enterprises.

The Yale SOM Net Impact Club with Seth Goldman ’95, co-founder and CEO of Honest Tea.

Great conferences always have actionables. Beyond the motivating “go-forth” messages from speakers like Clinton and REI CEO Jerry Stritzke, I appreciated the opportunity to look back. Over one weekend in November I had seen how my recent courses in microeconomics and accounting deepened my understanding of social impact issues; I had connected with second-year students with similar passions whom I had not yet met at SOM; I had reaffirmed my passion for the work I was pursuing. I was just one part of this wave, 39 students feeling powered up and ready to go forth.