This past November, I attended the Net Impact Conference in Minneapolis, MN. Net Impact is a nonprofit whose mission is to “empower a generation to drive social and environmental change on campus or throughout their careers.” With over 2,700 people in attendance, the Net Impact Conference was full of enlightening discussions both onstage and off, with topics ranging from Monsanto’s perpetuation of GMO usage to the definition of social enterprise. The conference was a great place to network, attend interactive sessions/workshops, and meet a diverse range of people all striving to create positive social change in the world.
In no particular order, these are my top five moments from the 2014 Net Impact conference:
1. Opening keynote with Dan Pallotta
For those of you who haven’t seen Dan Pallotta’s TED talk “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” I’d like you to stop reading my blog post and go watch it right now! Dan’s opening keynote at the conference was a longer, updated version of his TED talk, which describes the misconceptions and faulty paradigms that limit innovation and the capacity to create social impact in the nonprofit sector.
2. Roundtable discussions with leaders from Kiva and Village Capital
One of my favorite parts of the conference was the variety of mediums used for breakout sessions. These included traditional panels, roundtable discussions and interactive workshops. One roundtable session I attended focused on complications in international development. I ended up in a small group discussing how to build a successful microfinance organization with Cynthia McMurry, Regional Director of Latin America and the Caribbean at Kiva, and debating the definition of social enterprise with Rob Lalka, Director of Strategy and Partnerships at Village Capital.
3. Sein Lengeju
I met many incredible people at the conference. One of my most memorable conversations was with Sein Lengeju, a woman from rural Kenya who survived female genital mutilation (FGM), got her Masters in Social Work at Wichita State University, and has dedicated her life to ending FGM and providing educational opportunities to girls from her tribe (the Massai) in Kenya. Sein told me the powerful story of how she used her cultural understanding to stand up to tribal leaders and convince them that the practice of FGM should be stopped.
4. There were so many students!
This isn’t really a moment, but I loved that there were so many students who attended the conference. Every other person I met was an MBA student or undergraduate from schools all over North America. The conference hosted “Career and Professional Development” sessions and happy hours geared towards students and young professionals. And as someone who is interested in getting an MBA, I relished the opportunity to pick the brains of students currently attending some of the best business schools in the country. Moreover, Net Impact had an Expo featuring 90 companies, nonprofits, and organizations that were actively recruiting. I was able to connect with representatives and staff from organizations ranging from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Opportunity Finance Network to Target.
5. The closing party.
After an inspiring ending keynote featuring journalist Sheryl WuDunn, CEO of Happy Family Shazi Visram, and livestock industry consultant and animal science professor Temple Grandin, I made my way to the conference’s closing party. One highlight was meeting up with Wes alum Marcus Chung ‘98, the VP of Social Responsibility and Vendor Reliance at The Children’s Place. Marcus had convinced me to come to the Net Impact conference during an informational interview a couple months prior. Thank you, Marcus, for persuading me to attend! During the closing party, I also spoke with business students about their innovative ideas for social enterprises, talked with Ian Fisk, Executive Director of Mentor Capital Network, about social enterprise, and chatted with Shazi Visram about running a environmentally and socially conscious $100 million B Corporation. It was a fitting end to a memorable weekend.
Hannah Lewis ’13 has participated in a variety of Allbritton Center programs since she was an undergraduate. After attending the Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference this fall, she was inspired to seek out a volunteer ticket to the 2014 Net Impact conference. Hannah recently concluded the Princeton in Latin America Fellowship and will soon begin a job at TDC, a non-profit consulting firm in Boston.