Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Thinking Outside the Lines at the 2018 Net Impact Conference

by Lindsay Sanders MBA’19


How can we collaborate to design innovative, bold solutions that tackle the world’s increasingly complex problems? This question was at the forefront of the 2018 Net Impact Conference, which took place in Phoenix, Arizona on October 25–27th. As the president of the Graduate Net Impact Club at Babson, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend this event with the generous support of the Graduate Affinity Scholarship.

Keynote speaker Stephen Ritz, Green Bronx Machine

Every year, more than 2,000 leaders, students, and professionals convene at the Net Impact Conference for an exchange of ideas about how to create positive social and environmental impact. For MBA students interested in the social sector, this conference is a fantastic opportunity to cultivate relationships with industry leaders and find jobs and internships at mission-driven organizations. Each day the agenda is jam-packed with high-energy keynotes, panels, workshops, and opportunities to mix and mingle with social impact professionals and students.

As a second-year MBA student, I spent as much time as possible in the career expo exploring job opportunities. I was excited to see diversity in the 40+ companies that participated. Corporate giants like Nike and Microsoft and traditional social businesses like Kiva and Echoing Green alike were there recruiting for open positions. The strong for-profit business presence illustrated an exciting movement of sustainability shifting beyond nonprofits and philanthropy and into the private sector.

Keynote speakers represented voices from the Environmental Protection Agency, ACLU, Burning Man, Levi’s, and more. I was fascinated to learn about the evolution of Burning Man’s business model over the last 32 years and how they went from a small bonfire gathering to a successful $20M LLC to a nonprofit committed to civic responsibility. During her keynote, Burning Man co-founder, Harley Dubois, spoke to the strategy behind these changes: “An LLC allowed us to pull events together quickly, which is what we needed at first, but we always knew that wasn’t enough to fulfill our purpose. Becoming a nonprofit enabled us to expand our mission of bringing community together to make the world it a better place.” I appreciated this story because it exemplified the types of strategic decisions that entrepreneurs have to make to maintain mission through scale and was an inspiring example of how to successfully do both.

From left to right: Lindsay Sanders, Babson MBA’19, Qianru Song, Babson MBA’19, and Monica Triana, Arizona State University MBA

In addition to the keynotes, there were more than 40 panels that tackled myriad topics like blockchain, futures thinking, and ethical fashion. I was excited to hear Seth Goldman speak about his experience as the executive chair of Beyond Meat (BM), an innovative company that creates delicious and sustainable alternatives to beef. BM embraces the radical idea that meat doesn’t have to come from animals, and that plant proteins can create a near identical experience, but without depleting natural resources, polluting the environment, and emitting harmful amounts of emissions. In theory, this makes sense, but getting people to change their behaviors is an arduous task. Seth explained, “Social impact alone is not enough to get people to change their behaviors. You need to create a product that is as good or better than the original. You need to create something your customers will love.” So far, they’ve been phenomenally successful, and the environmental impact is enormous. Compared to a quarter-pound U.S. beef burger, the BM beef patty uses 99% less water, 93% less land, and generates 90% fewer Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

I walked away from this experience with new friends, new opportunities, and new ideas for how to use business as a force for good. I am grateful to The Lewis Institute and Babson for awarding me the Graduate Affinity Scholarship to make this experience possible. I look forward to leveraging this experience to contribute more to the social impact community at Babson.