Shaping the Future through Innovation: The 2014 Sustainable Business and Social Impact Conference

This post was written by James Megivern, Duke MBA student, in April 2014.  James reflects on the 9th annual Sustainable Business and Social Impact (SBSI) conference, the signature event of the Fuqua Net Impact Club. 

“The show must go on!” Despite an epic snowstorm, the 2014 Duke Sustainable Business and Social Impact Conference was held in February at The Fuqua School of Business. The annual event, now in its 9th year, was organized by Fuqua’s Net Impact Chapter in collaboration with many partners and sponsors.* The conference coincides with Fuqua’s Green Week, a series of events promoting sustainability and waste-reduction efforts on campus and in the everyday lives of the student body.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Shaping the Future Through Innovation” and consisted of a variety of speakers and panelists from across the social sector. This year more than 560 participants registered to engage with leaders at the forefront of global health, education, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and social enterprise.

The morning began with an introduction to the social impact conference from Bill Boulding, Dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, who paid tribute to the late Greg Dees, founder of the social entrepreneurship field and former Faculty Director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke.

Seth Goldman, TeaEO and founder of Honest Tea, delivered an inspirational keynote address and insights from his new book Mission in a Bottle. Seth described the history of the company and the difficulties inherent in operating a mission-driven business in a consumer economy. His experience has taught him that market-driven vehicles have the ability to change the world and he continues to innovate with impact as a guiding principle. Although many people see business as the problem, he sees it as a solution.  (Watch a video of Seth’s full talk here)

Seth Goldman

Following Seth’s keynote, conference participants chose between nine breakout sessions across a variety of topics and interest areas in Sustainability, Education, Healthcare, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Social Enterprise. This year, breakout session topics were:

  • Reimagining Waste: From Linear to Circular Supply Chains
  • Draining Assets: The Growing Importance of Water Stewardship
  • Innovations in Education Technology
  • Maximizing Impact on Education Spending
  • Global Health: Pioneering Advancements to Reach the Bottom of the Pyramid
  • Food Innovation: Transforming the System from Inside Out
  • Social Entrepreneurship: Starting, Funding, and Sustaining a Social Business
  • Hot Trends in Corporate Social Responsibility

During the breakout sessions, participants had the opportunity to engage with social impact leaders in an intimate setting and engage in conversations around the role of business in creating social change.

Following the conclusion of the breakout sessions, participants reconvened and the snow-abbreviated schedule concluded with a closing keynote conversation. Cathy Clark, Director of CASE i3 introduced the speakers: Maria Kingery, Co-Founder and CEO of Southern Energy Management; Paul Sansone, CFO of Better World Books; and Kevin Trapani, President and CEO of The Redwoods Group. The panelists shared an interesting conversation about impact innovations and doing “good” for society, the environment and business. They also advanced the idea of profit as a metric of sustainability. Monetizing the mission of an impact organization is critical. Simply put: no money, no mission.

The conference was a smashing success and both participants and speaks enjoyed an inspiring day learning about innovation in social impact and sustainable business. As part of the Net Impact cabinet next year, I can’t wait to see the amazing list of motivational speakers and panelists who will be at the 2015 Conference!