Reflection on the IMPACT of the Net Impact Conference a Few Months Down the Road

January 28, 2012

The Net Impact Conference in Portland, Oregon was one of the most exciting weekend trips and conferences I have ever had the honor of attending.  The energy buzzing around the convention center was amazing and the new people I met were inspiring.  From the expo to the many, diverse lectures and workshops to the social events, the organizers of Net Impact thought of everything.  The conference amenities were a treat.

The first night we arrived there was a NI party put on by the Portland State NI club at a warehouse/loft party space.  The atmosphere was hip, modern and fun.  Downstairs in the basement there was a slew of sustainable product promotions and organizations represented; including several models of the newest hybrid cars.  Hybrid cars are definitely getting sexier, thank goodness.  Upstairs, hors d’oeuvres were served, local live bands played music up on a balcony and people did some serious networking over cocktails.  Networking is no joke, it is sport.  At the party I learned that a business card is a ‘must-have’ at events such as this.  Never having a job that could be considered part of a career track, at 24 I’d never thought of business cards.  Side note:  I got some online for free when I got back on www.vistaprint.com , check it out.  Plus now I feel super official carrying around business cards, a definite confidence builder.  …Next step is playing golf with the ‘execs’ : )

Moving past commentary on business stereotypes, there is a lot to share about the individual workshop sessions.  The many (all sounded really interesting and I was in choice overload all weekend), sessions were split into seven tracks of interest concentrations.  These were: career and professional development, corporate impact, energy and clean tech, environment and natural resources, finance and investing, international development, and social innovation.  I dabbled in all of the tracks, why commit?  But mostly I wanted to attend as many career and professional development sessions as possible.  It was a good decision too.  While, I think those who came to the conference with a specific focus got a lot of in depth knowledge.  However, as a perpetual generalist I still found great value in exploring and giving myself the space to explore possible career avenues.  The career workshops equipped me with many models and tools to help in discovering my passions and their link to my career purpose.  If you are in the same investigative stage as me check out:

http://morethanmoneycareers.com/ .  It is so helpful because the home page shows a table that helps you break down the different functions within businesses and the different types of organizations.  This helps you decide what job and in what sector you want to focus and search.

Lastly, Please go to: http://vimeo.com/channels/netimpactconference , in order to view the conference keynote speeches.  They were too good to miss!

So…it is January 2012, almost exactly three months after the conference.  What do I look back on and view as most memorable?  What did I learn there that I have applied now that I am back in my day-to-day life?  This question is most important because conferences about social change tend to leave people amped up in the experience, for a few moments feeling endless possibility.  This is vital to keeping your inspiration and energy levels up in order to do your work, especially for sustainability champions.  However, at home when your routine is reinstated and reality kicks in again, you are left with the question: what did I take from my conference experience that will matter the most to my life in a pragmatic way?

Here are mine:

~I went to a workshop at the conference that led me to read More Than Money by Mark Albion (one of the founders of Net Impact) which I am using for my practicum project

~I contacted a few of the people I met at the conference in hopes of continued dialogue.  It adds to my growing network of people who are doing innovative work

~I was inspired to really use the Net Impact site resources and have been getting great information as well as using the job board

~I made a folder of all the papers, brochures of organizations, cards of attendees and notes that I took during workshops/speeches at the conference which will act as a valuable resource in the future.

Next year, the conference is much closer…in Baltimore!  Let’s all go, representing Antioch! Team MBA!  The more that attend, the more crazy, fun there will be to be had….

P.S. the Portland Breweries were quite impressive…from a business stance I mean : ).  Check out this epic place Rosie, Mike, I and some new conference friends went one evening.  It is a school that has been transformed into a space for breweries

http://www.mcmenamins.com/427-kennedy-school-home

Ally King


Sustainability Abroad: Students discuss Antioch’s study abroad trip to Sweden

January 12, 2012

On Saturday, December 17, the AUNE Net Impacters gathered at the Marriott in downtown Keene to share and reflect on the 2011 study abroad trip to Sweden. Several students who participated in Antioch’s first study abroad program shared their pictures, stories, and impressions from their 10-day Swedish adventure.

One student recalled the interesting trips to businesses and organizations that practice sustainability in new and interesting ways. The group visited many remarkable sites such as a facility that turns waste into biodiesel to generate energy and an eco-municipality with an integrated waste system. Another student reflected on how great it was to see sustainability in action and how far ahead the Swedes are in terms of waste management, energy efficiency, and natural resource protection. All students shared in the feelings of hope for what Sweden has accomplished and how the U.S. can catch up, but also shared the same eagerness to achieve the same level of sustainability at home.

The meeting also offered the chance for students to discuss this year’s upcoming study abroad trip to Peru. This experience will be vastly different from Sweden, but will shine a different light on what sustainability means in a developing part of the world. By exploring sustainability efforts and challenges in Peru, students will learn about corporate social responsibility through the lens of small business, multinational corporations, NGOs, and community enterprises. Some students who traveled to Sweden are also planning on participating in this year’s trip to Peru, and they see the trips as complementary learning experiences.

Interested in studying abroad with AUNE? There are still spots open to participate in the Peru trip. For anyone who is interested, visit the MBA website, and contact Polly Chandler with any questions. Come experience sustainability in Peru with us!

Shelley Raymond


Net Impact Co-Sponsors Stay in New Hampshire Strategy Breakfast

January 10, 2012

More than 50 attendees from across professional sectors – including education, nonprofits, corporations, and health care – came together for the Stay in New Hampshire Strategy Breakfast hosted by Antioch University New England (AUNE) on November 18th. Participants gathered to address the problem posed by keynote speaker, Executive Director of Stay Work Play-New Hampshire Kate Luczko, that young professionals between the ages of 25 and 35 are leaving the state at too high of a rate. How can we get these young adults to stay? Representatives from the New Hampshire Business of Social Responsibility and the Keene Young Professionals Network were also in attendance.

As an Antioch student, and a New Hampshire native, this event was of special pertinence to me. I can personally attest to the positive impact that the quality of life in New Hampshire has made on me. I treasure my childhood growing up hiking, skiing, canoeing, camping and roaming the White Mountains. After spending some time traveling in college and beyond, now upon returning to New England it feels like the place that I want to be. However, as I look forward to graduating in 2012, I, like many of my classmates, share some anxiety about finding jobs in the future.

For me, the event was a hopeful one. The discussion was facilitated in a World Cafe style with Net Impact members, students, and professionals encouraging the conversations as table hosts. It was inspiring to see members from across sectors engage and bounce ideas off one another; one message stood out: despite the challenges, young professionals and employers have an interest in working together to make New Hampshire an attractive location for young workers to stay. It was a joy to see thoughtful, creative and committed people tackling significant challenges that the area faces in the upcoming years.

Some common themes struck me as emerging from the discussion: that the attraction of New Hampshire for young adults and others included good quality of life, access to outdoor recreational activities, and the strong sense of community here. Some common challenges included the lack of affordable housing, the long commute to work, and limited retention of diversity. Brainstormers noted schools and internships are an important draw for young adults, yet many young professionals leaving school, however, are not aware of the employment opportunities the region offers that would keep them here.

One area that suggests a way forward: both potential employees and employers are looking for flexibility and adaptability, employees in meeting work-life balance and flexibility around job hours and opportunities to work remotely, employers because adaptable employees are needed to work in the increasingly fast-paced and ever-changing business environment. The commonality of themes discussed suggests that many are on the same page; now we must take steps to move forward and translate ideas into action.

A follow-up event will be held to discuss the progress that has been made, said Polly Chandler, chair of AUNE’s Department of Management, who helped organize the event.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

Sarah McVicar


Net Impact Experience: 2011 Conference Reflection

December 6, 2011

What do you feel when you are in a room with 2,000 people talking about sustainability as business rather than a movement? Inspiration, possibility, and excitement. I wanted to have a conversation with as many of those 2,000 people as I possibly could. Fortunately for me, I was able to attend the pre-conference leadership meeting which gave me some networking guidance. In the leadership session, I learned how to map my career passions in a mosaic, ask a detailed question of the people I wanted to learn from, and make the most of my conference experience by taking away more than just business cards. I thus navigated the conference events and discussions with an intent toward social entrepreneurship but kept an open eye and ear to the sustainability buzz around me.

I attended panel discussions on Investing in Social Enterprise in Emerging Markets, Feeding the World by 2050, and Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship. The most impactful discussion I attended was no doubt the live simulation of Social Entrepreneurship in Africa. The session was hosted by Think Impact, a global social enterprise that provides an immersion program to train social entrepreneurs in Africa, and the intention was to present the framework and challenges of social enterprise in Africa, but more importantly to engage participants in the process of navigating difficult markets and exploring potential for social development. Participant groups were given different characters from a rural village in South Africa and were charged the task of creating an asset map of the character’s skills, capabilities, and unspoken connections with assets in the village. With this information, participants were encouraged to brainstorm and create methods for social innovation to alleviate poverty with community asset based development. Intriguing, frustrating, and a great challenge to work with a group of people from all over the world.

Throughout the conference and discussions with other MBA students, I picked up on a few themes humming through the buzz of Net Impacters; innovation, a focus on emerging markets, and whether or not CSR is good enough. Multiple events and speakers emphasized these themes, particularly social innovation. Hannah Jones, VP of Sustainably Business and Innovation for Nike, most memorably said in her keynote speech, “Obsess innovation, obsess innovation.” She inspired us to think, do, fail fast, and do again until we succeed. Innovate. Don’t wait to put your idea in to action, do it now. The panel discussion of organizations like Pioneer seeds, WWF, and Smithfield Foods on how to feed the world by 2050 encouraged the innovation of new agricultural techniques and methods of educating farmers in disadvantaged countries. The discussion of the Acumen Fund, Agora Partnerships, and d.Light solar on investing in social enterprise encouraged innovating small scale social business ideas in places like India, Africa, and Latin America where new ideas are needed and money is waiting to be invested. The CSR discussions encouraged innovating from within organizations to advance our corporations in the right direction. If there existed a perfect place to be to share your new idea, your out of the box thinking, or your innovative sustainability solution, this was conference was the place.

Three students attended the conference from Antioch. We each navigated the events in our own way, bringing back our experiences to each other in evening discussions at a few of Portland’s many breweries. Through each of our experiences, and through re-telling those experiences at an informal story sharing Net Impact event, we agreed that one thing was for sure, we were prepared to talk about sustainability. Our education at Antioch has provided us with different skills for thinking about the triple bottom line, different lenses to view our experiences through, and an open mindedness that enabled us to simply learn all that we could in Portland. We were prepared to ask the right questions, work with new teams, bring our experience to the table, and skillfully navigate a crash course in networking.With that said, I’m looking forward to next year!

Rosie Gallant


An Introduction to Community Capital

April 25, 2011

Vision
Imagine a world where every business is a social enterprise that exists to provide for the common good of all—a world where each business prioritizes the impacts of its decisions on the environment and the people in society. Every day, change makers around the world contemplate and develop social, environmental, and economic innovations that motivate communities to build a sustainable and resilient world.

A sustainable social enterprise is often characterized by its concern for and understanding of the social, environmental and economic impacts of its business decisions—the triple bottom-line. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs who develop businesses intended to positively impact society and the environment are having trouble obtaining financing. The triple bottom-line business model is thought to be risky by traditional lenders and investors, contributing to the difficulty social entrepreneurs have in financing ventures. Therefore, a paradigm shift is necessary in the way we fund, invest in, and loan to mission-driven entrepreneurs.

One solution to help social entrepreneurs obtain capital and change the way we invest and lend is with the utilization of community capital models. Community capital is designed to meet the financing needs of a social entrepreneur better than traditional lending and investing because of mission alignment. Community capital organizations, often times, are committed to the missions of those they invest in, and lend to. Community capital is also a viable funding option because of distinct characteristics suited for the financing triple bottom-line ventures. These traits include technical assistance, flexible underwriting, and a need for subsidy.

What is community capital?
Community capital models come from different parts of the finance field, making it difficult to comparatively describe these models. Community capital organizations range from for-profit microfinance institutions and corporations to non-profit community development institutions and private foundations. The differences in organizational structure, along with legal regulations and the complexity of developing community capital models, have made these funds and organizations invisible to most Americans. Therefore, determining what constitutes a community capital model is necessary to advance this as a method for developing sustainable and resilient communities. I have developed a working definition that I believe defines the field in a specific, yet inclusive manner: Community capital is the exchange of money, through lending or investment, between members of a group of people who share a common mission to enhance the well-being of the whole community. Community capital works as a financing tool for members of a geographic town we typically think of as a community. Additionally, it can and should be utilized by members of psychographic groups that share similar values and attitudes and are often connected by the Internet.

Innovators such as Grameen Bank, Calvert Foundation, RSF Social Finance, and Shore Bank, along with other visionaries, have led the way in developing community capital models. Since the emergence of community capital in the 1970s, these organizations have evolved and advanced these models in what is commonly called the social finance field. Community capital models typically take the form of microfinance institutions, peer-to-peer lending companies, and community development finance institutions, which includes community development venture capital, community development banks and credit unions, and community loan funds. Community capital organizations provide financing for social entrepreneurs, and underserved individuals with equity, debt, grants and other finance methods such as revenue sharing.

Community capital organizations, such as The Carrot Project, and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund have borrowed aspects of traditional investing and lending, and adopted them to achieve community capital needs. The Carrot Project uses a revolving microloan fund model and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund uses a mezzanine funding model, which includes subordinated debt and royalty financing. Furthermore, there are innovative community capital models such as the CREW Fund, which uses a donation model to have a continuous flow of capital to social entrepreneurs.

The driving force behind developing community capital models is a gap in the availability of financing to low-income communities and locally owned businesses. Visionaries realized that communities were suffering because those who did not have access to traditional credit and investment could not develop businesses or purchase their own homes. The development and availability of community capital has provided those who were traditionally underserved the opportunity to improve their lives through credit and investment, consequently benefiting whole communities.

Common Characteristics
Community capital models are unique to the communities they serve, and are organized in a variety of ways. Even with these differences most community capital models possess similar characteristics that ensure its success as a method of finance. As mentioned previously, three characteristics common to community capital models are the use of technical assistance, flexible underwriting procedures, and the need for subsidy. These attributes set community capital apart from traditional credit and investing that is based on impersonal credit scores and high return on investments.

Technical Assistance
Technical assistance is vital to the success of community capital as a financing model. Technical assistance is used to reduce risk to the investor and help the borrower to repay the loan by providing entrepreneurs business training and mentorship. Successful community capital models offer critical training in business management, marketing, accounting, and access to professional services. Thus, educating borrowers is essential for a successful community capital transaction.

Flexible Underwriting
Underwriting is the process that financial services institutions follow to assess the eligibility of a customer to receive financing. Underwriting is flexible in the community capital field because it allows for the borrower to be assessed subjectively. In the due diligence process, community capital professionals take time to get to know the person or business they are financing. In addition to objective credit scores and financial information the character of the potential borrower or investee is taken into consideration when determining the viability of the financing.

Subsidy
Subsidy is a form of economic assistance provided to a business or business sector that enables financial success. Community capital organizations may be subsidized by investors’ willingness to take a reduced return on their investments or by hiring mission driven employees who are willing to accept less than market rate pay. However, it is noteworthy that community capital returns have historically been equal to or greater than stock market returns. For example, the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund has an impressive 95% return on their investments. Furthermore, community development financial institutions and microfinance institutions have been subsidized with low cost loans, grants, and donations.

In the past, community capital has relied heavily on subsidies. However, as we develop a new economy based on resilient and sustainable communities, it will be important to consider lower return on investments and equitable paychecks. Additionally, the reliance on subsidy is not sustainable for community capital models. Therefore, determining a model that relies minimally on subsidies is vital to the evolution of community capital.

Conclusion
Community lending and investing is the next evolution of finance that will stabilize local economies and enable locally owned mission-driven organizations to increase their social and environmental impacts. Localizing our financial system, with tools such as community capital models, will create a just, equitable, and sustainable society.


The B Corporation: Triple Bottom Line by Design

April 19, 2011

I had never heard of a B Corporation until my first semester in Antioch New England’s Green MBA program, but the idea of it immediately resonated with me.

During much of my 30 years of working for large corporations, I focused on where the interests of the business and environment overlapped.  Improving upon wasteful business processes lessened the companies’ environmental impact while also improving bottom-line profits.  But that only went so far. 

 Most of the progress made was largely the result of technical improvements, but after a certain point, further progress was constrained by more fundamental systemic problems.  Sustainability was all well and good as long as it helped the bottom-line continue to grow, but growing profits and maximizing shareholder returns would always be the top priorities.  In fact, management has the legal obligation to treat them as such.

 That’s why I think the B (benefit) Corporation is such an exciting and important development.  Last year, Maryland and Vermont passed B Corporation legislation creating a new corporate form in which fiduciary responsibility has been redefined to include non-financial interests in decision-making.  In fact, companies are held accountable for creating a material positive impact on society and the environment according to an independent, transparent third party standard.  The interests of shareholders are no longer held above those of the environment, workers and the community.

 Working to achieve both financial and social returns, I view the B Corporation structure as one way to reconcile the polarities of self-interested traditional corporations and altruistic non-profits.  While many corporations have ambitious and well-publicized CSR and sustainability programs, the transparent standards of a B Corporation will help consumers and business partners distinguish good companies from good marketing.

 There are now more than 370 B Corps from more than 60 industries, and 9 more states are in the process of following Maryland and Vermont’s lead later this year.  The day that Maryland passed the first B Corp legislation, Jay Coen Gilbert of the B Lab said:  “Today marks an inflection point in the evolution of capitalism”……I hope he proves to be right.


Practicum and the Spiritual Side of Business

February 1, 2011

“There’s a spiritual aspect to business, just as there is to the lives of individuals. You give, you receive; you help others, you’re helped in return.” – Jerry Greenfield (of Ben & Jerry’s Fame)

I think that Ben was on to something. As I am wrapping up my second year at Antioch’s MBA in Organizational and Environmental Sustainability, (Home Stretch!) I have been thinking about where “sustainable” businesses are headed, and the fact that the terms “sustainable” and “green” have become little more than buzzwords.  I am also smack in the middle of my Practicum project, in which I am researching how to design and deliver effective presentations which resonate with people and can lead to change.  As I completed the research phase of the project, I had a need to find something that I am interested in to test these new presentations methods!  I think that we may see an increase in discussion about the spiritual side of business when discussing this new way of operating that puts people and the environment above (or at least on equal footing with) the purely financial bottom line.  It almost looks to be a natural progression.  Researching, designing, and delivering a presentation on this will be how I spend my last two months on the practicum.

We certainly do not readily and openly talk about spirituality in the biz world, just as we do not usually readily and openly talk about it in society at large.  We definitely use terminology and principles that are similar to spiritual principles when we discuss business, but we don’t overtly talk about the spiritual side of business.  I think that this is about to change.    To be sure, religion is, and will continue to be, a hot-button topic that most don’t willingly discuss.  But spiritual practice is not as difficult to discuss – even in groups of people that practice vastly different versions of a spiritual life, there is an ability to seek common ground and identify similarities rather than differences.

Just to be clear, in this discussion, I am not talking about personal spirituality specifically.  I am talking about the business itself, the collection of values, purpose, impact, and meaning that emerges from the organization, and, when taken collectively, forms a single entity.  I do believe that the personal spirituality of the people that are a part of the organization are a part of this emergent entity, but I am looking to investigate how businesses themselves, as individuals, may have an inherent spiritual side. Infusing spirituality could even lead to greater profits!  Ben & Jerry thought that it did.  We have certainly seen that operating entirely on greed may be great for quarterly profits, but is not sustainable over the long term.  Also, I am glad to have finally found an instance that I can use the government’s view of the corporation as having the rights of an individual in a way that is productive.  I didn’t see that coming!

I believe that we are seeing an integration of spiritual principles in businesses that are concerned with the “Triple Bottom Line” of People, Planet, and Profit.  As these “TBL” business practices have become more widely accepted as smart business, rather than the practices of a fringe element of hippies trying to save the world, so might we see an increase in the amount of discussion, and integration, of spiritual principles in business.

These are just a few of the common threads that I see between spiritual practice and a new way of doing business:

  • Right Livelihood
  • Connecting individuals to something bigger
  • Coincidences that have meaning
  • Karma
  • Lightbulb moments of enlightenment
  • Giving it away to keep it
  • Abundance
  • Repetition & Ritual
  • Symbolism
  • Celebration
  • Enthusiasm
  • Nurturing those around you
  • Peaks & Valleys
  • Using values to guide decision-making
  • The moral compass
  • Crucible moments
  • Perseverance to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds
  • Kindness
  • Intuition

I am presenting more of my thoughts and research on this topic at Burlington, VT’s Pecha Kucha night on February 10th. I hope to see you there!

Beginning to talk about these principles more openly in  could lead to some powerful insights about how you run your business and connect with your customers.

What do you think about the “spiritual side” of business?  Do these concepts have a place in the business world?  Is right livelihood becoming more and more important?  Can it lead to increased profitability?


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