Reflections on the 2015 International Net Impact Conference
How can we use our business careers for “good”? “Net Impact” is an international non-profit enabling business professionals to answer that question. This November, the Beedie School of Business sent the executives of SFU’s Net Impact chapter to Seattle for Net Impact’s annual international conference. We heard from high-level executives from a wide variety of organizations like the Gates Foundation, VISA, PATH, Starbucks, the Clinton Foundation, General Mills, the UN WFP, Microsoft, and many more. We would like to share with you a few critical lessons that we learned.
Non-Profit and For-Profit Partnerships: Vital To Global Development
A recurring theme throughout the conference was that the line between corporate and non-profit involvement is increasingly blurred – and these partnerships are good news for global development. When corporations and non-profits identify a shared mission, their aligned efforts can accomplish profoundly more than ever before. More and more, business opportunities are also development opportunities. Corporate involvement can accelerate the impact of development programs, and in some cases it may be the most effective way for non-profits to accomplish their own goals.
For instance, Microsoft has corporate interest in expanding the technological knowledge of the American population. Working with others horrified by the widening gap of underserved kids’ education in the US, Microsoft founded and funded the Washington “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education program. VISA explained their goal to become a financially inclusive organization, which has led to their work in low-income countries around the world as VISA seeks to empower the currently 2-billion unbanked adults around the globe.
Of course, corporations are constantly seeking new markets to expand into. But how this is done matters, particularly when that expansion is into a new country with vulnerable populations. How can you ensure that the supply chain accounts for the area’s social risks and complexities, in a reasonable and responsible way? This is where non-profits’ expertise and on-the-ground engagement can be invaluable for corporations. As countries like Myanmar slowly open doors to international businesses, organizations like World Vision work to help retailers identify areas of risk. For instance, if there is no schooling for children over age 8, how can the partnership help prevent child exploitation and human trafficking?
In return, businesses need to show that they believe in a mission of social improvement: that the short-term investments are not merely a PR stunt, but that they are there for the long run. Each party needs to be clear on how the partnership will measure success, and CSR representatives can help with “translation” of the interests of the private and non-profit parties.
The Global Goals: A Unifying Agenda for the Planet
As we settled in to our first MBA classes this September, 193 countries agreed to work towards 17 “Sustainable Development Goals”, which would surpass the Millennium Development Goals in their scope and efforts and could eliminate extreme poverty within our generation. Why should business professionals care about this?
Representatives from KPMG, the Gates Foundation, PYXERA Global and RFK Human Rights explained that these “SDGs” or “global goals” were composed at the UN with more private sector engagement than ever before. Corporate input is increasingly valued, and their engagement will be critical as the world tries to prioritize, coordinate, and measure the impact of global action on the goals.
Planning Delivery: as corporations and non-profits move forward, the context of the goal is critical. Examples were given of the unintended consequences following actions taken for the Millennium Development Goals. For instance, many speakers throughout the conference alluded to the global market failure of health innovation: there is tremendous disparity in the resources given towards diseases that impact the poor, versus resources given to conquer diseases that impact the wealthy. But turning around and focusing on eradicating a single disease does not mean you have improved the health system itself.
One speaker shared the heartbreaking comment of a patient he encountered in sub-Saharan Africa: “I wish I had HIV, but instead I have diabetes.” Fabulous programs had been implemented to achieve the MDG of combatting HIV/AIDS, but this ignored other serious non-communicable diseases. Time and time again, speakers throughout the conference emphasized the importance of understanding the model of change delivery on the ground, and the impact that model could have.
Measuring Your Impact: Around the world, humanity is trying to figure out what we will measure, and how we will measure it, to meaningfully evaluate our progress with the global goals. KPMG and the United Nations have partnered to create “The SDG Industry Matrix“, an inventory of publications demonstrating how corporations in specific industries are acting on the SDGs, and how others can do the same. Never before has there been a better time for corporations to contribute their expertise, their data, their suggestions, and their solutions.
Grace Potma is a global citizen passionate about improving systems for underprivileged people. She is currently the president of Net Impact at SFU and a full-time MBA Candidate at the Beedie School of Business. Grace has a BScN and Specialty Qualification in Emergency Nursing, and her international experiences have taught her that innovation can flourish even amidst limited resources and strained systems. Contact Grace on LinkedIn or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org