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Lessons in sustainability from the 2016 Net Impact Conference

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School MBA students attend the 2016 Net Impact Conference

UNC Kenan-Flagler students attend the 2016 Net Impact Conference.

I came to business school with four years of experience in the social enterprise tech sector and am committed to using business for good.

With the heat of Modules 1 and 2 and the pressure to find a good MBA internship, it’s easy to start to feel distanced from your true self and what motivated you to come to b-school in the first place. In November 2016, I attended the Net Impact Conference in Philadelphia with five of my classmates.

The conference took me back to my roots. I was thrilled to be surrounded by 2,500 people that think and feel like me, including my classmates, other students from all over the country and people from all industries giving back through business in so many unique ways.

The diversity of speakers and variety of social impact businesses that participated in the event made my experience worthwhile – particularly the sessions and workshops. These were my favorites:

  • Toyota led a workshop on the Toyota Production System and how it helps nonprofits, government entities and small businesses become more efficient in production and delivery to improve their bottom line.
  • A panel of sustainability leaders from New Belgium Brewing, Fetzer Vineyards (makers of Bonterra, a fantastic organic wine) and the Brown-Forman Corporation (makers of Jack Daniel’s bourbon) provided insight on challenges they face and solutions in conducting environmentally-responsible supply chain and agricultural practices while handling public health priorities.
  • A workshop called “Earth to Leadership,” led by a Columbia Business School professor who shared tangible tips on how to use data-backed storytelling to effectively communicate the urgency of adopting climate-friendly practices to an organization’s leadership.
  • A panel on Resilient Food Systems featuring  Laura Olson, senior manager of global responsibility at Starbucks Corporation, and Jeannine Kayembe, co-executive director of Urban Creators, a nonprofit that has transformed a neighborhood in northern Philadelphia that suffers from food apartheid and violence. Olson discussed Starbucks’ new initiative in five pilot U.S. cities, which has already saved 20 million pounds of food by distributing unused product to soup kitchens and shelters. Kayembe shared how employing at-risk youth on a two-acre city farm allows the organization to deliver fresh produce to neighborhood families.

I found the speakers’ thought leadership to be the most beneficial aspect of the Net Impact Conference and made several new connections with leaders from smaller organizations who I hope to remain in touch with in the future.

By Jean Montano (MBA ’18)