By Guthrie Jones
After bringing together students and professionals passionate about finding ways to use business skills to make a positive impact for 20 years, Net Impact used its annual conference this year to mark the exciting milestone. Thousands of members -- energetically optimistic and forward-looking – gathered to celebrate 20 years of action.
The big question for Net Impact, once just a small group of MBA students and now a presence in almost every major graduate school and city across the country, is where does it go from here?
I chatted with several Net Impact employees and CEO Liz Maw to discuss where Net Impact is focusing its efforts to strengthen and grow its network of dedicated leaders for another 20 years.
The graduate school challenge is won. Today, Net Impact has taken over graduate school campuses to near ubiquity. There are also Net Impact professional chapters in most major cities for those who want to stay connected for long after they have graduated.
Target: Undergraduate Students
Now Net Impact is targeting undergraduate students, hoping to reach young college students when their career options and minds are open to possibilities. Alongside the growing network of undergraduate chapters, the organization is also launching a program called “Small Steps, Big Wins,” which leverages social media and online tools to essentially gamify every aspect of social and environmental activism. The idea, of course, is to encourage millennials to engage in impactful activities on campus.
Individuals and campuses compete for prizes and recognition, and progress can be reported and tracked on Facebook.
Attracting and maintaining the attention of college students for a campaign like this, however, requires a creative balance of engagement and encouragement. The Small Steps, Big Wins initiative has a simple online interface, tight integration with Facebook, and a broad range of achievable actions that students will be exited to complete for points.
What those points will get them may determine the level of success this program achieves. An appealing array of substantial prizes alongside the chance for national recognition may lead to broad adoption of this program.
There are small and varied environmental and social justice student organizations at every college in the country, yet little coordination among them. This initiative may represent a big step toward a more unified and effective network of concerned college students nationwide.
The New Corporate Chapter
For those of us who went to college before Facebook was around – or a partner in encouraging 'impactful activities' – perhaps the most exciting development brewing at Net Impact is the new corporate chapter initiative.
Currently being piloted at just a few major corporations, this program aims to establish Net Impact chapters for employees at major corporations across the world. It's a unique concept, which goes beyond time-intensive internships and green teams. Once established, these chapters are meant to unite like-minded employees and empower them to develop initiatives that steer their organizations into a more sustainable direction.
As a student about to leave the academic bubble of business school to test the corporate waters, I dread losing the tight knit community of our student Net Impact chapter.
And as a former busy professional, I know how the demands of work and industry associations can make after-work participation in another professional network a challenge. Net Impact’s movement toward corporate chapters may represent an opportunity to close that gap and generate a close and productive network of leaders who see their work as a way of creating positive change within the confines of the workplace.
A Powerful Force
In two decades, Net Impact has grown into a powerful force for change in the world of business schools and the corporations they feed. With bold incursions into undergraduate programs and now, directly into corporations, Net Impact has the momentum, the right ideas and the brightest of minds with it to create a strong workforce for years to come.
The question now: Will corporations be willing partners in this attempt to expand Net Impact's reach and influence? And will the undergraduate community leverage their Net Impact association to become systems thinkers and committed change makers?
About the Author:
Guthrie Jones is an MBA candidate at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, majoring in Sustainable Business and Information Systems, and serving as an officer in Zicklin’s Sustainable Business Club and Net Impact chapter. Prior to business school he spent five years at IceStone LLC, the triple bottom line manufacturing company, where he helped grow the company into a national brand. He holds a degree in Environmental Studies from Connecticut College and is a LEED Accredited Professional.