About a year ago, when I was visiting business schools across the country and wondering where I wanted to be an MBA student, one of the biggest variables in my decision-making process was each school’s Net Impact presence. Net Impact is an organization that for over twenty years has brought students and professionals together in order to make real impact on the planet, whether through social justice, environmental sustainability, equal education, or other forward-thinking aspirations. While I’m here on this planet, I want to make a positive impact, and I truly believe business is the best platform to do so. Net Impact seemed like the perfect conduit to exercise my aspirations.
So when I visited the Scheller College of Business in 2016 and walked up to Professor Michael Oxman and then second-year MBA student Elizabeth Schultz at the Scheller MBA Net Impact Chapter table, I had high expectations. What I didn’t expect was how quickly I would be won over by the breadth and depth of the Net Impact presence at Scheller College (they won “MBA Club of the Year” in 2016-17), aided by the chapter’s participation in the National Net Impact Conference (NI17), which would be held in Atlanta in 2017.
Fast forward a year later, and everything the chapter promised turned out to be true: Not only was I able to attend the conference free of charge (courtesy of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business), but also I was able to attend with 23 of my Georgia Tech colleagues. We were the US chapter with the largest representation at the conference, and the organizers gave us a shout-out in front of all the attendees! But more important than the free ticket and shout-out were the knowledge and networking I received over two amazing days. The theme of the conference was “Path to Purpose: Accelerate Your Impact Career,” and we heard real-life stories from executives at PwC, Clif Bar, and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, among others, who fought to find success in life while retaining their commitment to justice and sustainability. If I’ve learned anything in business school my first semester, it’s that business is challenging and competitive. Hearing from these high-level executives taught me that believing in something beyond the numbers on a balance sheet can often give you the edge in today’s marketplace.
That’s a recurring theme in every Net Impact talk, workshop, or event: Participants believe in making the world a more sustainable, just, and equitable place, but it’s almost always examined and executed through the context of business. Nowhere was this more on display than at the dynamite talk by environmental activist legend Paul Hawken. (Fun fact: Paul Hawken wrote the book that inspired Ray C. Anderson to change the way he ran his business!) Paul was fiery and blunt, outlining the meticulous set of solutions he and a diverse group of researchers put together in his new book, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. He reminded everyone in the room that they didn’t have to run to the top four or five solutions, but instead to find the solutions they were most passionate about and get to work.
It was the perfect lead-in for the afternoon slate of talks, as I had the opportunity to go to two amazing panel discussions. One panel, “Climate Solutions,” outlined how companies as large as GE to teams as small as the City of Atlanta Office of Resilience are measuring and engaging their stakeholders to reverse the effects of climate change. Just as one example, GE invests approximately $5 billion in new technology every year, half of which goes to their Ecomagination division, an organization within the company committed to enhancing their commercial resource productivity and reducing environmental impact. I ended up chatting with one of the GE panelists afterwards, Global Director Abby Abbel. We not only exchanged contact information but also have been trading emails ever since! Just as powerful was the second talk I attended, “Navigating the Clean Energy Transition.” Representatives from Bloomberg, Wal-Mart, and Microsoft made their case on how large corporations are leading the charge in renewable energy purchasing and development. All three panelists highlighted the business opportunities available to those who get into renewable energy, from the opportunity to build out infrastructure for electric vehicle charging to breaking the technological boundaries of current battery storage.
In conclusion, my journey to the National Net Impact Conference played out over the course of a year, and it has ended up being one of the most inspiring and fruitful experiences of my young MBA career. Topped off by a catered lunch for all the local Atlanta Net Impact chapters, the two-day conference provided the perfect mix of knowledge, networking, and friendship. Thank you again to Professor Oxman and the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business for the wonderful opportunity to attend!
Naveed Ahmad is a full-time MBA Student at the Scheller College of Business.