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The Net Impact Board gathers for a group photo
The Net Impact Board gathers for a group photo.

A few days after winning Net Impact Graduate Chapter of the Year for the second time in three years, the Kellogg Net Impact Club hosted its first ever Net Impact Week on campus from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1.

Anchored by Kellogg’s Innovating Social Change Conference on Oct. 30, Net Impact Week brought together students, faculty and practitioners to discuss how the tools of business can be used to change lives worldwide. We had panel discussions exploring how to build an impactful career, forums on campus to allow impact-minded students to connect and share ideas, and speakers covering topics ranging from social entrepreneurship and corporate citizenship to international development and impact investing. (If you think that was a mouthful, imagine how busy our week was on campus!)

As a second year student at Kellogg, I’ve been plugged into the social impact scene for quite a while. Yet even a veteran like me found an incredible richness of innovative thinking and revolutionary business models being shared by speakers and fellow students alike.

Here are some of the week’s most powerful ideas that I’ll carry with me the rest of my career:

Where there’s an underserved market, there’s an opportunity for impact.

F.K. Day, co-founder of World Bicycle Relief, noticed a transportation gap in rural Africa: the bikes available for purchase were so poorly made they fell apart within days. As a result, most people walked everywhere. His organization designed a sturdier bicycle with increased cargo space to provide villagers a more reliable form of travel. Doctors can now visit more patients each day, merchants can carry five times more goods to market, and students’ grades and attendance are up.

Effective partnerships come from unlikely places.

ColaLife, a social enterprise based in the UK, noticed that essential medicines weren’t reaching rural African communities. Yet shelves in every village were well-stocked with Coca-Cola. By finding a way to squeeze its medicines into the unused space in Coke’s shipping crates, ColaLife unlocked a distribution network on a new continent. (With a healthier customer base, Coke’s not complaining either.)

Commoditizing social impact can be a good thing.

Commodity markets aren’t usually thought of as hotbeds of innovation, but they do encourage growth in two key ways: establishing a common transactional language and providing a powerful incentive to reduce costs. Jason Saul, founder of Mission Measurement and a lecturer at Kellogg, advocates a standardized set of outcome metrics for social impact organizations — jobs created, vaccinations administered, gallons of water saved, etc. — just like those that apply to producers of traditional commodities. With clear and objective criteria for comparison, resources can be directed to those programs that produce outcomes most effectively.

Multinational companies are global platforms for creating shared value.

Accenture allows experienced employees to spend time consulting for nonprofits in developing countries through its Accenture Development Partnerships program. Thousands of consultants volunteer to participate in the program each year – even though it means a temporary pay cut and time away from their families – and the benefits are tremendous. Organizations worldwide receive top-notch consulting services at reduced rates, employees find meaningful ways to grow and give back, and Accenture develops an in-house team of global leaders with expertise in developing markets.

The future is bright.

The Innovating Social Change Conference convened well over 100 speakers and attendees, and programming on the Kellogg campus throughout Net Impact Week engaged dozens more students in conversation about how to build impactful careers. Within a decade or two, our generation will be running the world’s largest companies, nonprofit organizations and social enterprises. Impact-minded leaders will find allies everywhere they look.

In a way, it really boils down to one thing: always keep exploring.

The power of business to create social change is being redefined every day, and my Kellogg education is just the starting point. It takes a commitment to lifelong learning, a willingness to engage with diverse collaborators, and an openness to inspiration to maximize our ability to change the world for the better.

Alex Colman is a second-year student at Kellogg who hails from sunny Santa Barbara, CA. He has previously worked for Mosaic, an online crowdfunding platform for solar energy projects, and Cornerstone Research, a provider of economic research for corporate litigation clients.