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USAID Economic Growth/Private Sector Officer Leslie Flagg, Monitor Group Global Head of Monitor Inclusive Markets Mike Kubzansky and GiveDirectly Founder Paul Niehaus discuss technology and social impact at the 2012 Innovating Social Change Conference.

Profits and purpose

Profits and purpose

Innovating Social Change Conference shows how business can produce lasting social change

By Daniel P. Smith

11/9/2012 - The Kellogg School of Management’s first student conference of the 2012-2013 academic year highlighted a bold endeavor: the power of business to create positive change.

At the 13th Innovating Social Change Conference on Nov. 3 — “Profit and Purpose: A 360 Degree View of Stakeholder Engagement” — nearly 200 students, alumni and working professionals gathered at the James L. Allen Center to discuss how business leaders could produce more than profits.

As businesses are increasingly held accountable for their impact on society, corporate consciousness has evolved from a nice-to-have to a must-have. This recognition spurred conference organizers to investigate how the world views and values the social impact of businesses.

Technology with a purpose
Led by moderator Mohanbir Sawhney, Kellogg’s McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology, the day’s first panel explored the intersection of technology and social development.

Leslie Flagg ’91, a project manager emerging markets consultant for USAID, Mike Kubzansky ’92, head of the Monitor Group’s Inclusive Markets practice, and Paul Niehaus, co-founder of GiveDirectly, all encouraged a broader definition of technology.

Kubzansky lamented the overwhelming focus on technological development and too-frequent disregard for the surrounding business ecosystem.

“It’s a mistake to think of innovation as just a product,” he said, adding that business leaders must address issues such as distribution and training.

To gain market understanding, Flagg urged socially conscious entrepreneurs to work on the ground in unfamiliar markets and to forge partnerships rooted in respect.

Niehaus, meanwhile, identified the importance of knowing and communicating the value proposition.

“Anybody can give things away, but there’s a discipline to selling,” he said. “People have to see the value.”

Responsible and collaborative
Michael Dupee, the vice president of corporate social responsibility for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, offered the morning keynote and set the day’s inspired tone.

Outlining the ways in which social responsibility weaves throughout the Green Mountain enterprise, such as resource trips to coffee-growing regions and supply chain outreach, Dupee reminded attendees that people want to do business with ethical and responsible companies.

“If relationships are simply transactional, there’s a lot of risk in that,” Dupee said.

Additional conference events included: 

  • A panel discussion with representatives from Feeding America, ConAgra Foods and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that examined the opportunities and challenges when for-profit corporations, non-profit organizations and government agencies join forces to address domestic hunger relief 
  • An interactive workshop from the Chicago-based Greater Good Design Studio that applied design thinking principles to social issues
  • An event-closing keynote from LIVESTRONG executive Morgan Binswanger that identified the cancer advocacy organization’s mission and explored some of its pressing challenges

Further Reading

2011 Innovating Social Change Conference

Can firms ‘do well and good’? It depends, says Kellogg Prof. Daniel Diermeier