Manifesting Opportunity: The Wharton Social Impact Conference

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The JP Morgan report in November 2010 transformed the way people thought about impact investing. Instead of this being something in the realm of philanthropy and altruism, the report placed this firmly among other asset classes and presented a bright future for the asset class -- projects of around a trillion-dollar market size. Since then subsequent reports have focused on defining this better. Initiatives such as social impact bonds have presented a unique way for the common man to finance public services through incentive schemes in the private sector. Firms such as Goldman Sachs now have targeted programs around social impact bonds that intend to bring interested investors and projects seeking private capital together in this nascent market.

Measurement of impact has also been refined and specified better over the years. Through the initiative of groups such as Global Impact Investing Network, standards such as the Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS) have emerged to quantify metrics to measure progress achieved through impact investing dollars spent. Companies such as B Labs have also focused on defining new standards for private corporations to sign on to in terms of aligning their mission and vision to larger interests than just maximizing shareholder value. The B Corporation registration is one important initiative in this direction. Many states have passed laws to allow for corporations such as Flexible Purpose Corporation and Benefit Corporation to be started as well, to align corporate mission and vision with the needs of social enterprise.

Within this context, universities have been taking the lead as well, in terms of redefining their academic curriculum to build the next generation of leaders for the impact investing world. Social Impact is one of the three fundamental directions through which the Wharton community reshapes business as a force for good. Led by the Wharton Social Impact Initiative in Philadelphia, this constitutes several classes and electives, in addition to many student-run events. One that has received the most interest in recent years in the Social Impact Conference managed and run by students in Philly each year. Last year's conference focused on the financing of social enterprise and was covered live on Huffington Post as well.

At the same time, Wharton has been slowly building a presence on the West Coast. The San Francisco campus on the Embarcadero with amazing views of the Bay was a recent acquisition, but Wharton has been around for over ten years in the city by the Bay. The MBA for Executives program out here brings together a cohort of around 100 mid-career professionals each year for a grueling two-year MBA degree program.

Over time, the critical mass of interest in social entrepreneurship has been on a gradual rise, culminating in the students voting to have social impact related classes included among their electives in the second year. This year, the level of engagement with the local community has been taken up another notch through the first student run social impact conference out here on the West Coast.

The conference is scheduled to be held at the Wharton San Francisco campus on April 4. It features two panels -- the first focused on impact investing and networks that bring funders and founders together. The organizations represented in this panel include Omidyar Network, Humanity United and Social Capital Markets.

The second panel is focused on social entrepreneurship and sustainability. There will be a diverse group of founders in this panel from for-profits as well as non-profits. Jill Vialet from Playworks will present their interesting and innovative play program for children during recess hours in schools. Leila Janah will discuss her company, Samasource that sends micro-work to those with skills in countries where the income generated transforms lives. Alicia Polak will present her organization, the Bread Project that teaches vocational skills in the food industry and empower people. Nikhil Arora from Back to the Roots will present their fascinating story -- growing mushrooms from recycled coffee grounds from their dorm rooms in Berkeley to where they are today as a sustainable vendor of high quality mushrooms. We will also have Erin Gruwell from the Freedom Writers Foundation that trains the trainers and improves upon curriculum to transform the education experience.

As students graduating from this program our goal is to build partnerships with these organizations in the Bay area that are doing stellar work in the impact investing and social enterprise world. Our hope is that this would manifest itself in opportunities for business school students to interact with and learn from these groups, and at the same time contribute some of their learning from school back to these groups as well.

For more information on the conference and to sign up you can visit the conference website.