Recap of 2013 Net Impact Conference




The 2013 Net Impact Conference: Change Starts Here kicks off today, and I'm tremendously excited and honored to be a speaker and attendee. I'll be updating this blog post throughout the 3-day conference and live-tweeting whenever possible (@GTak - #NI13).

Thursday, October 24

Tour of Google. Very cool workplace housing 15,000 employees and several thousand contractors. Highlights: cafes, dogs, bikes, solar panels, electric cars, plants, gardens, art, games, classes, interest groups, and Meng's photo wall (we've had the pleasure of working with Google's Jolly Good Fellow Chade-Meng Tan and Search Inside Yourself Leadership). No photos allowed inside, but we found this blog post that captures the campus quite well, and Meng's photo albums give you a sense of what's on his wall.

Net Impact CEO Liz Maw welcomed attendees and emphasized the theme of the Conference – change starts here; change starts now. She noted that we were in the Silicon Valley, the hub of innovation, but needed to see more of the entrepreneurs in the area to be here too.

Opening Keynotes (Change Starts With Leadership) featuring Denise Morrison, President & CEO, Campbell Soup Company, and Caryl M. Stern, President & CEO, U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

Morrison noted that Campbell was a values-based company where courage was the added value required for true innovation and growth. She said training was a key component in changing the culture towards innovation because "you either lead change or be a victim of change." Check out Campbell's detailed 2013 Performance Update of its Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

Stern said her rallying cry was that 18,000 children are still dying needlessly every single day from preventable causes. She called us all out saying we each had something to give to the world's children that may be very small to us but very big to them. Her book "I Believe in Zero: Learning from the World's Children" looks like a must read.

Friday, October 25

Morning Keynote (Change Starts With a Network) featuring Nancy Lublin, CEO & Chief Old Person,; Brent Schulkin, Founder, The Spring & Carrotmob; Premal Shah, President, Kiva; and Liz Maw. Super cool panel that started with Schulkin beatboxing and revealed Lublin's learned lessons as a serious poker player.

Shah noted that a funder, the Skoll Foundation, was key in helping Kiva find its serendipitous and changing moment, a story on Frontline (a lesson on how foundations can help their grantees in various ways beyond funding). With respect to scaling, he stated that big does not equal good, and being loved does not equate to impact. It's easy to measure breadth but much more difficult to measure depth; we need to measure both. While I think many of us know these principles, they sound so much better coming from Premal.

Lublin provided hiring tips. Hire someone (1) who you can spend time in a bunker with, (2) who can hit the ground running, and (3) who can achieve something great within 4-6 years, whether or not it's with your company or another. She also gave us the quote of the day – "social change comes from your heart and your balls" – and told a huge group of MBAs to forget the business plan. Maverick.

Schulkin's plan it to create change in business with the carrot instead of the stick. And he gave a call to action: go to, link a credit card and dine out in participating establishments (which include Dosa – Valencia in San Francisco); 3% of what you spend goes to fund community projects and 3% goes back to you. Innovative and smart.

Blending Profit and Purpose: The Future of Hybrid Organizations. I'll be moderating this panel discussion with Robert Lang, CEO and Founder of Americans for Community Development and creator of the first L3C; Bart Houlihan, Co-Founder of B Lab, the nonprofit driving systemic change through the Certified B Corporation, B Analytics, and the benefit corporation;  and Ron Roman, a business management faculty member at San Jose State University, and expect some lively discussion.

Bob passion for the L3C was widely evident and he discussed the value brought by this "for-profit with a nonprofit soul." We touched on issues like tranche (tiered) investment structures and attracting philanthropic capital. When asked to prognosticate, he said that he believed the substance of the Philanthropic Facilitation Act, which is designed to encourage philanthropic investments in socially purposed companies, will be passed into law by slipping it inside a bigger bill.

Equally passionate, Bart seemed to attract much of the audience's interest with the benefit corporation. He noted the importance of having this relatively new corporate form to anchor the mission of creating a general public benefit and protect directors upon an exit event. He also touched on the importance of the Delaware legislation authorizing the benefit corporation that went into effect August 1, 2013. See this inteview with Bart to learn more.

Ron questioned whether any societal advantages offered by the benefit corporation might be lost by traditional corporations shedding any sense of corporate social responsibility and described some studies that raise this concern. This led to an interesting discussion, including a little digression as conversation shifted to the Ben & Jerry's story, which is often used imprecisely and which Bart identifed as a red herring.

To close the day, I watched a 30-minute version of Girl Rising, a gorgeous, heartbreaking and inspirational film I hope will get wide release. Educating girls is the answer to so many of our problems.

Saturday, October 26

Morning Keynote (Change Starts With Dialogue) featuring Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club; Ken Cohen, Vice President of Public & Government Affairs, Exxon Mobil Corporation; and Marc Gunther, Editor at Large, Guardian Sustainable Business US. This intriguing dialogue did not disappoint though I was more won over by Brune's fact-laced arguments than Cohen's seemingly less-prepared defenses. Hopefully, this is an opening for a real dialogue between the Sierra Club and Exxon Mobil for greater the latter's investment in clean energy.

Cohen was kind enough to respond to this blog with a tweet noting that "energy is a complex subject" and including this link from Exxon about the Outlook for Energy. Clearly, determining what the facts are is the starting point for a productive dialogue. But the public should always keep in mind that the parties are advocating on behalf of their own interests and almost certainly in line with the directives of their respective leadership. And the public has a critical place in the dialogue.

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On a break from NI13 (okay, I skipped out for a bit), I visited the Star Wars Exhibit at The Tech.

Closing Keynote (Change Starts With Ideas) featuring Chip Conley, Founder, Joie de Vivre Hotels & Head of Global Hospitality, Airbnb; Blake Mycoskie, Founder & Chief Shoe Giver, TOMS; and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, Founder & Chief Impact Officer, Revolution Foods. 

Conley provided several choice messages: "Curiosity is the opposite of depression," "cultural curiosity will save the world," "how do we bring good into our quest for greatness," and "how can we create a habitat for happiness in our workplaces." And he described his company version of Maslow's pyramid:  survive, succeed, transform. As for innovation, JDVHotels employs a mistake-of-the-month club to encourage taking chances, sharing lessons learned, and developing new ideas from those experiences.

Tobey simply delivered one of the most important messages of the entire Conference: Keep learning, because the most revolutionary ideas come from the most relentless learners. As one of two moms who started by serving 300 healthy lunches a day to students in Oakland, California in 2006, Tobey kept growing Revolution Foods, which now serves over 1 million freshly prepared meals every week to schools throughout the country.

Mycoskie, another impact-oriented entrepreneur with a great story, posed the question, "How can we be a catalyst to help our community?" TOMS is certainly no stranger to criticism, and Mycoskie added that listening to and engaging with critics has made his company stronger. He also delivered the teaser of a big announcement to be made by TOMS on November 5 that might be its most impactful idea yet.

Congratulations to Net Impact on another great Conference and to all the attendees who are in various stages of their social impact careers. Inspirational. 

Net Impact is a leading nonprofit that empowers a new generation to use their careers to drive transformational change in the workplace and the world. At the heart of our community are over 40,000 student and professional leaders from over 300 volunteer-led chapters across the globe working for a sustainable future. Together, we make a net impact that transforms our lives, our organizations, and the world.

I'm proud to be a lifetime member, pro bono legal counsel, and former board member of Net Impact.