Keynote speaker Kunal Mehta speaks on the importance of social impact for sustainable enterprise in Sage Hall on Saturday.

February 28, 2016

Cornell Hosts First Social Impact Conference

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Over 80 people attended the first ever Social Impact Conference — which featured panels with local business people, staff, faculty and students — in Sage Hall Saturday.
The event focused on the many ways to make a positive social impact in business and was hosted by the Sustainable Enterprise Association and the Johnson Graduate School’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and Social Consulting Business.

Samantha Kirsch ’18, member of Sustainable Enterprise Association, said the conference was meant to “create a conversation and collaboration between the Ithaca community and the schools in the area.”

The conference included a presentation from keynote speaker Kunal Mehta, two panel sessions, a coffee chat hosted by “Up to Us” and a networking event.

Mehta is the author of Disruptors: Entrepreneurs and the Escape from Corporate America as well as the former financial strategy associate for Charity: Water — a non-profit organization which creates clean water initiatives.

At the conference, Mehta discussed the importance of embracing failures, realizing optionality and thinking differently.

Mehta said he spent five years as an investment banker on Wall Street before realizing his passion for social entrepreneurship.

“I think it’s better to first think of the industry you want to work in,” Mehta said. “Next, go and talk to as many people as possible in that space. By doing this, you’ll have the chance to learn from them, find out what they’re doing and what challenges they’re facing.”

Zijin Li ’19, an attendee, said “It was inspiring to hear Kunal Mehta reveal his adventurous journey filled with challenge, audacity and social impact.”

Participants also had the opportunity to choose from four different panels — the apparel industry, the food industry, sustainable design and financials — to learn how to further their social impact in their professional lives.

Attendee Valerie Tan ’19 said she learned from the discussion that the biggest challenge when trying to make a social impact is implemeting ideas.

“You have to get all kinds of people with different interests, backgrounds and beliefs to work together to come to a consensus on how to solve things and figure out what is feasible,” Tan said.

Panelist Adam Shelepak ’17 gave students advice on dealing with failure, saying the most important part of coping with failure is learning from your mistakes.

“It’s important to think about what you did, where you went wrong, and what you can do moving forward,” Shelepak said. “You’ll be a better person for it.”

Susan McGrattan ’17, another panelist who is part of the Green Revolving Fund — which re-invests in sustainable projects created by students — said the event provided her with business knowledge that she does not necessarily learn from her environmental engineering major.

“Students from applied economics and management, environmental science and a variety of other backgrounds… all contributed a little bit from what they learned in their major to the project, but a lot of it is learning new things which are not related to your major,” McGrattan said.

This first conference created an environment for individuals to gather and further inquire about the role of social entrepreneurship in various industries, according to Kirsch.

“With the partnership of Up to Us we were able to make the conference bigger than we had originally planned and in doing so we were able to expose attendees to a greater variety of social impact topics,” Kirsch said.