Encountering the Expected and Unanticipated at Conference
by Natalie Grillon, MBA '12 (11/9/11)
Several SGE club members, including myself, left town several weeks ago for the bright lights of New York City to attend the Columbia Social Enterprise Conference, “Social Innovation in a Networked World.”
The b-school language of acronyms has gotten a little bit more bizarre these past couple of weeks. Conferences are the latest “fomo” (“fear-of-missing-out”) trend at Johnson and with names like ROMBA, NSHMBA, NAWMBA, National Black and Net Impact, floating around as conferences have taken place in the last month, the students sound stranger than usual as they talk about their plans to network and interview for jobs at events held around the country. Not wanting to miss out, several SGE club members, including myself, left town several weeks ago for the bright lights of New York City to attend the Columbia Social Enterprise Conference, “Social Innovation in a Networked World.” In addition to being able to throw around an acronym, the conference was a fantastic experience for a variety of reasons both expected and unanticipated.
Networking: One would expect to network at a conference entitled “Social Innovation in a Networked World,” of course, but there were a diverse number of participants at the conference, from both the academic and professional worlds. A Johnson alumnus was one of the keynote speakers and our group was given a shout-out during his presentation. Students were also able to talk with some of the speakers, including presenters from Trader Joe’s and several impact investing firms, and with students from other programs during the break-out sessions. The number and diversity of people in attendance at these sessions was impressive not only for their dynamic natures but for the inspiration and validation that these issues and ways of thinking are gaining traction.
New ideas about social innovation: The conference’s focus introduced new ideas in social enterprise covering topics in education, sustainable food, microfinance, impact investing, international development and venture capital. The day wrapped up with a social venture pitch session in which several entrepreneurs from the NYC area pitched their business ideas for funding.
Nobel Peace Prize: Our networking aspirations reached a new level when the conference organizers announced at the opening keynote that our afternoon keynote speaker had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that morning. Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist from Liberia, received resounding applause as she walked on stage and kept the room both laughing and participating as she told her amazing story of leadership in women’s protests for an end to the Liberian civil war. The talk served as an important reminder of the many reasons why we attended the conference. Although she had to rush out after the speech to another engagement as a Nobel laureate, one of our students managed to get a picture with her, capping off the conference experience!