Emily Celano, Project Manager for EFI Global, Inc. and Net Impact Boston Events Committee Member, jetted off to Minneapolis for the 2014 Net Impact Conference in November. Here she shares a recap of what happened at the conference and, for those of you who weren’t able to go, links to some of the great content. Enjoy!
This year’s Net Impact Conference centered around the theme of Breaking Boundaries. The Conference began on Thursday afternoon, November 6th, with optional off-site business tours, field trips, and Pre-Conference Boot Camps open to all conference attendees as a way to gain insight into sustainability efforts within the city of Minneapolis and offer the chance to meet others interested in a specific topic or sector of the social and environmental impact space. In addition, a Chapter Leader Session was held for Leadership Team members of the Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional chapters to connect with each other and discuss ways to provide meaningful involvement opportunities for Net Impact members and the broader impact community. The Boston Professional Chapter Leadership Team were well represented at the Chapter Leader Session, even going as far as acting out some of their ideas as part of a group improvisation – who knew Ellen Shea would make such a talented air steward!
Thursday evening’s Keynote focused on the concept of Paradigm Shift. We had the opportunity to hear from Betsy Hodges, the Mayor of the City of Minneapolis; Liz Maw, Chief Executive Officer of Net Impact; and Dan Pallotta, Founder and President of Advertising for Humanity and the Charity Defense Council. During this session, Liz Maw congratulated the undergraduate, graduate and professional chapters of the year and Kevin Hart and Melissa Small went up on stage to collect the award for the Professional Chapter of the Year – a very proud moment for Net Impact Boston members! Dan Pallotta, a fellow Bostonian, was a hugely inspiring speaker and set the tone and energy for the rest of the conference. The main point of his keynote is the need to transform how we think about and invest in non-profit organizations in order to help them grow and better address today’s social and economic challenges. Dan Pallotta’s keynote is not available online; however, you can check out his TED talk to learn about his perspective.
Friday morning’s Keynote focused on the concept of Transformative Leadership. We had the opportunity to hear from Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, who spoke to the audience before participating in a Q&A with Joel Makower, Chairman & Executive Editor of Greenbiz Group. Paul Polman spoke passionately about the importance of caring more about others than of yourself; having a longer term perspective in decision-making; the power of forming partnerships and collaboration across sectors and business lines; and moving to a circular economy to encourage less waste, more efficiency of resources and new business models. At the core of his message was the need for change and he said “if the world hasn’t changed, how can I look my children in the eye.” For more inspiration, check out the video of the keynote here.
The Breakout Sessions on Friday and Saturday included a mix of panels, workshops, and Ted-style talks within the following areas of environmental and social impact: Career & Professional Development; Community Development; Corporate Impact; Energy & Clean Tech; Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise; Environment and Natural Resources; Finance & Investing; International Development; Nonprofit & Public Sector Innovation; and Sustainable Food and Agriculture. The program provided conference attendees with an enormous volume of information, insight and exposure to the panelists and other attendees.
Evening activities included group no-host dinners at a local restaurant on Thursday and Friday evenings; an undergraduate networking event, regional happy hours for the graduate student chapters, and a reception for the Professional Chapters on Friday evening; and a closing party for all attendees on Saturday evening to socialize and foster relationships. The conference also included a service activity during which over 250 3M Solar Lamps for Global Education were built, Mentor Office Hours to have one-on-one conversations with a speaker or career coach and a Food should Taste Good and Do Good Ideation Challenge Competition.
Saturday morning’s Keynote focused on the concept of Debating the Future of Food. We had the opportunity to hear from Marc Gunther, Editor at large of Guardian Sustainable Business US; M. Jahi Chappell, Director of Agroecology and Agriculture Policy at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Natalie DiNicola, Vice President of Sustainability and Signature Partnerships at Monsanto. Considering the nature of the topic under discussion, it is not surprising that the discussion was somewhat tense and the speakers tackled challenging questions from the audience. A key takeaway from the keynote is that Agroecology offers an alternative to the input-heavy, pesticide-reliant traditional food system by taking a whole-systems approach to agriculture and food systems development. Check out the video from Saturday morning’s keynote here.
Saturday evening’s Keynote focused on the concept of Leaving Boundaries Behind. We had the opportunity to hear from three women who have tackled, broken and left boundaries far behind them. Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist and Co-Author of a Path Appears; Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University; and Shazi Visram, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Happy Family Brands. A few key takeaways from this keynote included being open-minded, dreaming big and using “no” to drive getting to “yes”, having a strong mission and purpose, and feeding your soul to keep your spark alive. Check out the videos from Saturday evening’s keynote here.
It was an action-packed three days of inspiring moments and new ideas and I left feeling energized and better connected within the impact community. If you weren’t able to attend the conference, check out the videos from the event on the Net Impact website and mark the dates of next year’s conference on your calendars: November 5-7, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.
As a part of the City Awake Social Impact Festival, on Tuesday December, 9th Net Impact Boston is is hosting an event Leadership in Any Role: Be a Changemaker in your Organization. It will be a fun, informative evening of speakers, collaborative workshops and networking focused on developing your organization and your career by identifying opportunities and taking effective action for change.
We are thrilled to have Caleb Dean, Director, Owl, Fox & Dean LLC. as our keynote speaker. Caleb is a strategist, designer, coach. Caleb and his team help people develop as leaders and help organizations launch, grow, and change. He has a degree in Environmental Design from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an MBA in Sustainable Systems from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute at Pinchot, and he believes that we have the opportunity to consciously develop ourselves, our ideas, and our ventures to generate value for people and place.
Caleb was kind enough to answer a few of our questions ahead of the event next week.
I first became interested in an impact career in high school after taking a human ecology course and learning about the concept of sustainability for the first time. I had absolutely no idea what this looked like nor did I have the language to describe or communicate what I imagined but I knew we had some incredible challenges to overcome and I wanted to affect change somehow. It was through studying environmental design as an undergrad and venturing into business after graduation that I developed a clearer vision to work towards and a language to describe it.
What is the story behind the name ‘Owl, Fox and Dean’ and how would you articulate the purpose of the company?
There are two big reasons that I chose the name Owl, Fox & Dean.
- Someone once told me that there are forest people and tree people, those with a high level view of things and those who are on the ground involved in the details. I believe that to be strategic, to design effectively, and to practice leadership we each must be able change our perspective and adapt quickly. The owl and the fox are resilient and live all over the world in many different climates, often going after the same prey but with different approach and perspective. This scrappy nature and ability to adapt and change perspective is core to our organizational philosophy, crucial to the work we do with clients, and super important to solve any systemic problem.
- I wanted my company to be playful. There’s a big difference between taking your work seriously and taking yourself seriously. It’s really hard work for people and organizations to address deep systemic challenges, change, and develop – we might as well have fun doing it.
The purpose of Owl, Fox & Dean is to help people and organizations develop their potential to have a generative impact in the world.
What do you think are the qualities that make great leaders for the 21st century?
I’m really glad you asked this question and I’ll share more about why during my talk at the event. For now, the qualities that I believe make a great leader are a combination of the abilities to deeply understand oneself and the complexities of people and systems and then influence those things. These abilities can take the form of and be interpreted as many different qualities that may or may not be relevant to any given situation or context.
Why is it important for organizations to change and why is it often so hard?
Great question! Human beings adapt with culture – it’s our evolutionary tool that allows us to develop as individuals and as groups whether that’s an organization, a community, or a nation. We learn something new and then we share what we’ve learned with others. Because organizations exist in a complex system with variables that consistently change – they need to change, or adapt, in order to survive and stay relevant. If early humans hadn’t changed how they found food or made clothing, they would have died – we would’t be here.
I think change is often hard because no two people have exactly the same experience, perspective, feelings or ideas, etc… We’re complex and it’s up to each of us to negotiate and influence the group to make decisions and adapt based on the opportunities we see. Think about the last time you and a large group of friends tried to decide where to eat and what time to be there and then how you’d split the check. Or, think about the other night when you tried to figure out what to watch on Netflix.
Now, think about figuring how to produce a valuable product, increase profits, keep all your employees happy, execute on everything you committed to this year within the schedule and budget, and plan for the next. I think the big tension in organizations right now has to do with the scale and complexity of the challenges we face and the time it takes to change.
What advice would you give people wanting to affect change within their organizations?
Start where you are with what you have and seek to leave every little thing you touch better than how you found it.
What excites you most about the Boston impact sector?
The energy, enthusiasm, and urgency really excite me. I recently moved back to MA from Portland, OR where my wife and I lived for four years. There’s a thriving impact sector in the Pacific Northwest. The Bainbridge Graduate Institute at Pinchot, where we both went to grad school, is part of a quickly growing and strong impact sector community in Seattle. I believe there’s an opportunity for more connection between these communities so that we can learn from one another and grow together. I’m really excited to be growing my business here in Boston helping this sector develop.
Sign up for Leadership in Any Role: Be a Changemaker in your Organization, December 9th, 6-9pm, at General Assembly, 51 Melcher St , Boston, MA 02210. Look forward to seeing you there!