On March 2nd 2008, the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government jointly presented the 9th annual Social Enterprise Conference sponsored by the Boston Consulting Group, Mckinsey & Co., the Omidyar Network and Coca-Cola. The conference has always been well attended and this year’s event was no exception. We hosted over 1,100 people on campus; participants comprised students from HBS, HKS and other Harvard University schools; alumni; other students from non-Harvard affiliated schools and general practitioners in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Individuals came from as far away as Canada, Japan, and Mexico. The superb marketing team of Rakhi Mehra (HBS ’09) and Behrad Mahdi (HBS/HKS ’09) were able to generate so much buzz for the event that ultimately, tickets were 100% sold-out, and turnout was the largest in the history of the conference!
he agenda for the day was jam-packed with nearly 100 speakers and panelists. Main speakers included Jan Egeland (former United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Relief and Emergency Relief Coordinator and current Director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs), Nicholas Negroponte (Founder and Chairman of the One Laptop per Child organization and Co-Director of the MIT Media Laboratory), and Stephen Lewis (Co-Director of Aids-Free World).
In addition to the keynote speeches, Terence Blanchard (Grammy Award Winning Musician and Composer) gave a moving trumpet performance from his newest album, “A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina).” As a native of New Orleans, Blanchard spoke openly and honestly about the devastation from Katrina and the city’s rebuilding efforts.
Taking into account the overarching conference theme “Imagine: Innovation. Change. Progress” our Panel Directors-Katie Laidlaw (HBS ’09) and Justin Pasquariello (HBS/HKS ’10)-oversaw the fantastic panel managers from HBS, HKS, and HSPH and pulled together an incredible lineup of speakers to make up 20 total panels. The topics ranged from “Consuming with a Conscience,” “Cause Marketing” and “Education Reform: What Can the U.S. Learn from the International Community” to “Profitable Social Impact: Exploring For-Profit Business Models that Create Social Wealth,” “Innovative Solutions to Homelessness” and “The Impending Climate Change Revolution.”
During the lunchtime hour, the annual Pitch for Change competition spearheaded by Shireen Santosham (HBS/HKS ’09) took place in Burden Auditorium. Contestants only had 30 seconds to make an elevator pitch for a business opportunity, both nonprofit and for-profit, with the potential for social impact. They were evaluated by four judges, including Nancy Barry (President of Enterprise Solutions to Povery), Elyse D. Cherry (CEO of Boston Community Capital and President of the Boston Community Venture Fund), John B. Rogers (President, CEO and Co-Founder of Local Motors-last year’s winner), and Jon Hugget (Partner at the Bridgespan Group). The criteria included the “level of innovation, magnitude of impact, viability of concept, and overall persuasiveness of the presentation.” There were 40 initial entrants and finally 3 top prizes ($3000 for 1st, $1500 for 2nd, and $500 for 3rd). Abby Falik (HBS ’08) with her concept “Global Citizen Year” received the top honor.
Finally, the day came to a close with a Career Fair headed up by Christine Philpotts (HBS ’09) and Ben Reno-Weber (HBS/HKS ’09) in which nearly 25 organizations were represented. In addition, Social Enterprise Club members-Annie Woollam (HBS ’08) and Uma Subramanian (HBS ’09) organized an amazing photo exhibit entitled “Hot Shots.” The event featured the creative talents of HBS Social Enterprise Club members. There were over 70 photographs showcasing students’ travels around the world. The exhibit attracted over 200 visitors who had the opportunity to vote for their favorite shots. Abby Falik’s photograph “On the Outside Looking In” won the award for “Audience Favorite.”
This year’s conference was a day of sharing, learning and making connections. Hopefully, the day’s activities allowed all participants to imagine what may not be possible today but what could be tomorrow and to be inspired to expand the scope of their own work. We look forward to another historical event next year!