Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trip Report: Impact Weekend at IE Business School

I just returned from IE Business School’s first-ever Impact Weekend – and what an inspirational weekend it was!

Impact Weekend is a 60-hour, hands-on, innovative experience that brings together students from IE Business School with social entrepreneurs from across Spain to share ideas and develop socially responsible business plans. The event leverages IE Business School’s business savvy and strong culture of entrepreneurship to empower both social entrepreneurs and students with the tools to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world through business.

I was flattered to receive an invitation to deliver a keynote to kick off the weekend. My talk, titled “Next Generation Business Leadership,” reflected on the evolution of corporate social responsibility over the past decade and positioned social entrepreneurship within a larger context. Drawing lessons from my work with the Aspen Institute -- as well as the Institute’s original research -- I emphasized why these students’ ideas of creating positive societal impact through business were so important - but also highlighted some of the unique obstacles that social entrepreneurs face.

The keynote started in a fun, non-traditional manner – the audience, made up of both IE students, professors, and venture capitalists from around Spain, formed small groups and discussed a painting by Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance (an exercise I personally experienced at an Aspen Institute seminar in Wye, Maryland). Thinking it would be fun to have business students use the other side of their brains, the exercise was successful in getting the group’s creative juices pumping and in highlighting the point that together, as a group, we were pushing forward a shared understanding of a larger concept over the course of the weekend.

After the keynote, student teams presented their business ideas and were rated on the financial sustainability of their idea, its social impact, and its innovativeness. The ideas were incredibly diverse…more on this in a moment!

I served as a judge along with actual social entrepreneurs and angel investors from all around Spain. The top 5 teams remained in the Impact Weekend challenge, and all other students (including those whose ideas were not selected) were given the chance to work on the remaining 5 ideas for the rest of the weekend. Everyone then enjoyed cocktails and tapas at a local bar and got to know each other better – it was exciting to see all the students from across the school bonding and sharing stories from their personal careers that influenced their interest in creating positive societal change through business.

Saturday and Sunday morning were dedicated to brainstorming sessions for the remaining five teams and their supporters. As a mentor, I had the great pleasure of rotating from team to team every hour and brainstorming with the participants. This was incredible! How often do you get to work with aspiring entrepreneurs who are trying to change the world while simultaneously making money?

Ideas ranged from providing solar-powered showers for the middle-class in Brazil to a Groupon-like website offering deals for essential consumer goods to Spain’s unemployed. All five of the ideas were really interesting, and it was a true joy working with the students and other mentors to develop initial ideas into robust final business plan presentations.

After a few intense final hours of putting the finishing touches on the PowerPoint presentations, everyone moved to Hub Madrid, an incredible space dedicated to incubating entrepreneurial ideas. With its wonderful abandoned warehouse aesthetic, it reminded me of Brooklyn! Again, the five teams presented – and what a difference 48 hours makes! Many of the ideas transformed beyond recognition. I removed myself from the final judging panel, since I’d worked so closely with the students over the weekend and would have had difficulty choosing a winner.

After the winner was announced (Tarifas Blancas – they receive access to the exclusive IE Venture Lab, which will help incubate the idea further next semester), we celebrated everyone’s progress and commitment to the core ideal of the event: regardless of whether you’re a social entrepreneur or work within a large corporation, we must seek opportunities to leverage the power of business for the benefit of society. Profitability and social, environmental, and ethical stewardship are not mutually exclusive.

I’m thrilled to have been a part of such a great event! Thanks to Aline Carnizelo, David Fogel, Lalit Chopra, and to all of the incredible student organizers for inaugurating such an inspirational and well-organized weekend! Special thanks to my friend Max Oliva, Associate Director of Social Impact Management at IE Business School, for the invitation to join and to Gary Stewart, Executive Director of the IE Venture Lab, for the warm welcome.

Justin Goldbach is an analyst at Fitzgerald Analytics.  

About Fitzgerald Analytics' commitment to the the Non-Profit, Social, and Public Sectors:Since it's founding in 2005, Fitzgerald Analytics has maintained a commitment to the social sector.  The firm provides services to non-profit clients and social entrepreneurs at discounted rates, donates a portion of profits to charity each year, performs research on smart giving & non-profit efficiency, and supports organizations and events focused on social impact.  For example, the firm's co-founder--Jaime Fitzgerald--will join a panel discussion in July 2011 on best practices and challenges in measuring the impact of philanthropic investments.