The Social Enterprise Symposium may only be in its fourth year, but it has become one of the biggest and most anticipated events of the year for members of the University of Maryland community. This year’s super-sized event – on March 1, 2012, from noon to 9 p.m. — drew approximately 1,200 people all coming together with the goal of creating a better world through business.
There were two keynote speakers – Stan Litow, vice president of citizenship and corporate affairs and president of IBM’s International Foundation, and Letitia Webster, director of global corporate sustainability of VF Corporation – and about 50 speakers and panelists at concurrent sessions throughout the day, a student business plan competition, interactive workshops, and a networking event.
“The Social Enterprise Symposium aims to inform, educate and influence future leaders, students, professionals and stakeholders on cutting edge innovation in creating impactful, sustainable social change,” said Melissa Carrier, champion of the event and executive director of the Center for Social Value Creation at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. “It is an event where entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, philanthropists, corporate leaders, and students can engage one another to explore, learn, and challenge what they know about building solutions to the pressures of the 21st century. With more than 1,200 registered attendees, this was indeed our largest conference to date. We nearly doubled participation from last year (six times since 2009) and tripled the number of sessions and workshops.”
Tim McCollum, co-founder of Madecasse Chocolate, spoke about his company in a session called “Sustainable Chocolate Sourcing.”
Student Megan Burkhart writes:
His discussion focused on the bean-to-bar process, which starts with yellow football-sized cocoa pods carried in baskets on women’s heads to a small processing shop, and ends with beautifully hand-wrapped chocolate products with distinct cherry notes and a subtle sweetness. The chocolate is shipped to the United States and sold in upscale retail outlets such as Whole Foods and Wegmen’s, as well as online.
Madecasse’s operating principle is primarily, ‘why not?’ Why not import an industrial cocoa roaster to a remote island off the coast of East Africa? Why not partner with local paper companies to make sustainable packaging for finished products? Why not figure out a way to help cocoa farmers in Madagascar generate four times more income than fair trade cocoa alone? McCollum laughed and shrugged as he described the company’s growth, explaining that he and his partner just loved the country, and were willing to face the challenges and rolling eyes of potential investors to prove that single-source, bean-to-bar chocolate production was possible in Madagascar.
As a former Peace Corps volunteer myself, I immediately related to the inspiration and love for the country one feels during (and after) service.
At many points during the discussion, McCollum emphasized that Madecasse was founded on inspiration and love for Madagascar, and faith that the essential elements of a successful enterprise were present on the island. The company’s success represents the real potential for economic development in Africa through the use of natural resources, human talent, and a lot of patience.
The chocolate is delicious, the revenue model goes ‘beyond fair trade,’ and I left the session with a renewed passion for leveraging business principles to thwart developmental catch-22s and create sustainable change in the world.
Stan Litow leads IBM’s corporate citizenship program and under his leadership IBM has been widely regarded as a global leader in corporate social responsibility and prized for its societal, environmental and civic leadership, as well as its labor practices. “It matters less what you call it and more what you actually do,” he said. IBM’s corporate citizen program, which has since been replicated by companies like FedEx, PepsiCo and John Deere to name a few, follows the Peace Corps model and allows IBM to deploy their best technology and talent to critical societal issues across the globe. Each year, thousands of IBM employees from around the world apply to the program and 500 are selected to work in multicultural teams. Litow said that the program has been going on for about four years and has had 1,400 participants in 30 countries.
“I was greatly moved by a student who came up to Mr. Litow and me to say that he so enjoyed the keynote address and was ‘inspired to do something impactful today,’” said Carrier. “It was polite, sincere, and exactly what we hope for after a keynote address. That truly summed up what this conference is about – sharing the best business has to offer with our students and giving them the tools, the confidence, and the networks they need to be change agents in their careers.”
Letitia Webster, head of sustainability efforts at VF Corporation, an apparel company that makes dozens of labels including North Face, Nautica, Timberland, Wrangler, and Lee, among others, gave the evening keynote address. She opened the eyes of many to the waste that occurs in the apparel industry. About 94 percent of the materials that go into a product are wasted and never used in the product itself, she said – it takes about 1,300 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans. She said that a transformational change is needed. “We need a thinking revolution: how we source and use our products.”
The symposium featured many interactive sessions including a Carbon War Room Workshop developed by Alex Osterwalder, author of “Business Model Generation,” where attendees broke up into teams to understand how a product or service can be offered in new and novel ways. A special “Fish Bowl” discussion session allowed students to interact directly with featured speakers in small groups of three or four and proved very popular with the students and speakers alike, given the opportunity for more substantive engagement.
A Social Entrepreneurship Business Pitch Competition, co-sponsored by the Dingman Center and Center for Social Value Creation, was one of the day’s most exciting attractions. Five student teams with socially minded business ideas were selected to present their business ideas to a panel of expert social entrepreneurship judges for a chance to win up to $1,250 of seed funding. The winning team was MyMaryland.Net, a website that connects Maryland residents with their elected officials in democracy's first ongoing open forum.
The event culminated with a networking fair and reception, during which participants had the opportunity to speak with representatives from more than 20 organizations, including the event’s sponsoring companies: Ernst & Young (Gold), PwC (Silver), E-Structors (Bronze), and our good friends at GE.
The event was hosted by the Center for Social Value Creation at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and organized by students in AshokaU Terp Changemakers, supported by the CSVC and one of the original programs in Ashoka’s Changemaker Campus group.
Alissa Arford, Office of Marketing Communications