The inaugural meeting took place in Edinburgh during the autumn. I hadn’t heard of Net Impact before, but the blurb sounded interesting – using business to make a positive impact on society.
Jim Schorr, one of the co-founders of Net Impact, was in Edinburgh for a conference, and he told us a bit about the organisation – where it came from, why it was formed, what it does.
Jim heard Anita Roddick speak when he was an MBA student in the early 1990s, and what she said helped him make sense of his studies – he said it brought meaning to business through social responsibility rather than profit (or greed) alone being the motivator. He started networking with similar “misfit MBAs” and started working with non-profit organisations and “social enterprises”. (A quibble: a lot of the words people use talking about this kind of thing seem to have as many meanings as there are people using them. I am not certain what a social enterprise actually – I am looking forward to finding out.)
Out of this work sprang Net Impact, initially as a way of developing a social and ethical dimension to business students, and then, as they stopped being students, in businesses themselves. It is a loose network of people interested in business as an agent for social change.
I am interested, but slightly sceptical – like many of the people I spoke to at the meeting. Indeed, I think it was the discussions as we stood drinking wine after the meeting that added most to me: a lot of people were trying to interpret what we had heard, to try to understand what we could do. Neither Jim nor Sarah Ivory, who started the Edinburgh chapter, could tell us what we should or would do: it is left to those interested to actually form the group.
Which is slightly daunting, but very interesting.