Real Problems, Real Change: What I learned from Net Impact 2015

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Dec 142015

By Fasika Delessa, ChangeTheWorld
Nonprofit Partnership Specialist, Sophomore at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

This November I had the incredible opportunity of flying out to the beautiful city of Seattle, Washington to attend the annual Net Impact Conference. There, Ms. Pammi Bhullar and I represented the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC), while exhibiting for the ChangeTheWorld Nonprofit Consulting Program, one of CSVC’s signature programs.

Net Impact is an organization that brings together the brightest minds in business to empower individuals to change the world.

The diversity in attendance was wide, from tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, to innovative non-profits like Green Bronx Machine and Rainforest Alliance.

It was an experience I’ll never forget, and one I’m extremely thankful for. I met so many amazing people who have decided to hold themselves personally accountable for the things they don’t like in their communities, businesses, and campuses, and are actively working to fix them.

Take Stephen Ritz, for instance. His non-profit, Green Bronx Machine, was birthed out of his personal conviction: “I am not willing to accept the things I cannot change, I am willing to change the things I cannot accept.”  As a teacher and administrator in the South Bronx, “the poorest congressional district in the United States,” Stephen Ritz and his students confront the kind of poverty most of us are lucky enough to not know. Before taking action, a majority of his students could not identify basic fruits or vegetables because of the food desert they are growing up in. Stephen Ritz did not let the seemingly inescapable trap of poverty stop him from working towards change for his community. He began gardening in his classroom, and introduced his students to healthy food. His students then began to garden themselves, and his belief that “when we teach kids about nature, we teach them how to nurture” came to life. Attendance at his school skyrocketed from 44% to 90%. Students were excited to come learn. Up for numerous international distinguished teaching awards, Ritz actively practices his own principle that “beyond teaching kids how to count, we must also teach kids what counts.”

After watching Stephen Ritz on stage, sharing the humble beginnings of his non-profit, expressing the love he has for his students and the hope he has for the future, I began to wonder exactly how much the world could change if everyone leveraged this much determination from their struggles.

What angers you? Keeps you up at night?  Do you think it’s too big of a problem? Too messy?  Been around too long? People like Stephen Ritz did not let the answers to these questions inhibit his capability as a change leader.

Ask yourself these questions. Challenge the norms. Understand that many problems exist because people created them, and only people can solve them.

Net Impact was a weekend of believing these factors don’t have to stop us from trying. Yes, maybe it was an insulated bubble of optimists, or specifically, a group of people who own the privilege to voice their frustrations in the first place. By no means are the headlines we wake up to easy to read. But, we all do have our own sphere of influence.

Whether it’s the members of a student group you’re involved in, colleagues in the office, or executives who sit on boards of large corporations, use your voice to speak up for those who don’t have a seat at the table – wherever that may be.

While we don’t all have the luxury of going to a conference like Net Impact to declare the world can be saved, I’m not sure we all need a conference like Net Impact to do something about the things we aren’t satisfied with. We can learn from one another. And yes- while the conference focused on business, the themes discussed and lessons learned know no boundaries.

I never thought I’d have the chance to travel to a city on a coast I’d never been, to hear the testimonies of incredible people, and leave so inspired. I heard about a lot of problems, but I heard equally, if not more, about stories of change and of human triumph. Of what could happen when people turn their concerns into actions and problems into solutions.

It all seems to start with one person. One individual taking some sort of action.

Everyone can make an impact, what will be yours?

 Posted by at 9:09 am

Beyond the Click: Organizing in a Click Generation

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Nov 122010

By Adam Rosenberg

Click. Click. Click.

Tweet. Tweet. Tweet.

Like. Like. Like.

We’re firmly entrenched in the era of “click activism” – where all one needs to do to be involved in a cause or issue is simply click “like” or “retweet” on an idea or group.  As discussed thoroughly in Malcolm Gladwell’s recent piece in The New Yorker – while the bar of entry into the world of social activism has been made lower by social networks and the ability to click your way to public support of an issue, it only scratches the surface on what truly drives real activism and change.


Organizing is the crucial second, third, and fourth steps to creating change once you’ve used your Facebook group to get one million supporters, or 500 RSVPs to your event, or gained 1,200 followers on your Twitter account.  The methods with which you can promote your cause or issue through social networks are endless but in the end these are still just tools to use in your journey to create change.  Without organizing and creating infrastructure – social media activism around your issue becomes just a click-propelled Internet meme; a trending topic earning its 15 minutes of visibility but with no clear goals or accomplishments.  Organizing and setting clear goals for your issue, while literally creating a roadmap to guide you and your supporters, helps chart victory.

It’s not as daunting a task as it sounds.  You must only ask yourself: “Ok, what do I want these people to do?”.  Real action comes from delegating tasks and the creating the ability to get involved in a multi-faceted way to your supporters.  It’s great to use Facebook or Twitter as a hub for raising awareness of your issue – but without clear goals and “real life” tasks and asks, those followers and supporters are just numbers.  After you’ve gained followers, figure out what they can do to best further your organizations cause and reach your goals.  Sometimes its writing letters to influencers in government, other times it might be making phone calls to assist in a GOTV effort.   The benefit of social networks is the ease in which people can share information with one another, organizing them is what truly harnesses their power by giving you the ability to treat the supporter in Springfield, IL differently than the one in Philadelphia, PA.  Organizing and creating tasks related to real actions and goals means the difference between a popular Facebook cause and engaged supporters on an issue.

Getting supporters to RSVP to a Facebook event is only part of the process in creating real change and activism.  You must be prepared to ask people to do something after the click.  That’s not to say that organizing can’t be done from your couch – but successful community organizing works in concert with social media outreach.  It’s where you ask your thousands of Facebook supporters to join your email list, to tell their family and friends to donate, or even generate multimedia vehicles telling their personal story on the issue.

As technology continues to adapt around us to further lower the bar of entry into engagement in a social issue – we need to consistently follow up with supporters once they become engaged.  The growth of social networks deserves an enormous amount of credit in this area as they’ve allowed millions to become at least aware of issues they otherwise may not know about.  Giving them the tools to carry the banner of your cause and further broaden your support are the key steps after the “click”.

Adam Rosenberg is the Communications Director for Salsa Labs, Inc. ( – a technology company providing online organizing tools to nonprofits and advocacy groups.  He recently moderated a panel as part of CSVC’s fall speaker series entitled “Social Media: Game Changer or World-Changer.”

Jul 292010

By Scott Henderson

Several months have passed since we gathered at the Smith School for the 2010 Social Enterprise Symposium and feasted on a variety of perspectives and ideas shared by presenters, panelist, and audience members alike.  One particularly profound perspective deserves further reflection and consideration.

In recent weeks, two separate op-eds ran in the Washington Post ( and Wall Street Journal deriding corporate social responsibility initiatives.  Both commentators framed their arguments around the maxim that corporations must place the creation of value for shareholders as its primary objective.  While Matthew Bishop and Michael Green ( offered a solid rebuttal to the two critiques, something we learned at the Symposium needs to be included in this debate.

Stanley Litow’s keynote address about IBM’s decision to center their core strategy on corporate citizenship provided substantial proof on the prudence of corporate citizenship.  What was most compelling was his statement that IBM reaps a 3:1 return on investment for their corporate citizenship efforts.

By devoting their best and brightest minds to tackling some of the world’s most vexing issues, Litow claimed IBM can trace its ROI to five sources:

Talent – recruitment and retention of their knowledge-based workforce.

Investments – IBM has seen sizeable investments in its stock from Socially Responsible Investment Funds (SRIs) that account for $1 trillion in assets and must invest in socially responsible organizations.

Technology innovation – the world’s biggest problems require new solutions and breakthroughs, many of which IBM can use to solve similar problems for their paying clients and generating revenues from licenses and patents in the broader marketplace.

Brand – the major emphasis of their advertising and marketing campaigns center around their corporate citizenship efforts and helps them stand out from their competitors

New market entry – they have found much greater success in gaining entry into new countries and regions by leading with their corporate citizenship initiatives

The ability to generate $3 for every dollar invested in corporate citizenship initiatives is important and noteworthy.  Because it is IBM making the claim, we social entrepreneurs can take great comfort in their validation of the notion that doing good can translate into doing well.

What do you think? Is this noteworthy or not worthy?

Scott Henderson is managing principal of CauseShift, a team of strategists who help clients provoke, connect, and market. He has led shifts for a variety of organizations, including P&G, UNICEF, and, a yearlong, multi-partner initiative to spark innovation and engage more people in the cause of ending hunger in America. Scott is a regular keynote speaker and publisher of

Five Reasons to Attend 'Beyond the Latte'

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Apr 052010

By Margaret Swallow

If you are reading this blog, chances are you have probably received the email invitation to Thursday’s event which is being sponsored by the Center for Social Value Creation and the University of Maryland Office of Sustainability.  If you still have not decided whether or not to attend this event, let me suggest these five reasons:

1.   The panel discussion will feature a unique mix of players from the coffee industry, as highlighted below:

  • Martin Mayorga – Martin is the founder of Mayorga Coffee Roasters, Inc.  In addition to roasting coffee for the wholesale market, Martin and his wife manage the local Mayorga Coffee shop.
  • Dennis Macray – Dennis is the Director of Ethical Sourcing for Starbucks.
  • Laura Tillghman – Laura is the Communications Director for Sustainable Harvest in Portland, OR.

From 5-6pm Martin, Dennis, and Laura will participate in a panel discussion that I will moderate and will share their thoughts on some of the most pressing questions facing the coffee industry.

2.  Following the panel discussion, there will be three  breakout sessions as described below:

  • Conservation and Ethical Sourcing and the New Coffee Value Chain – for this session Dennis will be joined by Justin Ward from Conservation International.
  • Fair Trade and Certifications – Laura will be leading this breakout.
  • Gender Equality and Labor – Cristina Manfre, a consultant who has worked many agricultural projects focused on gender issues will join me for this session that will focus on the role that women play in the coffee industry “from seed to cup.”

The breakout sessions will provide an opportunity for attendees to dialogue with the session leaders on these important topics, so if you a question in any of these areas or a great idea you want to share, this is your chance.

3.   If you love coffee but have never been to a coffee farm, this event will help you appreciate the effort it takes for a coffee bean to travel through the value chain.

4.   Even if you’re not a coffee drinker today, you may be someday, so this would be a great chance to learn more about this industry that affects the lives of millions of people, many of them in the developing world.

 5. Free Coffee! Following the breakout sessions there will be a reception from 7-7:30PM featuring a special blend of coffee generously provided by Martin.

I hope that these five reasons have sparked your interest and that you will join us on Thursday.  Please share the word with your friends/family/business colleagues – the event is free and open to the public.  The event will take place in Van Munching Hall.  Details and registration are available via this link:

Maryland alumna Margaret Swallow spent 23 years working for the world’s largest consumer goods company (Procter & Gamble) and four years as the Executive Director of a small nonprofit organization (the Coffee Quality Institute). She is currently a consultant working in both the private and public sectors with a focus on leadership development.

Mar 252010

**This post is part of our Social Enterprise Series this week, leading up to the 2nd annual Social Enterprise Symposium on Thursday, March 25.  View the live stream of the event here. 

Marriott’s “spirit to serve” our customers, employees, and communities is the way we do business and has been an important part of our company culture since our founding over 80 years ago.  Working with charitable organizations we are serving our communities through these signature SERVE issues:

S Shelter and Food

  …addressing housing and hunger needs including in times of disaster

E Environment

  …working towards a greener, healthier planet

R Readiness for Hotel Careers

  …educating and training the next generation

V Vitality of Children

  …aiding sick and impoverished children

E Embracing Global Diversity and Inclusion

  …providing opportunities, especially through the workplace

For almost three decades Marriott’s environmental efforts have focused on water and energy conservation.  As our program has matured, we began collaborating in 2007 with Conservation International, a global conservation organization, to map our carbon footprint and develop a long-term environmental strategy for full future sustainability.

It includes:

 (1) carbon offsets through the protection of rainforest;

(2) further reduce fuel and water consumption by 25 percent per available room over the next 10 years as well as install solar power at up to 40 hotels by 2017;

(3) engage the company’s top 40 vendors to supply price-neutral greener products across 12 categories of our $10 billion supply chain;

(4) create green construction standards for our hotel developers to achieve LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council; and

(5) educate and inspire employees and guests to support the environment, including through green meetings and events.

Rainforest preservation is a cornerstone of Marriott’s environmental strategy and one way we are engaging our guests and employees in protecting the environment.   In 2008 Marriott pledged $2 million to protect 1.4 million acres of rainforest within the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve in Brazil.  The project provides education, medical care, employment and a “Bolsa Floresta” stipend for the more than 3,000 Juma residents (about 400 families) who are trained and compensated to protect the rainforest.  Juma is a REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) initiative addressing deforestation and the consequential emissions of greenhouse gases, and is also the first avoided deforestation project to achieve Gold Status under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standards.

Closer to home, Marriott’s headquarters in Bethesda is also working toward a more sustainable future.  The building was recently awarded LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Existing Building Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).  More than 30 of Marriott’s hotels are also in the pipeline to achieve LEED certification. Marriott was the first major hotel company in the U.S. with a LEED certified hotel–The Inn and Conference Center by Marriott at the University of Maryland in College Park.

For more information about Marriott’s corporate social responsibility program and environmental efforts, please visit:


Marriott International is a platinum sponsor of this year’s Social Enterprise Symposium.

Getting Real: Stripping Away the Façade of CSR

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Mar 242010

**This post is part of our Social Enterprise Series this week, leading up to the 2nd annual Social Enterprise Symposium on Thursday, March 25.  View the live stream of the event here. 

By Scott Henderson

Let me get this out in the open.  I think it’s ridiculous that we even need to have a term like “corporate social responsibility” or “CSR.”  What’s more meaningless than talking in jargon and acronyms?

You can’t compartmentalize doing good anymore.  It’s not a department.  It’s not a job title.  It’s who you are and what you do, not just what you say you are.

Somewhere along the way, we collectively forgot this fact.

In the broadcast era, those running companies were detached from those who bought their products and services. Brands were created to personify the company.  By their very nature, brands are artificial constructs.  This disconnectedness created a numbing effect on ethics and decision-making – much like a man shaving with a face full of Novocain.

Historically, companies have used cause marketing, corporate philanthropy, and corporate social responsibility efforts to offset any negative behaviors.  Interestingly, many have housed these in different silos of operations. But with the world increasingly becoming interconnected, consumers want to see brands and companies realign their cause efforts into an integrated strategy.

For this reason, companies need to be rooted in authentic commitments to doing good. They need to be alive and dynamic, constantly manifesting themselves in the individual and collective actions of company staff and like-minded partners. Their initiatives should be aligned with company culture and principles, not out there as standalone projects.

Everything about our society is changing – rapidly and constantly.
  How we communicate, get and share information, and engage each other — online and offline – is different than it was just a few short years ago.

Information moves faster, people are more closely connected, and the level of interest and commitment that people have when it comes to social issues and causes has never been greater. Our society has shifted and how companies support causes, respond to disasters, and mobilize the public needs to shift as well.

The time has come for companies to move past the gimmicks and devote more earnest efforts at addressing the root problems of our day.  It’s time companies ask more of their charity partners and actually solve the causes, not just serve them.

It’s time we get real about our role in bettering the world.  Are you with me?

Scott Henderson is managing director of CauseShift, helping organizations think, innovate and solve problems.  He is currently leading, a yearlong initiative to shift the conversation about hunger in America and create real, tangible solutions.  Follow him on Twitter at @ScottyHendo.

Mar 232010

**This post is part of our Social Enterprise Series this week, leading up to the 2nd annual Social Enterprise Symposium on Thursday, March 25.  View the live stream of the event here.

By Daniel Aronson

Interest in corporate responsibility and sustainability is growing exceptionally rapidly: By one measure, interest in sustainability has increased 1,000% in the last five years and over 350% in just the last year. Everyone knows CSR and sustainability are fast growing areas, but when we quantify it, we get an even better sense for just how fast the tide is rising.

With this growth comes a change in the influence of social responsibility, and that is accompanied by – as it must be – a change in how social responsibility is practiced.

The Link to Business Strategy

For many, many years, social responsibility proponents have been trying to make it more central to how businesses think and what they do (I’ve been working on this personally for over a decade, and others have been involved that long or longer). And we have really begun to succeed, with more and more companies making it part of their strategy and operations.

Going along with that is a burgeoning change in how social responsibility is practiced – bringing in the types of practices that are used to tackle the other important issues companies face. For example, companies are doing much more about collecting, analyzing, and reporting information on their social responsibility and sustainability initiatives.

A number of firms have made major strides in this area, such as one Fortune 50 company that recently launched a dashboard showing energy use across the hundreds of buildings they own. This is as is it should be: social responsibility and sustainability are too  important not to be managed to the same high standards as the rest of the business. We must be responsible, and we must also be smart about how we do it.

Closing the Knowledge Gap

Even with this progress, however, there is still a long way to go. IBM research shows that well under half of companies have a good understanding of what their customers expect from them in terms of corporate responsibility. And only a small minority collects CSR-related information as frequently as they need it. To truly ensure responsibility’s place at the table, these gaps in knowledge and information need to be closed, the way they would be if they existed in other parts of the business.

IBM’s Approach


For today’s businesses, which are complex, global, and fast-moving, this will require technology. For almost 100 years, IBM has helped the world advance through science and technology, and corporate responsibility is no different. We are using our Smarter Planet technology to helping businesses know more, react faster, and use resources more efficiently – for example, a new system helped one group reduce their employees’ carbon footprint from travel and work by 40%.

Engaging Employees

We’re not only using technology to improve operations, but also to improve how corporate decisions reflect people’s deepest values. Over a hundred thousand IBMers were able to participate in a two-day, real-time conversation on what opportunities would reflect the values of IBM – one of which is “innovation that matters for our clients and for the world” – and the needs of our clients.

One of the results of that conversation was IBM’s Big Green Innovations initiative to improve management of alternative energy, carbon, and water as well as to improve modeling of things like pollution, climate, and pandemics. As a result of the passion of our employees and the opportunity to help clients with these important issues, IBM invested $100 million in this initiative.

Having thousands of employees participate in devising an idea to make money and improve the world at the same time shows something about what IBM is like, as does investing $100 million in making it happen. Sometimes overlooked is the fact that the focus areas for Big Green tell you something about IBM too: A penchant for taking on the problems of tomorrow.

When people think about the most pressing environmental problems, they typically think about energy, pollution, and carbon, but it is much less common to include water on that list. But water is not only a big driver of today’s issues (a 10% reduction in the energy used for water would be the equivalent of taking millions of cars off the road) it is going to be an even bigger issue down the road. IBM wants to be a leader in solving not just today’s problems, but tomorrow’s too.

On behalf of the 400,000 employees of IBM, I look forward to talking and working with you to move corporate responsibility, and the world, forward.

Daniel Aronson is the Global Offering Lead, Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability, Strategy & Transformation, Global Business Services at IBM.  IBM is a gold sponsor of this year’s Social Enterprise Symposium.

2 Tips for Landing a Job in CSR

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Mar 222010

**This post leads off our Social Enterprise Series this week, leading up to the 2nd annual Social Enterprise Symposium on Thursday, March 25.  View the live stream of the event here.

By Lucille Pilling

How do I find a job in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability? This is a question that the panel on CSR: How a Company Communicates its Cause identified as one to anticipate and one I am asked often.

The response is that there are very few positions available in this field (although that is beginning to change).  The majority of corporate CSR related positions are awarded to internal candidates that either are seasoned professionals that know the firm well and are close to retirement or young enthusiastic employees who are given sole responsibility to lead a CSR initiative. This too is changing as corporations progress from CSR as a form of risk aversion, to CSR as strategic philanthropy, to CSR as an integral part of core business strategy.

Think Company First

The best way to obtain a position in CSR is to identify a firm with an environmental, social or governance (ESG) message that matches your interests, start working there and become a visible participant in the firm’s ESG component.

Personal Branding

Another piece to this approach is to develop your personal brand by identifying and unleashing your passion in your career within the work at hand, the organization and how you progress. As the recession recedes, corporations are increasingly realizing the importance of attracting and retaining talent through their CSR initiatives. This is particularly true, as the recent study from Pew Charitable Trusts verifies, for the Millennium generation.

Dr. Lucille B. Pilling works at the intersection of global public health and corporate social responsibility.  Her involvement in CSR began 14 years ago developing public private partnerships on the nonprofit side. She teaches CSR at New York University and is a CSR strategist.