May 142012

by Shantanu Chandra MBA ’13

Note: Each of the participants in the Spring 2012 SVC Smith Experience was asked to blog about a session that piqued their interest at this year’s Social Enterprise Symposium.

Pradeep Suthram, MBA '12, leads a session at the College Park Impact Workshop

This Thursday “The Stamp Student Union” at the University of Maryland glistened with social value, nobility and impact. Thanks to the social enterprise symposium organized by the Center of Social Value Creation- the monetarily driven sharp business minds of the Robert H Smith School of Business could take a deep breath and get a feel of contribution and impact to the society. In the contemporary business era the need of social value alongside making profits has acquired paramount importance and hence it is inevitable for business schools to not provide exposure in this area to its students. The social enterprise symposium was a key move in this direction. The event was kicked off by a Key Note address from Mr Stan Litow of IBM and ended with a wonderful Networking reception alongside a number of dignitaries from various panel discussions and workshops.

Though there were a number of events that I would have loved to attend but my crazy schedule at the Business School permitted time for only two of them. Diversity being my forte at the school, I continued to follow it and chose two events which were very diverse in nature. One was the “College Park Impact Workshop” focusing on addressing challenges being faced by local non profits and the other was a rather novel but global issue –“a panel discussion on measuring and reporting sustainability”. There was enormous contrast between the two sessions but that was the fun as well as learning.

College Park Impact Workshop:

The following four local businesses were represented for the impact workshop:

1: The Embry Center for Family Life.

2: Anacostia Watershed Society

3: College Park Food Bank

4: Honey Grow

An introduction was followed by formation of groups with a moderator and one of the business/nonprofit owners. I joined the group moderated by Pradeep Suthram for the Embry Center for Family life. They had the problem of creating awareness and raising resources which would benefit the organization. This gave me a great chance to work with a bunch of unknown yet highly enthusiastic set of students all of whom seemed like an idea generating machine. I was the note-keeper for the group and it was difficult to capture the sea of ideas in my notebook. The universal fact that incredible feats can be achieved as a team was reaffirmed. We redefined the idea of community and resources. We also brainstormed on the various ways of bringing the community together and raising resources for the benefit of the community. We also took the role of various collaborators of the community namely volunteers, parents, siblings, youth etc and worked on ways in which we can make an impact on the community.

In a nutshell, it was an enthralling experience of sitting with the owner of the organization and discussing the various problems they face and providing solutions for the same by brainstorming on ideas via team work.

Measuring and Reporting Sustainability (Panel discussion)

This was a very different session in terms of the businesses involved, problem we were looking at and the panelists attending the session. Measuring and reporting sustainability is primarily an issue related to the big firms and this was probably the thought process behind selecting the panelists from the big firms. We had the following firms represented:

  • IFC (Carmen Niethammer)
  • PwC (Jeff Senne)
  • UL Environment (Catherine P. Sheehy)
  • Deloitte & Touche LLP (Kristen Sullivan)

The session was moderated by Mr Shawn Basak (consultant from Mission Measurement).

The two major takeaways from this panel discussion were:

  1. The challenges involved with measuring and reporting sustainability.
  2. Why engage in sustainability reporting?

There were some key discussions on the importance of sustainability reports and integrated reporting. The panelists also threw some light on the various standards defined by the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative).

The focus of the discussions hovered around the idea that why should the companies engage in sustainability reporting. Some of the value additions of sustainability reporting as pointed out by the panelists were:

  1. Stakeholders Perception
  2. Competitive edge
  3. Morality or ethics
  4. Industry Pressure

The second part of the discussions focused on the challenges involved. There are problems of

  1. Budgeting and Costs
  2. The need of a sustainability officer in the companies
  3. The collection of data related to sustainability
  4. The cross functional or cross vertical nature of data collection points. This requires an involvement of all the verticals within an organization.
  5. The problem of the growing size and growing complexity of the Integrated Reports.
  6. Providing ease to use and manage interfaces for the stakeholders in order to lure them into reading the reports.

Finally the panelists also tried to give some directions related to making a career in this field. Suggestions of doing some related certifications were provided, but since this field is still in its infant stage, the panelists indicated that there is more of internal hiring in this arena compared to hiring university grads. The key is to get in a firm which focuses on sustainability, learn their business in one of the business verticals and then make your own way in the field of increasing and reporting sustainability within the purview of that vertical.

By the end of the entire session, I was overwhelmed by the thought of social value creation and as I walked out of the door-I remembered the words of the manager of the Embry Center of Family Life: Choosing between “Living the life you love” or “Loving the life you live”. I will cherish this quote all my life.

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