Not Your Typical Conference

It is rare that one can attend a conference that not only helps you network, but is educational and entertaining.  That was the case for the Net Impact Conference last week in San Jose, CA.  I had been targeting that conference long before I began classes at Smith.  I knew I wanted to cultivate a career centered on the values of sustainability, positive social impact and climate issues that Net Impact espouses and the conference was a great way to get involved.

The conference began on Thursday, the 24th with a series of workshops designed to help people develop networking skills, learn how to develop an impact career and other topics.  Friday and Saturday both followed a schedule that began with a keynote speaker (or speakers) each morning followed by talks and panels every two hours until the evening.  The great part was that each two-hour session provided attendees with well over ten different options for talks to listen to.  These topics ranged from finance, to food sustainability, energy issues, personal development, business trends – it was difficult to not have to choose between two or three topics that interested you.

Friday also included a career fair.  While it was not nearly as large as what many experienced at the Black MBA Conference, it did provide the benefit of small lines, companies entirely focused on social value creation and even large companies such as Sprint or Best Buy promoting their green brand and jobs related to it.  I spent a lot of time at the career fair learning about the various companies and hearing about the impact they are having.

The highlight of the entire conference for me was the keynote talk we heard on Saturday morning.  In front of well over 1000 people, a moderator led a discussion that featured Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club and Ken Cohen, the Vice President of Public & Government Affairs at Exxon Mobil Corporation.  I don’t know how Net Impact convinced two people with such polar opposite views to talk in front of us; it was genuinely uncomfortable, entertaining and educational.  From the outset, I was happy to hear the Exxon VP say that his company does believe that climate change is real.  However, as soon as the Sierra Club director said that he felt the only thing he and Ken Cohen could agree on was the fact that they were both happy to be there, I knew it would be tense.  Their terse discussion ranged from topics such as fracking, political donations and subsidies with the Sierra Club director on the offensive the entire time.  By the end, it was clear that Ken Cohen was happy to be done and that Michael Brune still had punches to throw while the rest of us were left with mouths agape.

I am very happy that I was able to attend the Net Impact Conference.  It was refreshing to be around so many people with similar passions while also being able to learn how I can advance my career in this growing field.  Next year the conference will be in Minneapolis and I highly recommend it to everyone.
– Dan McCarron, 1st year board member