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Net Impact Conference: Student Reflection

Published: 3 years ago | 0 comments

By Michelle Qiou

When people said this conference would have plenty of networking opportunities, they weren’t kidding.  Networking easily excites many people in the professional world, but when you’re probably one of the youngest people at the conference, it’s definitely intimidating.  Given my age and my stage in career searching, what I enjoyed more about this conference was the enormous learning opportunity it provided.  The theme of “Path to Purpose” not only excited me to deepen this theme in our Duke Net Impact chapter, but it also spoke heavily to my continuous interest in finding a career with purpose.

Throughout the conference, I was struck by the numerous efforts that large companies and renowned consumer brands have to drive social impact.  The keynote speakers were not only diverse in professional background but also inspiring in their attitudes towards purposeful efforts within the brand they represent.  The very first speaker, Seth Goldman, CEO of HonestTea, described the effort to include HonestTea bottles into McDonald’s happy meals, and the fact that this success demonstrated the scalability of organic goods, which are normally perceived as not scalable.  Kevin Cleary, CEO of Clif Bar, similarly explained the importance of sustainability in consumer preferences, citing that customers would be more likely to buy a product that is pricier if they know it is more sustainable.  I’ve drank HonestTea before and survived on Clif Bars during my high school volleyball seasons, but never would I have thought of those brand’s social responsibility efforts.

Later in the conference I had the chance to listen to several leaders in the corporate social responsibility or sustainability divisions of large companies.  I learned how Best Buy has Teen Tech Centers that aim to educate unemployed youth about coding and creative media, how Samsung is pushing for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education programs, and how Ben n Jerry’s holds open hiring to support ex felons looking for employment.  Another session hosted professionals who work towards racial equity across company departments and executive positions.  A black woman speaker who works for Prosperity Now illustrated that by 2043, the majority of America’s population will be minority, but at the same time, by 2053, the black population will reach a wealth of $0 if nothing is done to change the rapid increase in wealth disparities.  Ben ’n Jerry’s is also working towards this racial equity, and announced that for the first time, its board chair is a black woman.

In the bubble of Duke and its few extremely predominant career paths, I forget that other position titles and career options exist.  I always told myself that I would go into non-profits because I want to do something meaningful, but now I realize how naïve that attitude is.   While working in non-profit is one meaningful path, this conference allowed me to see that it is not the only “path to purpose.”

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