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Net Impact Conference: Student Reflection

Published: 3 years ago | 0 comments

By Keiley Gaston

In late October, a few members of the Net Impact Executive Board attended the annual Net Impact Conference in Atlanta. As a Net Impact president for the last three years, attending the conference this year was a top priority for me. It was exciting to be surrounded by people so driven by social impact. The theme of “path to purpose” was so helpful as I start to think about my career after Duke. As so many students in the Duke bubble focus on finding consulting and finance, it was refreshing to learn about other career opportunities in the private and nonprofit sectors.

Day 1 started with a Chapter Leaders Session, where Michelle and I got to meet other chapter leaders from across the country. There were a few breakouts within the session, where we got to collaborate with these chapters and hear about some of the impactful programs they’ve been working on this year. Hearing from bigger chapters helped us brainstorm for events to bring back to Duke’s campus and network for future collaboration in the Triangle area.

Paul Hawken’s speech on climate change and Project Drawdown in the second Keynote session was one of the best parts of the conference by far. He discussed how goals to mitigate, stabilize, or reduce climate change are simply not enough; we need to be reversing. He talked about he and a group of scientists ordered the top 100 most substantive climate change solutions. The best solution they calculated was to empower and educate girls and women. After a summer working with food and agriculture policy, I was excited to see food waste and plant-rich diet both in the top 5 most powerful solutions. The standing ovation he received was well-deserved.

Two of the breakout sessions were tied directly to the theme of my senior thesis, corporate social responsibility, and left me with new papers to research, people to speak with, and ideas to incorporate into my thesis. In Triple Bottom Line: Shared Value, I got to hear from representatives from Cox CR, Intel CR, and Coca Cola Environmental Sustainability. I learned a lot about shared value initiatives and how corporate responsibility leaders are working to raise their CR initiatives as top priorities for executive leadership and boards of directors. Next, a Philanthropy & Impact Investing breakout session introduced me to the concept of emerging vs. strategic philanthropy and asked important questions of how to translate social impact into financial return.

The conference made me excited to come back to Duke to share ideas with the rest of the Net Impact exec board and to apply new social impact insight towards my career search. Thank you to Atlanta and Net Impact for hosting an amazing conference, and to Duke I&E for making it possible for us to attend!

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