If you hear “MBA” and think “soulless banker of the future,” you’re not alone—but you’re not necessarily right, either. Business skills are just tools, after all, and how they’re applied makes all the difference. Not everybody at Wharton or Harvard Business School has their heart set on a career of amoral profit-seeking: Many want to succeed by doing good.
This Thursday, GOOD Business is going to meet some of these folks at the 2011 Net Impact conference in Portland, Oregon. Net Impact is a 19-year old organization founded by a group of MBAs interested in making a difference as well as making a buck, and at the time they felt “extremely isolated,” says Liz Maw, the organization’s executive director.
Maw says the organization’s goal is to catalyze the next generation of business leaders to change the way they think about work, and break down the artificial boundaries between career and social impact. Even in a time when everyone’s first priority is simply getting a job, Maw says, anyone—no matter her position—can help businesses become more socially responsible and sustainable.
The 2,600 expected attendees will have some excellent role models at this year’s conference, including leaders from these three GOOD Companies, plus Craig Newmark, the man behind craigslist; Sally Jewell, president and CEO of apparel-maker REI, the country’s largest cooperative; and Leslie Christian, CEO of Portfolio21, a pioneer in impact investing.
The organization is also taking advantage of its location: We’ve all heard the jokes about Portland’s over-the-top love of sustainability, but the obsession has paid off, with a number of important local organizations dedicated to responsible public behavior. The conference will provide a forum for attendees to work with Portland leaders like the Bus Project and Upstream Public Health to solve important social problems.
One other thing to look forward to (shameless self-promotion alert) is the panel I’ll be moderating on the future of corporate social responsibility: I’ll be grilling executives from companies like Autodesk, Deloitte, and Campbell Soup Company about emerging trends in their field.
We’ll also have a GOOD booth at the expo, so come say hi, and don’t forget Saturday night’s Halloween-themed closing party. To truly terrify all of the ethical business fans, I’ll be dressed as an industrial strip-mining conglomerate that also makes genetically modified-food and has a finance arm specializing in subprime mortgages. Boo!