Thinking beyond the bottom line: UBC Sauder panel explores how to maximize social impact, inside and outside of traditional businesses

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(top, left to right) Christie Stephenson, executive director of the Dhillon Centre; Isobel O'Connell, ESG and change management principal at METAGNOSIS Consulting; Laura Plant, impact economist at PwC; UBC Sauder students Carissa Wong, Kailash Senthilkumaran, Lianne Adair, and Cathie Ji; Imran Jiwa, director of impact & finance at Active Impact Investments; David Lee, non-profit and social enterprise consulting.

(bottom, left to right) UBC Sauder students Nancy Tse, Michelle Guo, and Jaden Love.

Posted 2019-11-22
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On November 13, the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics and the UBC Commerce Community Program co-hosted “A Step Beyond Business,” a panel event that brought together four industry professionals to share their insights on how to maximize positive social impact, in and out of the business sector.

Organization of the event was led by second-year BCom students Carissa Wong and Cathie Ji. “An event like this provides students with insight on what their volunteering hours are really for. By bringing in people from different business sectors, we wanted to show ways that we can apply our knowledge and what we’re learning,” said Wong, who is the chair of the Commerce Community Program.

Wong and Ji moderated the panel and Q&A session, which included Imran Jiwa, partner at Lift CPA and director of impact & finance at Active Impact Investments, David Lee, a non-profit and social enterprise consultant, Isobel O’Connell, ESG and change management principal at METAGNOSIS Consulting, and Laura Plant, an impact economist in PwC’s Sustainable Business Solutions team.

“Our intention in inviting these business professionals was to inspire students, whether they be in their first year or nearing graduation, to do something in their career that focuses on social impact. We hope this event will motivate them to think about that early on, and to apply themselves to it when they graduate,” said Ji, who serves as the Commerce Community Program’s VP Events.

The panel took place in a context of increasing pressures on businesses to consider interests beyond those of their owners, including issues of environmental sustainability and social equality. In August of this year, the Business Roundtable issued a statement co-signed by 181 CEOs committing to lead businesses for the benefit of all their stakeholders, be they customers, employees, suppliers, communities or shareholders. 

“This is tremendous news because it is more critical than ever that businesses in the 21st century are focused on generating long-term value for all stakeholders and addressing the challenges we face, which will result in shared prosperity and sustainability for both business and society,” said Ford Foundation President Darren Walker at the time.

Dhillon Centre Executive Director Christie Stephenson said she was “thrilled that students have the opportunity to face topics related to leadership in the nonprofit sector, or leadership in values-based firms, or leadership in traditional firms that have functions that focus on social impact or sustainability.”

 

Shared value

 

Opening the panel’s remarks, David Lee drew on his over 15 years of experience leading and facilitating social impact initiatives with corporate, non-profit and government organizations. 

“I would like to encourage people to think about that broader set of opportunities that might be out there in terms of ‘How could my career and vocation actually be in the non-profit sector?’,’” Lee said. “The reason I took a business degree in the first place was I really liked the fact that you can apply what you learn for concrete outcomes.”

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Panelist Laura Plant, an impact economist working with PwC's Sustainable Business Solutions team, said more and more businesses are realizing the value of considering impacts that go beyond financial results.

Broadening the discussion to what it’s like to work within more traditional businesses, Laura Plant spoke about how more and more companies are beginning to consider impacts that go beyond financial results. 

“David talked about bringing the business mindset into the non-profit; I suppose what I’m doing is bringing that non-profit mindset into a business,” Plant said.

Isobel O’Connell seconded Plant’s points about the increasing relevance for businesses to recognize “shared value” with their stakeholders. “People show up to work to get paid. However, shared value can be the way to reach the two areas, to bridge traditional business models and less traditional ones like social enterprises,” she said.

Rounding out the panel, Imran Jiwa spoke about how important entrepreneurship can be to maximize social impact, be that by supporting and financing new values-based businesses or by starting a new one altogether.

“For us, it was invigorating to start to meet a ton of companies that are trying to solve big problems but also saying ‘we want to double revenue next year, and we want to triple it the year after’,” Jiwa said.

Speaking after the panel and Q&A session, Lee, who is also a UBC Sauder alum (MBA ‘00), emphasized the value these kinds of events provide for students, allowing them to connect with experiences and perspectives that can illustrate a path for their own future.

“I’m hoping to get people here thinking about that world of possibility after they graduate,” Lee said. “And not just what’s possible given the technical skills we learn, but what’s possible in terms of our dreams and aspirations. To hear examples of what people are doing around the world just provides you with more examples of those possibilities.”