On Saturday November 8, we had the honor of representing the Social Enterprise Institute Student Association at Harvard’s Igniting Innovation Summit on Social Entrepreneurship, the largest undergraduate-run conference on social innovation in the world. The conference welcomed several hundred undergraduates and both established and youth social entrepreneurs to Cambridge for an exciting and engaging day of discussion and education around innovation in the social sector.

Rachael Chong, co-founder and CEO of Catchafire, the world’s largest skills-based volunteer database, spoke about her own journey and engaged with the audience on our “moments of anger” that inspired us to engage in social change. In closing the first keynote session, five winners of the “Global Trailblazers” competition were announced – identifying the leading youth social entrepreneurs working in environmental activism, healthcare, and education around the world today.

For the first panel session, we chose to split up, attending “Igniting the Urbanscape” and “The Future of Food”. The “Igniting the Urbanscape” panel session featured Clara Brenner from Tumml, a San Francisco-based incubator and angel investing firm for startups focusing on domestic urban engagement; Rose Bloom of HandUp, one of Tumml’s startups that utilizes technology to facilitate donations to the homeless in the Bay Area; and Phil Weiner of UrbnEarth, a social enterprise utilizing innovative design to improve food security in food deserts in American cities. The three panelists incited a lively discussion that covered minority engagement in cities, the interaction between government and civil society, and an apparent paradigm shift towards startups as the new pioneers of social initiatives. Ultimately, the panelists concluded that more people need to start social ventures, in order to stimulate a new trend toward injecting the “social” into business.

“The Future of Food” panel featured Rodney North, of Equal Exchange; Brad McNamara, the CEO of Freight Foods; Kris Bronner, co-founder of UNREAL Candy; and Nicolas Warren, CEO of Perfect Fuel. Each representing a different niche of the food market, the panelists answered questions on getting past the early adopter stage, and the challenges of compromising between social mission and profit. Both Warren and Bronner noted that their target demographic reflected their own priorities, having both created foods to meet their own needs. They each described both the importance and the challenges of adapting a product to broaden their demographic of customers. Both North and Warren reflected on challenges to their mission in the pursuit of growth, and how they each opted to compromise a small part of the mission in order to allow the rest of the business to grow, which ultimately created a larger social impact by scaling.

Following lunch, chief emerging payments officer of MasterCard, Ed McLaughlin and former Trader Joe’s president Doug Rauch of Trader Joes and, gave keynote addresses. Rauch, who is currently CEO of Conscious Capitalism message, gave a powerful talk on understanding the purpose of business – necessarily going beyond profit – as the key to success. Following the keynote was the only country-specific panel at the Summit which focused on social innovation in Brazil. The panel included speakers across industries in finance, the media, and social enterprise: Andre Street, founder of Arpex Capital, Fernando Grostein, the filmmaker behind Quebrando o Tabu, and Priscilla Cruz, of Todos pela Educação. The diverse backgrounds of each speaker made for a fascinating discussion of the dynamic landscape of social enterprise in Brazil. All agreed that the shifting society and economy are bolstering an environment of entrepreneurship, and that the next generation of Brazilian leaders will demand social responsibility as a core facet of business.

The summit closed with two final speakers: Bryn Mooser of Ryot News and Rick Ridgeway of Patagonia. Mooser shared the inspiration for Ryot News, which was founded in reaction to the overwhelming pessimism of most media coverage and aims to inspire readers to make a change in the world through calls to action at the end of each article. With the last word, Ridgeway shared Patagonia’s framework for environmental responsibility and especially the brand’s emphasis on responsible and transparent sourcing.

All told, the summit left us motivated to bring together creativity and business for social impact, as we were inspired by real world examples of people shaping the future global economy.


Lexy von Keszycki and Will McAneny are members of the Social Enterprise Review team. Check out their work at http://www.nusereview.com/

Igniting Innovation: http://www.ignitinginnovationsummit.com/

charity: water: http://www.charitywater.org/

Catchafire: https://www.catchafire.org/

Tumml: https://tumml.org/

HandUp: https://handup.us/

UrbnEarth: http://urbnearth.com/

Categories: News