Engaging Students in Impact Investing – SDA Bocconi School of Management

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-05-23Interest in impact investing is rising, particularly among the future generation of entrepreneurs, professionals and investors. The number of MBA students that are interested in pursuing a career within impact investing is higher than what business schools imagine. Schools are starting to explore this interest, developing a range of innovative initiatives and opportunities for students to further engage in this topic.

One such initiative is the Impact Investing Lab at SDA Bocconi School of Management in Italy. I spoke with Veronica Vecchi, the Head of the Impact Investing Lab, Manuela Brusoni, professor at SDA Bocconi, responsible for coordinating all the sustainability initiatives of SDA Bocconi and PRME liaison, and Francesca Casalini, in charge of managing the MIINT competition.

Introduce the Impact Investing Lab and how it came about

The Impact Investing Lab was launched in 2013 by SDA Bocconi School of Management together with Oltre Venture, the first impact investing fund manager in Italy and also one of the first at European level, with the aim to become a reference point at national and international level to support the development of impact investing as a new investment approach, able to attract public and private capital.

Impact investing, according to SDA Bocconi, means new entrepreneurial solutions, with scalable business models, that can create economic and social value through innovation in products, services and processes. In mature economies like Italy and Europe, these enterprises mainly operate in segments traditionally or potentially served by the welfare state system, i.e. healthcare, education housing and employment, serving the society at large and not necessarily its most deprived and poor segments, which remain a core focus of governments, supranational organisations, foundations, charities and social enterprises.

What are the key features of the programme?

The Impact Investing Lab is a platform whose mission is to generate knowledge, share experiences and bridge students, investors, entrepreneurs and policy makers, in order to create a vibrant community active in the impact investing field.

Engaging Students in Impact Investing – SDA Bocconi School of Management

The Lab leverages SDA Bocconi’s strengths and cross-cutting expertise in finance, entrepreneurship and public management and policy to offer:

  1. Seminar series and events aimed at building awareness and spreading best practice among professionals
  2. Action research aimed at supporting private clients as well as the public sector to implement impactful strategies. For example we have position papers on public private collaborations for social impact creation and impact investing more generally.I
  3. Elective courses and online training (MOOC) to bring social innovation and impact investing closer to undergraduate, graduate, MBA and masters’ students

What have been some of the challenges?  

But despite the increasing interest, it is still the field of a few. This is particularly true in Italy, where impact investing is a small niche and the boundaries between it and the traditional social sector are blurred. For this reason, it has been quite challenging to launch dedicated executive education programmes as well as to attract sponsorships to scale up the activities of the Lab.


Last year, SDA Bocconi joined the international competition MIINT – MBA Impact Investing and Network Training, organised by the impact investing firm Bridges Ventures. This initiative was a great opportunity not only to bring impact investing closer to MBA students but also to create an vibrant network of like-minded business schools and future professionals active in the impact investing field. At local level, the MIINT was also a pivotal opportunity to promote impact investing by creating meaningful links among our students, the business associations, entrepreneurs and investors.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

As schools of management, we want to train tomorrow’s leaders that strive to generate a positive impact on society and impact investing can actually usher a new approach and mindset towards promoting innovation for the social good. However, to promote impact investing requires a strong institutional commitment, a mid-term time horizon and a coordination among different initiatives at the business school level (training, research, extracurricular, startup competition, …).

What’s next for the initiative?

We are looking to increase the number of international partnerships, leveraging also our link with the European Venture Philanthropy Association, the Academy of Business in Society and the Global impact Investing Network. We’d like to streghthen the link among all our initiatives dedicated to social entrepreneurship and sustainable finance and convey an increasing number of social impact startups to our startup incubator speedMIup. We are also planning to reinforce the weight of impact investing into our curricula, starting from our MBA programmes portfolio

Universities Bringing the Business Community Together – Examples from Denmark, Iceland, Argentina, and USA

Business schools are creating and facilitating spaces where the business community and the academic community can come together to discuss current issues as well as potential solutions to these issues. These collaborative spaces, whether they explore sustainability and the SDGs more broadly or focus in on specific industries or topics, bring benefits not just to the university and its students and researchers, but to the business community as well.

Here are a few examples of collaborative projects from Denmark, Iceland, Argentina and the USA.

Denmark: The Public-Private platform at Copenhagen Business School takes place yearly. Through a combination of interdisciplinary research, teaching and public engagement the platform aims to help mobilise, foster and develop society wide solutions to pressing matters of public concern. The goal of the platform is to initiate dialogue across the traditional divides between public and private, thus facilitating the creation of novel forms of diagnosis and intervention. Business leaders, politicians, managers and academics come together to exchange views and discuss approaches to specific problems with the aim of initiating collaborative programmes and discreet projects to explore novel solutions to these issues. The platform is engaged in several strategic partnerships, including with the Danish Ministry of the Environment.

Argentina: IAE’s Institutional Development Department invited companies from industrial sectors in Argentina to come to their School to share experiences and reflect on how to improve these sectors, without a specific research agenda. This approach expanded the range of companies and institutions contacted, opening the School doors to those that were not necessarily interested in participating in a specific research plan. The result was a new concept of “collaborative forums”, where companies and institutions gather at the School to discuss different topics and share experiences, slowly nurturing their relationships and exploring collaboration paths.

USA: Glasgow Caledonian University New York’s Fair Fashion Centre focuses on the business case for sustainability in the fashion industry in particular and building collaborations with, and between, key players in this industry. Part of their work has a been a series of ‘Town Hall’ events called Fashion Sharing Progress. These events gather leaders from various industries and organisations to offer different perspectives on sustainable development and help identify new solutions for the fashion and retail industry and beyond. This brings together academics, professionals and industry experts to facilitate new learning, which combines profitability with ethical environmental and social considerations. Leading names in the industry have participating in these events including representatives from Nike, Patagonia, the International Labour Organization, and eco-luxe labels. Through these events, companies are sharing the work that they are doing in sustainability with a wider community. For example, Warby Parker is transforming the lives of people around the world unable to afford glasses with their buy-a-pair, give-a-pair model. Levi Stauss & Co disccuss their work around water efficiency and their Water<Less collection, a collection of jeans that use up to 96% less water to create.

Iceland: Some universities host collaborative centres. For example Festa, the Icelandic Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, a non-profit organization founded by six Icelandic companies in 2011 is hosted by Reykjavik University. The mission of Festa is to be a knowledge center for CSR and promote the discussion on CSR in Iceland. In addition it supports companies in implementing CSR strategies and provides a network of companies who want to implement CSR, as well as cooperating with universities by promoting research and teaching of CSR. Founding companies are Rio Tinto Alcan, Íslandsbanki, Landsbankinn, Landsvirkjun, Síminn and Össur. New members include, ÁTVR, Ölgerðin brewery, Capacent, Arion Bank, Innovation Center Iceland, Reykjagarður, ISS Iceland, 112 Iceland and CCP games.



Sustainable Business Examples from Around the World – Hong Kong, Kenya, and Canada

img_4721As businesses become more and more engaged in sustainability around the world, we are presented with an increasing range of examples of active companies. However, when I speak with students and faculty, they say that they often hear about the same examples from the same international companies over and over again.

In an attempt to share some new best practice examples, I asked a handful of faculty members from around the world about their favourite classroom examples of local companies that are actively involved in sustainability. Here are some examples from Kenya, Hong Kong, and Canada.

Jessica Vaghi, E4Impact Foundation, ALTIS Postgraduate School of Business and Society, Italy (examples from Kenya)

Continental Renewable Energy (Corec) is a Kenyan based company that recycles waste plastic into eco-friendly building material and sell the hardware to developers whose problem is high material cost by providing affordable and durable construction products. It prevented 700 tons of waste from landfills, made 26,000 posts and signed orders over 10.000 roofing tiles by customers across Kenya in 2 years of operations.

Stamp Investment is a Kenyan enterprise that distributes briquettes and multitasking fuel efficient stoves, which enables schools and households to have access to safe drinking water with a reduction of 75 % in water borne diseases. The business won the Grand Challenges Africa “pitching your innovation” competition in 2016 and has been national winner of the most innovative business idea during Enablis Chase bank, ILO business launch pad competition in 2011.

NUCAFE – National Union of Coffee Agribusiness and Farm Enterprises is a sustainable market-driven system of coffee farmer organisations empowered to increase their household incomes through enhanced entrepreneurship and innovation in 19 districts of Uganda. NUCAFE Contributed in influencing the development of a National Coffee Policy and to improve gender relations among coffee farming households and was nominated by AGRA best Africa farmer organisation of 2013 in income diversity category.

Click here for more information about E4Impact Foundation and their work in Kenya.

Pamsy Hui, Hong Kong Polytechnic University Faculty of Business, Hong Kong

It is often a misconception that interesting work in the field of sustainability can only be done by companies with a lot of resources.  In Hong Kong, many small and medium enterprises are doing very interesting things with limited resources.  For instance, Diving Adventure Ltd., a company providing training services and products related to scuba diving, has always put the environment in the forefront of its business decisions.  They regularly collaborate with NGOs, the government, and other organisations on environment protection initiatives (e.g., underwater cleansing activities, reef check).  What is impressive is that for such a small operation, they go far beyond just caring about environmental sustainability.  They are also committed to create employment opportunities to minority groups, released prisoners, and reformed drug users, to help integrate them into the society.  On the service side, they regularly provide training to underprivileged children and individuals with disabilities, providing a sense of inclusiveness for people who are often overlooked, if not discriminated, by the society.

Another example is Baby-Kingdom.com, a parental online forum for parents to share information and experiences related to bringing up children.  In addition to donating to NGOs, they help NGOs advertise on their forum, bringing awareness among their large number of users. They set up the Baby Kingdom Environmental Protection Education Fund in 2008 to support programmes in primary schools to educate school children on concepts such as greenhouse gas reduction and green diet.  Consistent with its family-friendly image, Baby-Kingdom.com started family-friendly practices well before they became a trend in large corporations.  The well-being of children is central to its human resource practices, and the company is often recognised for being a socially responsible employer.

A third example of a company doing interesting things related to sustainability is 4M Industrial Development Limited, a toy design company specialising in educational toys.  In designing their products, 4M consciously favors sustainable materials and supply chains with lower carbon footprints.  In addition, 4M partners with NGOs in multiple ways.  With the Spastics Association of Hong Kong, they adapt part of their manufacturing process to support the disabled.  It also works with different NGOs to promote their causes.  Many of 4M’s products have a green message behind them (e.g., Paper Recycling Kit, Trash Robot Kit).  For each box of the Clean Water Science Kit, for example, 4M donates a portion of its profits to NGOs to fund water-purifying projects in the third world.  Meanwhile, children buying the kit would get a message about the project in the box.

Click here to read about the Interdisciplinary Wellness Clinic at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Deborah De Lange, Ryerson University, Canada

Our Horizon is a national not-for-profit organization led by Robert Shirkey that works with governments to require climate change labels on gas pumps. The idea is a low-cost, globally scalable intervention to communicate the hidden costs of fossil fuels to end users and drive change upstream.

ZooShare is a biogas plant led by Daniel Bida that turns animal waste from the Toronto Zoo and food waste from grocery stores into fertilizer and renwable power for the Ontario grid. The process aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 tonnes of C02 each year. The biogas plant is starting construction now and will be operational in the summer of 2017.

Purpose Capital is an impact advisory firm that mobilises all forms of capital – financial, physical, human and social – to accelerate social progress. Alex Kjorven is the Director of Corporate Development and is a graduate student in the EnSciMan programme at Ryerson.

Click here to learn more about the interdisciplinary EnSciMan programme at Ryerson University.



When Business and Healthcare Meet: A Look at an Interdisciplinary Business Run By Students from Hong Kong Polytechnic University

13923535_706655699475691_725367246747842977_oThe Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) Faculty of Business has a mission of IDEAS (Innovation Driven Education and Scholarship).  Underpinning this mission is the responsibility to develop future leaders who can contribute to the society meaningfully and innovatively.  Over the years, their Faculty has gradually stepped up its emphasis on ethics, responsibility, and sustainability in education, research, and service to the community.  A conversation between colleagues in business and the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at the University resulted in the development of an interdisciplinary venture; the student-run Wellness Clinic.

I spoke with Pamsy Hui from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University about this innovative initiative.

What is the Wellness Clinic?

The Hong Kong PolyU Student-run Wellness Clinic is the first student-run physiotherapy clinic in Hong Kong.  Jointly set up by the Faculty of Business and the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), it promotes and provides preventive care programmes, such as fall prevention programme and lower back pain prevention programme to the community.  These programmes are designed, promoted, administered, and implemented by students, under the supervision of a registered physiotherapist.

How did it come about?

It started out as a university-funded interdisciplinary initiative to encourage entrepreneurship among students in the two PolyU units in 2013.  It was identified early on that preventive health services would be a focus.  The first phase of the initiative was an open competition, in which student teams put forth different business models based on their findings on the preventive healthcare needs in the community.  The winning team was then invited to join the core management team of the clinic, implementing its business model.  The first management team has since passed the responsibility to their successors.  So we have gone through a period of succession planning and transition in the clinic’s short life as well!

What are the key features and how does it work?

The interdisciplinary nature of the clinic is one of its biggest features.  While the physiotherapy students design the actual programmes to introduce to the community, the business students take care of the service operation, marketing and general strategic plan for the clinic.  In order to provide programmes that are high quality and suitable for potential clients, the two groups of students need to maintain constant communication.  In other words, business students would need to communicate to physiotherapy students the market needs, and physiotherapy students would need to communicate to business students whether the needs can be served.  Without such two-way communication, resources would be wasted on programmes irrelevant to the community served.

The second biggest feature is the extent through which students can practice what they learn in the classrooms.  In fact, through the application of their specialised skills, be it physiotherapy or business, students get to see for themselves how their knowledge can be a force for good.

The clinic is intended to be a self-sustaining social enterprise in the long-run.  Therefore, a Care Fund was established.  Normally, clients pay a fee for the service provided.  Part of this income, along with donations, is fed into the Care Fund to subsidise clients who cannot afford the normal price.  Part of the challenge for the students, then, is to figure out how to balance different types of programmes and clients to sustain the clinic.

How does this connect to the SDGs?

The Wellness Clinic deals directly with Goal #3: Good Health and Well-being.  Specifically, through the operation of the Wellness Clinic, students strive to provide services that are available to all, including elderly who cannot otherwise afford to pay for the programmes.  Regardless of the clients and programmes, the aim for the Wellness Clinic is to promote preventive healthcare.  Rising healthcare costs have been a concern the world over, especially in ageing societies.  If people can be educated about the prevention of health issues, the burden on the healthcare system can be lightened.  In a small way, the Wellness Clinic also aims to prevent extreme poverty brought forth by potentially crippling medical expenses among some of the most vulnerable inhabitants in the city (i.e., the elderly).


With its interdisciplinary nature, communication across disciplines would be a challenge.  Business students and rehabilitation science students have different mindsets and different focus areas in the project.  Fortunately, so far, all the students involved have gone into this with a learning mindset.  That helps a lot.  Another major challenge is the sustainability of the project.  Students constantly face the challenge of making the clinic financially viable while providing affordable care for those who need it.  That means they have to keep thinking about new business plans and reaching out to new donors.  Sustainability can also be viewed in terms of the human resources.  Most students complete their programmes in four years.  If they sign onto the project in their second year, realistically they have at most two years on the project before they are busy with the final year workload.  That means new members need to be recruited onto the team every year.  New members bring new ideas and energy, but also pose challenges to continuity.  Students really do learn the challenges of succession planning in this project!


As the Wellness Clinic has a constant stream of courses for different target clients, it benefits a good number of people.  For example, among the clients in the fall prevention classes, 68% of them demonstrated significant improvement in the knowledge of fall prevention, 57% of them are more confident about dealing with falls, and 38% of them showed actual physical improvement.  These are encouraging results.  Meanwhile, both sets of students get to practice what they learn in a meaningful way.  They also get to learn about how to work across disciplines, sharpen their communication skills, and strengthen their sense of responsibility.  In addition, through the experience, they get to experience organisational issues, such as succession planning and sustainability.  These are good learning opportunities for the students.  From an education point of view, this serves as a prototype that we can replicate in the future with other disciplines.

What advice do you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar in place?

Interdisciplinary projects like this are very challenging to sustain.  First, there has to be strong commitment from different parties.  Even though this is a student-run project, supervision by the faculties would still be necessary.  Faculty support – be it financial or merely moral support – would also help motivate students.  Second, in a university setting, the need for a good succession plan is even more pressing than in normal organisations.  The turnover is constant and frequent.  Faculty facilitation in this aspect may be necessary.  Third, sustainability will be a challenge.  Before embarking on such projects, it is good to assess the long-term financial viability of the projects, as well as the likelihood that people will be excited about it in the long-run.  Finally, it always helps if the project is consistent with the general philosophy and values of the school.  Such projects take up a lot of energy, and if they are not in line with other things the school is doing, they will be very difficult to maintain.

What’s next for the initiative?

For the Wellness Clinic itself, sustainability is the number one priority.  The goal is not about growth, but about maintaining good quality and affordable preventive physiotherapy programmes for the community.  In order to serve more people in need of the services (but cannot afford them), students will need to find innovative ways to keep the Care Fund healthy.

This project also shows the value of interdisciplinary student projects.  So another next step is to locate new opportunities for business students to work with students from other disciplines (e.g., construction engineering, nursing, design, etc.) on social enterprise projects.


Running a Successful Interdisciplinary Programme – Ryerson University

Since 2000, Ryerson University in Canada has been offering a unique interdisciplinary programme that brings together faculty from all of the university’s six departments. The Environmental Applied Science and Management (EnSciMan) Programme was a response to a clear societal need for graduates at the Master’s level with expertise in the core areas of practice in the Canadian environment industry. With a focus on applied research with immediate implications for practice, EnSciMan provides opportunities for students to bring together engineering, geography, public health, urban planning economics and other fields to create solutions to today and tomorrow’s challenges.

I spoke with Cory Searcy, Graduate Programme Director Environmental Applied Science and Management from Ryerson University about this programme.

Introduce the Environmental Applied Science and Management Programme and how it came about?

The EnSciMan Programme began offering its M.A.Sc. degree in 2000.  It was Ryerson’s first independent graduate programme. In the late 1990s faculty members in eight schools and departments (three engineering departments, chemistry and biology, geography, public health, urban and regional planning, and economics) collaborated in the initial development of the M.A.Sc. programme as a cooperative and multi-disciplinary degree.

The M.A.Sc. programme was developed to clearly link the environmental sciences and the management and decision-making disciplines in order to provide students the opportunity to integrate the two areas of study in the classroom and in their research. The emphasis was on applied research for resolving problems in environmental protection, conservation, and sustainable development. Much of the research conducted in the programme is intended to have immediate implications for practice

How has the programme grown over the years?

The initial planned intake was 12 full-time and 12 part-time students per year. In recent years, there has been a shift to more full-time M.A.Sc. students. The planned intake is now circa 20 full-time M.A.Sc. students per year. Several part-time students are also typically admitted.

The programme has continued to grow over time. The strengths exhibited by the faculty and students of the EnSciMan M.A.Sc. programme, through their published research and successful completion of degrees, were translated into the approval in 2008 of a Ph.D. programme in EnSciMan. The first cohort of doctoral students were admitted to the programme in the Fall 2009 semester. The planned intake was initially 5 full-time Ph.D. students per year but the target has typically been met or exceeded. The target now stands at 6 full-time Ph.D. students per year.

Since its founding, the EnSciMan programme has continued to foster research and training in the environmental sciences and in environmental management. The M.A.Sc. and Ph.D. students are now supported by over 85 faculty members at Ryerson University. EnSciMan is the only programme at Ryerson that includes faculty members from all six of the university’s faculties. The programme has been successful in preparing graduates for professional careers in the environment industry, as well as for doctoral studies.

How is the programme interdisciplinary?

The EnSciMan programme is designed to provide students with both breadth and depth of knowledge in both its programme fields (i.e., environmental science and policy and environmental management). This is done through, what the programme refers to as, its “T-shaped curriculum”.

The previous director of EnSciMan, Michal Bardecki, has discussed this concept in considerable detail. He explains that in many graduate programmes students acquire and graduate with highly specialised and deeply developed “I-shaped” expertise. However, in the 1990s an alternative model emerged recognising the value of those with “T-shaped” skills. Figuratively, the horizontal crossbar represents an ability to apply knowledge across disciplines and an understanding of fields outside one’s principal area of expertise, as well as complementary skills of communication, institutional knowledge, and the ability to solve problems collaboratively.

Recent research has continued to argue the case that the goal of shaping a T-shaped professional should guide programme development and delivery in a wide variety of discipline areas at universities. This can be particularly true of interdisciplinary programs which students’ strong foundation of specialised knowledge. For students seeking professional development, approaches such as these are often particularly attractive since they offer the promise of bridging to workforce relevance. There are manifest benefits to students as employers often seek those who can perform as “environmental integrators” (i.e., managing and coordinating projects, working in multidisciplinary teams and networking effectively). In addition, students possessing skills as both “specialists” and “generalists” may be better able to adapt to the inevitable fluctuations in the job market.

The EnSciMan programme possesses a T-shaped curriculum providing problem-solving and research depth in one area while explicitly incorporating overall breadth in the understanding of a range of other fields and developing complementary skills seen as valuable to students in the development of their careers.

What have been some of the challenges in creating an interdisciplinary programme such as this one?

Some of the key challenges in creating the program include:

  • Student funding: EnSciMan is a graduate program that does not have an undergraduate program directly associated with it. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult to secure Teaching Assistant (TA) positions for students. That said, many undergraduate programs from across the university have helped our students find TA positions.
  • Different academic cultures: EnSciMan includes over 85 faculty members from across the entire university. As a result, sometimes expectations for students (e.g., in the completion of their research) are different.
  • Seminar and office space: There is limited designated seminar and office space on campus for the interdisciplinary graduate students. Students and faculty are thus dispersed throughout the campus. This can create challenges in fostering a sense of belonging in the program.

What about some successes? 

There have been a number of successes. Two I would like to highlight are our graduate successes in securing employment in an environmentally-related area and our long history of successful co-supervision of graduate students. Over 90% of our graduates work in an environmentally-related field. The full details are available in the programme’s occasional paper (starting on page 21).

The co-supervision of graduate students has long been encouraged in the EnSciMan programme. This reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the programme and provides students with exposure to a variety of perspectives. As noted in our occasional paper, over 25% of M.A.Sc. students have been co-supervised. Many of these co-supervisions bridge departments and faculties. Examples include biology and public health, mechanical engineering and geography, biology and urban planning, and economics and occupational and public health. With over 85 faculty members in all six of Ryerson University’s faculties, it is anticipated that EnSciMan students will continue to enjoy opportunities to be co-supervised by faculty in a wide range of research areas in environmental science and environmental management.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Establishing reasonably common expectations for students (in terms of both coursework and their research) is very important given the different academic cultures involved in the programme. We need to always make sure we are fair to all students, which can sometimes be a challenge given the very different backgrounds and needs they will bring to an interdisciplinary programme. One key challenge these types of programmes may have is that faculty members are often members of a “home” department. This can result in them being pulled in different directions. It is therefore particularly important to have a core of several faculty members who are deeply committed to the interdisciplinary programme. One challenge of these programmes is that they often belong to everyone and no one. Several faculty members need to be deeply committed to the programme to make sure the needed things actually get done. We’ve been lucky to have this, but sustaining this commitment over time is a challenge for any interdisciplinary programme.

What’s next for the initiative?

EnSciMan is a well-established programme, however, we continue to improve over time. Key areas of focus include working to address the challenges listed above. We also recently completed a curriculum review, which resulted in the addition of two new courses (on responding to climate change and business fundamentals for environmental professionals).


How the Social Impact Festival at University of Western Australia Supports Global and Local Progress

img_7254-smlThe Sustainable Development Goals help us consider everything – from one person, to the university, to our cities – in a global context. They provide a robust yet accessible framework for learning about global progress. This is the focus of the work being done at the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia. Among their many programmes is their annual Social Impact Festival, an opportunity to bring together individuals and organisations who are deeply committed to making Western Australia a better place.

I spoke with Claire Stokes from the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia about this increasingly successful event.

What is the Social Impact Festival?

The Centre for Social Impact at The University of Western Australia (UWA) hosted the first Social Impact Festival in May 2015 – we call this ‘prototype 1’. It saw over 1,000 people attending events on the UWA Crawley campus focused on furthering social impact. When 2016 began, the team at the Centre for Social Impact UWA decided to take the festival into ‘prototype 2’ in July 2016. Katie Stubley (the other co-director) and myself started with a purpose and designed the event to fulfill that purpose. This included three primary aims: share and diffuse cutting-edge knowledge; strengthen and connect social impact networks; and increase our capacity to make WA better for all. We also identified many people, ideas, organisations and networks that have been deeply committed to making WA a more just, vibrant and better place for all. So a key element of the festival was bringing stories of social impact in WA to the surface to be celebrated and amplified.

What are the key features of the Festival and how does it work?

The concept of ‘social impact’ is so broad that we knew a regular conference format would not work. To see real change, we knew we had to reach audiences beyond those who had previously engaged with the Centre and in a variety of settings. The format was based roughly on a ‘fringe festival’: a diverse range of small, low-cost, and engaging events in a variety of venues so attendees could ‘create their own adventure’.

We turned to our postgraduate course – the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact – for a framework which gave us the following themes for the four key days of the festival:

  • Creating social impact: entrepreneurship, innovation & design
  • Demonstrating social impact: research, measurement & evaluation
  • Funding social impact: investment, philanthropy & ethical consumerism
  • Leading social impact: organisation, collaboration & systems

As a whole, the festival featured 34 events over 7 days in 16 venues around Perth. Individual event prices ranged from $0 to $30 and 15 events were free. More than 150 people and organisations contributed to the festival programme (including speakers, workshop facilitators, co-working space hosts, artists, performers, open house venues, and market stall-holders). Through the interactive ‘Stories from the Field’ events (21, 22, 26 & 27 July), 68 individual stories of social impact were shared. Twenty local ethical businesses featured in the Marketplace & Ethical Fashion Show (23 July), and 10 spaces and organisations featured on Social Impact Open House day (25 July).

What are/were your favourite parts of the festival?

Pitching events are always interesting, as they provide opportunities for real people and organisations to take action, as well as the chance to learn about investing and the local landscape. The Impact Seed Pitch Night on 26 July was no exception. Run by a new Perth-based organisation, Impact Seed, the event saw five investable social businesses pitch for investment to a packed auditorium of 120 people. It also featured a highly engaging keynote address from Bessi Graham (The Difference Incubator, Melbourne). Graham also sat on the judging panel with Paul Flatau (Centre for Social Impact UWA), Derek Gerrard (Innovation Bay), and Paul Bide (School for Social Entrepreneurs).

Two other standout events were the Festival Opening and Marketplace & Ethical Fashion Show. The Opening was a directed performance, mixing inspiring speech from Michael Chaney, Cassandra Goldie and Noel Nannup together with music, poetry, song and dance. The Marketplace & Ethical Fashion show held an atmostphere that was absolutely perfect for what we were trying to achieve. There was a modest amount of stalls – 20 in total – but every single person involved demonstrated deep passion and commitment to their cause. This also extended to an excitement in celebrating and helping each other on the day. Businesses represented included social enterprises, fair trade homewares, organic kombucha and tea, eco-garden services, ethical fashion, Aboriginal enterprises, and more. An estimated 300+ people attended the event and all stallholders reported they sold more than expected.

Although not an event, the ongoing co-working and collaboration space was another highlight. This provided ample opportunity for attendees of events throughout the festival to come early or stay afterwards to simply work, or meet other like-minded people and make new connections. The hosts of this space, Perth-based social innovators enkel, also ensured users of the space made the most of it by engaging with interesting activities such as mindfulness, story-telling, and more.

What impact does the festival aim to have/ already have?

We have already observed and heard about the immediate impact of the Festival. For instance, as one of the key aims was connecting people across sectors we were delighted to hear that almost 70% of attendees said they made new connections they intend to follow up with (or already have). That does not even take into account the connections made across the 150 contributors. We have also heard of some changes, or actions taken based on transformative experiences. For example, 26% of attendees to seek out formal education or training in fields linked to social impact. One person reported they have already chaired a board meeting and presented information from the Festival, leading the Board to review the organisation’s mission, objectives, strategies and how we can better measure our social impact.

Anecdotally, we have heard of many new connections and collaborations around Perth that resulted from the Festival, while other connections have strengthened or formalised. This is exactly the kind of impact we intended to create.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Design with a purpose. That was the single-most important aspect of the festival and it resulted in an event that was not only successful in terms of numbers and engagement, but in the immediate impact it had, leaving everyone involved with the optimism and drive to create positive change.

What’s next?

We are synthesizing the huge amount of information that was drawn out during the festival – in the form of stories, ideas, presentations and feedback. Many of the resources presented or created throughout the festival can be found here: http://www.socialimpactfestival.org/resources/

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A Selection of MOOCs on Sustainability/Ethics for Fall 2016 (Part 2)

Every year there is an increase in the number of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) available on sustainability topics. These courses are available for free online and open to anyone with an interest in the topic, lasting between three and fourteen weeks and taking three to eight hours per week to complete. Below is a selection of such courses offered this Fall 2016, listed by topic, from PRME as well as some non-signatory schools. The first part focused on courses that relate to some of the Sustainable Development Goals. Here we look at MOOC focused on developing and leading sustainable organisations.

Development of Leadership Skills

Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World: This course explores how leaders can develop themselves to be able to act in a complex world and under uncertainty using a multidisciplinary approach. From University of Groningen – starts September 5.

Logical and Critical Thinking: This course loos at how to improve your logical and critical thinking skills including how to identify common obstacles to effective thinking. From University of Auckland – starts 26 September.

Influencing People: This course looks at how you can improve your ability to influence people in stations where you cannot use formal authority. From University of Michigan – started August 22.

Selling Ideas – How to influence others and Get your Message to Catch on: This course looks at how to use social media and word of mouth to spread your message and grow your business. From Wharton – starts October 24.

Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance: This course introduces students to mindfulness techniques to reduce stress and improve wellbeing and work/study performance. From Monash University – starts September 19.

Social Wellbeing: This course looks at how measuring and promoting wellbeing can make people, organisations and society more focused, considerate and effective. From The University of Edinburgh – starts September 26.

Designing the Future: This course explores contemporary design approaches that you can use to solve problems in the world around you. From RMIT University – starts October 17.


Developing Social Organisations

An Introduction to Public Leadership: This course explores what is distinctive about leadership in the public sphere, rather than senior executives in private sector, profit-making organisations. From The Open University – September 12.

Social Enterprise: Business Doing Good: This course explores different models of social enterprise and the local and global problems that they aim to address. From Middlesex University – starts September 26.

Social Enterprise – Turning Ideas into Action: This course looks at how you can turn your social enterprise ideas into action. From Middlesex University – starts October 24.

Make an Impact – Sustainability for Professionals: This course explores how to integrate a sustainable development strategy into your company. From University of Bath – starts October 10.

Social Norms, Social Change: This course looks at social norms, the rules that glue societies together, and how to diagnose, distinguish them and either create new ones or eliminate harmful ones. From University of Pennsylvania – started August 15.



Academic Integrity – Values, Skills, Action: This course explores academic integrity and how you can demonstrate it in your work, study and research. From University of Auckland– starts October 3.

Unethical Decision Making in Organisations: This course looks at how strong organisational contexts push good people towards unethical decisions. From University of Lausanne – starts September 19.

Have we missed any? Email to be added to the list.


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