This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend my school’s 8th Annual Social Responsibility Forum. This year’s theme was “Social Means Business” to emphasize that social responsibility is no longer something extra that a company does, but it is now a critical and expected component of the business model. I couldn’t agree more!
The kick-off began at CaixaForum, a really cool venue. If it weren’t so chilly these days, I would have sat outside a bit to stare at the beautiful building covered in foliage. But instead, I hurried inside to get registered and seated. The keynote speaker for opening day was Nicolas Marang, Director of International Coordination of Sustainability & CSR at L’Oreal. He shared with us the sustainability initiatives that L’Oreal has committed to for the next several years. I was quite impressed and on a side note, I also found out that L’Oreal no longer uses animals to test their products. That’s good to hear!
After a panel of social responsibility experts, we separated into smaller groups where we could ask questions of panels on specific topics. I decided to head over to the panel titled “A New Perspective: Women Entrepreneurs Driving Change.” Here, we heard about Cartier’s Women’s Initiative Awards and we were introduced to Womenalia and Enke, both are start-ups owned by women. I was especially blown away by the founder of Enke, Pip Wheaton. She had this idea to provide resources to youth in South Africa who want to make a change in their communities, but that wouldn’t normally have the chance. She had many obstacles, one of which, for entrepreneurs, is typically a lack of cash. She has persevered because of her passion and has managed to continue to grow the organization and help thousands of youth to make their change happen. Really inspiring. Then the panel opened up to audience questions. This room was dominated by roughly 30 women with only 4 men. One of the men raised his hand and asked what he can do for his daughter to encourage this entrepreneurial spirit which led to another man asking what men can do to help empower women. I was blown away. I wanted to hug them. I haven’t heard questions like these in person ever. It is perfect timing because I have been brainstorming activities and events for our Women in Business club at my school, so I might be contacting those guys for their support…more to come on that! 😉
The next day we went to our school for individual workshops. I kicked off the day with a panel, The Tango of social Responsibility Projects with Brand Equity, which focused on the value that a brand gets when they do social responsibility work. Then I went to a panel on Barriers to Distribution of Fair Trade Products. I don’t know a lot about food products and fair trade, so I thought this could be a really beneficial talk for me. We had several members of Oxfam and the CEO and founder of a start-up strawberry producer in Japan to help give context. And lastly, I went to Addressing Poverty for the Bottom Billion, for Ethiopia: Beyond NGOs which was led by an IE professor, Gayle Allard, and some of her current students. She and these students decided to take a trip to Ethiopia to do a research project on the sources of poverty there which include nutrition, education and health. They worked with a Catholic mission since it was pretty well established and effective there. They learned from the mission, the NGOs that exist there, and from the locals themselves. Their findings were really impressive and they felt that this class and research trip gave them the best visibility and context of poverty, more than can ever be achieved solely in a classroom. I’ve signed up for Gayle’s class as an elective, so I really hope I get in. *fingers crossed*