Expectations about work have been shifting significantly in recent years, and the desire to contribute in a role that has purpose and a positive impact has become a strong motivation for many LBS alumni in their careers. Last month, recent alumni and current students joined Amelia Whitelaw, Executive Director of the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development, to discuss this trend, their careers so far, and how they are driving changes around the assumptions of what business can and should achieve. Below are some of the key insights from this conversation.
Amelia Whitelaw: The Social Impact Club released a podcast recently, where they discussed what social impact means to LBS students. This discussion really illustrated how social impact is viewed as a vocation, a mind-set, a function and a sector. But, however, you engage with this ever-evolving concept, I think we are talking about challenging the status quo around the business model and identifying approaches that allow for positive growth through the deliberate attention to environmental sustainability, social responsibility and good governance.
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“Today, social impact is less about a certain role and more about a lens you can bring to any career”
Emma Moberly, MBA2022
Emma Moberly MBA2022: A career in social impact now means so many things to so many different people – it's not necessarily just about working for a non-profit or in other traditional impact roles. At LBS, we have people interested in pursuing social impact through careers in finance, consulting, corporate strategy or tech, whether that’s through considering ESG factors while making investments or thinking about sustainability when building a new product. Today, social impact is less about a certain role and more about a lens you can bring to any career. For me, that's really exciting because it means there are more opportunities to change the wider business world.
Zoë de Spoelberch MiM2021, Sustainability Engagement Associate at Federated Hermes: For us, sustainability could mean anything from tackling climate change to social and governance advancements. The goal behind a lot of our work is to leverage corporate investments for positive change. For example, before investing we assess the environmental practices of a firm, such as what policies they have and what their culture is. This not only gives us a good idea of where they are on their sustainability journey, but also where we might be able tochallenge them.
Kimberley Brown EMBA2020, Head of Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation at GSMA: I spent 20 years working for humanitarian organisations such as the Red Cross, Save the Children and UNICEF. ‘Humanitarian’ in this context means responding to emergencies, which could be anything from natural hazards or disasters to the forced displacement of people or food insecurity. At GSMA, we are responding and innovating to find solutions to some really hard to reach locations and complex situations. We are funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and our aim is to facilitate humanitarian assistance through mobile technology. I am excited about working in this unique space where public sector and private sector players are really working towards social and humanitarian impact. To give an example, our innovation fund has supported developments around a hand-held device that can detect cholera or an an app that enables people to remotely diagnose malnutrition. Another example is the use of mobile money, which empowers people in crisis situations to choose how to address the issues in their lives.
“Social impact requires people who are comfortable challenging their own and other people’s thinking”
Kimberley Brown, EMBA2020, Head of Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation at GSMA
Zoë: I think it’s just as much about passion as it is about a specific skill. You can tell when someone cares deeply about the work they do, which is important for a role that requires reaching out to other organisations and trying to instil some optimism in them or encouraging them to enter into a dialogue with you. It’s also important to be bold – you need to be comfortable with steering conversations in particular directions.
Kimberley: In my team, we look for active learners. Social impact requires people who are comfortable challenging their own and other people’s thinking. Creative thinking and problem solving are also important. Let’s be real, this is a space where things often don’t go to plan. We need to be adaptable to a range of emergencies – much like many of us have been during the pandemic.
Pamela Flores Monico, MBA2022: LBS has a wonderful partnership with the Laidlaw Foundation, which offers scholarships to future female leaders, like myself, who otherwise may not have considered attending a top business school.
The CAP Social Impact Scholarship that provides funding for current students who undertake a social impact internship. In supplementing my salary, this funding allowed me the opportunity to pursue an opportunity with an organisation I was very keen to gain experience with.
So just knowing these options exist is very encouraging.
Zoë: I took some brilliant social impact electives that I feel have prepared me for a future in the sector. I enrolled in Growing Social Enterprises that touches on impact investing and ESG issues, and Managing and Investing in Responsible Business – run by Professors Alex Edmans and Ioannis Ioannou. I remember in one session they told us they’d been updating their slides the night before, as there were so many developments and so much novelty in the field – it gives you an idea of how brilliantly on the pulse they are when it comes to the issues you may encounter in your career.
Kimberley: I had 15 years of work experience before I enrolled in my Executive MBA. A major motivator for me was the chance to surround myself with people from diverse professional backgrounds, which ended up being the case. I was the only person in my cohort of 70 from my industry, which enabled me to gain new insights into how different sectors should be working together.
I wasn’t familiar with the Wheeler Institute before I arrived, but that was the icing on the cake. Having a space where we were able to collaborate with Amelia and her team on how we could bring the humanitarian sector closer to the business sector was amazing.
Emma: One of the highlights of my own LBS experience is the exchange I’ve just completed at Hass Berkeley. While there I was able to take modules on new topics, such as climate change, social impact metrics and the US healthcare system.
LBS is also really flexible in terms of letting us work around our studies. I was able to intern at Bridges Fund Management between January and June, which gave me a real insight into impact investing and how it works. Being given the time to figure out what you’re really interested in is invaluable.
Zoë: I’ve become better acquainted with the opportunities that are available to me. I feel like I’m on a more defined path now, with a concrete, focused goal.
Kimberley: My advice to any EMBA students, and executive education students in general, is to remember to be strategic about how you invest your time. We were working full time as well as studying, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to do everything. Instead, I chose to focus on building a network and learning from my cohort – who were so generous in sharing their own networks with me. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.
Emma: The Social Impact Club also puts on lots of really insightful events. Last year, we ended up speaking to dozens of impact investing professionals, from all over the world. For anyone considering a role in social impact, I would recommend trying to gain a broad picture of what’s available, as early on in your career as possible. The more people you’re able to interact with, the more likely you are to find your niche.
Pamela: Undoubtedly, the LBS platform helped me encounter numerous opportunities, but I also think you have to be willing to put the work in yourself and research what’s out there. That’s my advice for anyone looking to work in social impact: be proactive.
“You have to be willing to put the work in yourself and research what’s out there. That’s my advice for anyone looking to work in social impact: be proactive”
Pamela Flores Monico, MBA2022
Kimberly: it’s clear that the world is in a particularly unique and unfortunate situation, due to the pandemic. This, coupled with concerns around climate change, could give us reason to be pessimistic, but at the same time, we’ve seen so many new partnerships and innovations springing up. I expect that 2022 will bring new difficulties, but I’m eager to see how we’ll overcome them. There’s so much rapid growth in so many areas of social impact that none of us know what the next big development will be. It’s exciting.
This conversation was part of the event/panel “Women leading with impact” held on 15 December 2021, organised by the Recruitment and Admissions team at London Business School with the support of the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development. A video of the event is available here.