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VOL. 122 | NO. 23 | Thursday, February 8, 2007

Impact Felt

MBA group promotes social responsibility in business

By Andy Meek

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"I used to be the next president of the United States," former Vice President Al Gore told an audience of 1,400 at Stanford University in 2005, inspiring laughter from the crowd that consisted mostly of Master of Business Administration (MBA) students from around the country. "I used to fly on Air Force Two for eight years. Now I have to take off my shoes to get on an airplane."

Gore's appearance as the keynote speaker at the annual Net Impact conference that year was part of a weekend-long meeting whose goal was to promote social responsibility in the business world. The group, Net Impact, is a wide-ranging coalition of MBAs, business professionals, nonprofit leaders and students who pursue that goal.

Impact in Memphis

One of the audience members who heard Gore's presentation that day was Memphian Angela Copeland, who received her MBA from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., about a year ago.

It's probably not a stretch to say she was inspired by all the high-minded talk at that conference about social responsibility and concepts like micro credit and green business. Because, since then, Copeland - who today leads the Internet marketing efforts of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau - has been the driving force behind starting a Memphis chapter of Net Impact.

It's the first professional chapter in Tennessee, although a student chapter operates at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management. As it turns out, that's also the location of the upcoming Net Impact annual conference this year.

Meanwhile, anyone interested in joining the new Memphis chapter - or just learning what the San Francisco-based business group is all about - can meet the young agents of change themselves at a reception Downtown this evening. The kickoff of the Memphis chapter begins at 5:30 at EP's Delta Kitchen & Bar, at the corner of Second and Beale streets, with drinks, networking opportunities and an overview of what these young, professional go-getters might be looking to accomplish in Memphis.

"We've already started signing up members, and for this we want to really talk to people and just tell them about what Net Impact is and really introduce the idea of Net Impact," Copeland said about the group, which has more than 125 student and professional chapters in 75 cities. "And it'll be a chance to start to get a feel for what the local members want to do this year."

Catching on

Organizers of a Memphis chapter of Net Impact have already begun the hard sell, as it were, to potential recruits. They've met, for example, with the executive committee of MPACT Memphis - a similarly named group of young professionals, but with a more Memphis-centered theme - to ask for support in getting the word out.

At least one local blogger has caught on. Paul Ryburn, the creator of a blog that focuses in large part on life in Downtown Memphis, plugged the new group in a recent post.

"As far as why I'm interested in the group, this is really an organization talking about social change and accomplishing that through the business world, which is great, because so many times the corporate world is seen as the enemy," said Ryburn, who's also a contract worker for Memphis City Schools. "It's also been successfully implemented in other cities, so they have a model to go on to make it successful here."

Those interested in the group have the choice of joining Net Impact via a free "limited" membership or a paid membership, which includes considerably more benefits such as access to exclusive job and internship postings and a discount to the annual Net Impact conference.

Net Impact was founded in 1993 and has since grown to include more than 10,000 members, with 29 of the top 30 MBA schools - according to BusinessWeek rankings - having started their own local chapters.

Making a difference

The annual conferences are generally a grab bag of progressive social concept-driven workshops, coupled with the presence of influential speakers like Gore. One of last year's speakers was Jonathan Greenblatt, who co-founded in 2002 Ethos Water, a company that launched a brand of bottled water in the United States with the stated purpose of directing its profits to helping children around the world get clean water.

In 2005, Ethos Water was acquired by Starbucks.

"It only takes $25 to provide safe water to someone for the rest of their lives," Greenblatt told the Net Impact annual gathering last year, as recounted in the Chicago Tribune.

It is that ethic, joined with an interest in making a "net impact" locally, that Copeland has picked up on for the group's Memphis presence.

"But the great thing is Net Impact is not only a national organization, it's an international one," she said. "We're also going to try to do our best to support existing nonprofits in Memphis. We want to work with Hands On Memphis, MPACT Memphis, Dress for Success - those are three of the key organizations we've kind of picked which we want to support as opposed to detract from."

More information about the group can be found at www.memphisnetimpact.org.

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