A challenging job with great rewards is probably on the wish-list of most soon-to-be college graduates.
But for UConn seniors Greg Doyle and Kelly McLaughlin, and other members of UConn’s Net Impact organization, the perfect job would have another twist. These students are hoping to merge their career goals with their passion for social change.
“Throughout high school I was heavily involved in different community service initiatives. I realized that helping others, above anything else, brought me a great deal of happiness,” said Doyle, who is majoring in business management and entrepreneurship.
“When I was introduced to the concept of ‘corporate social responsibility’ from a family friend, I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to pursue,” he said.
Rowan Lucey, a junior majoring in marketing, said he is intrigued by various causes and social issues, but is particularly drawn to the environment, natural resources and sustainable food and agriculture. “I believe these are issues of enormous importance,” he said. “And I am inspired by the efforts of preservation and advancement that many are making.”
Almost a year ago, Doyle founded the UConn Chapter of Net Impact, a nonprofit organization striving to empower a new generation to use their careers to drive transformational change in the workplace—and the world. The organization encourages students to seek jobs dedicated to change, or to bring a social and environmental perspective to traditional business roles.
“Corporate social responsibility is an evolving field that, in my opinion, is in its youth,” Doyle said. “We hope that, in the years to come, we can continue to live out our mission at UConn. If just one student, because of their involvement with Net Impact, decides to pursue a career that utilizes their passion for ‘giving back to society,’ I believe we have succeeded.”
The organization strives to inform students about the ways they can pair their business and social-change goals, and offers networking opportunities with professionals who are already having an impact.
In tandem with the Honors in Business Association, Net Impact offered an informational program last fall titled, “Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Sustainability in Business.”
Panelists included: Reed Bundy, director of corporate social responsibility and internal communications for Constant Contact; Deb Santy, director of strategic partnerships for Connecticut Innovations and a member of the advisory board for the Next Generation Connecticut initiative; and Onyeka Obiocha ’12, chief operating officer of A Happy Life Coffee, a sustainable lifestyle brand located in Wallingford, Conn., that uses 100 percent of its profits to help combat poverty in farming communities around the world. Following the program, one Net Impact member secured an internship with A Happy Life Coffee.
“We’re hoping to give students an opportunity to explore something they may not know a great deal about, as well as connect with other students who share a passion for improving the world through their careers,” Doyle said.
Net Impact organizers also had the opportunity to travel to the national conference in Minneapolis in November, which gave them a chance to meet and exchange ideas with 3,000 participants, an even mix of student leaders and business professionals.
They attended lectures on transformative leadership, the future of mission-driven business, maintaining a mission post-acquisition, and the debate over buy-one-give-one brands. Participating companies included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Target, Honest Tea, Ben & Jerry’s, Yum Butter, Unilever, Happy Family Brands, 3M, General Mills, Toyota, Hewlett-Packard and more.
“The people at the conference had so much passion for their companies and their causes,” said Kaitlyn Richard, a junior majoring in communications with a minor in Spanish. “It was amazing to have CEOs of companies tell us how they got to where they are. They made everything seem attainable, such as starting a company with a purpose. All the presenters were very inspirational and shared that as long as you have ambition and passion, it is possible to help any cause.”
“The conference allowed me the chance to connect, interact and engage with students, mentors and business leaders, all aimed at making our world a better place through their careers,” said McLaughlin, a senior majoring in healthcare management. “Attending the conference was extremely beneficial to my time here at UConn and I hope it is an experience that other students are able to pursue in the future. Net Impact has given me the chance to further explore career opportunities in the non-profit sector that are focused on making an impact on the world. The group has opened my eyes to career paths that strive to enhance the community around us.”
Funding for the organization, the October panel presentation and travel to the national conference were courtesy of the Dean’s Office and Professor Robert Bird, the Northeast Utilities Chair in Business Ethics, and alumnus Scott Cowen ’68.
While companies have willingly given back to their communities for as long as business has existed, the new approach to corporate responsibility is more encompassing, Doyle said.
“An individual donating their time and a company donating its money are both acts, in my opinion, that make them good citizens,” Doyle said. “Yet, modern corporate responsibility, or the thought that companies can increase their bottom line by acting responsibly, allows for impact on a much larger scale.
“As one example, Cisco, the technology company, in their Jordan Healthcare Initiative, used their technology to provide remote doctor appointments with citizens who previously lacked adequate access to health screenings,” Doyle said. “Companies like Cisco are making a positive impact on society and are receiving benefits for their acts, such as an increased brand reputation and greater employee attraction and retention.”
“I do believe that the emphasis on corporate social responsibility is increasing substantially,” Lucey added. “People are supporting those companies that are prioritizing making a positive impact, and companies are looking for ways to incorporate this idea of corporate social responsibility into their business models. I feel that the future looks bright as companies seek to use their position in society to promote good, and to benefit all those who are touched by their business.’’