Speakers agree society profits from nonprofit work

The great majority of Wharton School graduates go on to lucrative careers in private industry or financial services, where they spend their careers figuring out how to maximize profit for shareholders.

More than 100 students jammed into a Steinberg-Dietrich Hall lecture room Oct. 2 to hear professionals from the private and nonprofit sectors, including four Wharton graduates, discuss how they maximize profit for society as a whole.

The occasion was the second annual Social Impact Management Symposium, sponsored by the student-run Social Impact Management Initiative (SIM) at the Wharton School.

The common thread that ran through all presentations was that business values and a social conscience make a better fit than many imagine. Whether it was MBAs talking about how they funnel capital to community organizations and worthwhile causes or a private-sector consultant describing how her firm promotes the common good through better management practices, all of the speakers at the symposium emphasized that by following their social consciences, they gave up nothing.

Many of them also emphasized that for-profit and nonprofit organizations have much to teach and learn from each other.

Which is exactly the message Bernadette Ryan WG’04, president of the campus chapter of Net Impact and one of the symposium organizers, hoped the conference would deliver. “We want to encourage people that these things are possible—that they can do well by doing good.”

In his opening remarks, Professor of Management Andrew Metrick described the activities engaged in by the symposium participants as “investing in things with low private value and high social value.” Universities, he added, serve as models for the sort of behavior SIM seeks to encourage.

Metrick is one of four faculty members associated with SIM, including some of Wharton’s best-known faculty, such as William and Jaclyn Egan Professor of Management Michael Useem and Anheuser-Busch Professor of Management Science Paul Kleindorfer. They help advance SIM’s research agenda, which has also been bolstered by a grant that funds four student fellows each year.

Keynote speaker Georg Kell, executive head of the United Nations’ Global Compact, stated that good corporate citizenship is actually more important in an interdependent global economy. “Global expansion can only be sustained if there is global social support,” he said.

Business leaders can play a vital role in providing such support. “You don’t have to wait for government to act” on social concerns, he said. “You can act in your own sphere. You can even set an example for governments.”

The four Wharton alumni who spoke at the symposium panel and the closing speaker all exemplified Kell’s advice. One of them, Kathryn Engebretson WG’83,Gr’96, who has made a career of working for government and nonprofit organizations, addressed head-on one of the main fears of Wharton undergraduates considering a career in nonprofits. “You won’t have a less rewarding career because you went into a nonprofit,” she said.

The symposium concluded with a speech by Lynn Taliento, who heads McKinsey and Company’s nonprofit practice area. Taliento’s talk described how business consultants like her helped nonprofit organizations serve more people more effectively through better management practices and improved cost control.

The annual symposium is the main public event sponsored by SIM, an umbrella group composed of 13 undergraduate and graduate student organizations and supporters at Wharton. Even though it is housed in and focused on Wharton, Ryan stressed that the group welcomes and works with students and faculty in all schools of the University.

Originally published on October 16, 2003