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green@work : Magazine : Back Issue : Sept/Oct 2001 : Special Section

Special Section
Making an Impact

Preparing graduate students for the good of the world by giving them a perspective on community, social and environmental business.

by Janet Wiens


We have all heard that networking can enhance our careers. The personal relationships that we make can help to land a job and open doors to new opportunities while also providing good friendships along the way. The bottom line is that we can partner with others to foster career growth.

Net Impact, a not-for-profit organization involving more than 5,000 individuals, has taken a cue from the basic networking philosophy. Net Impact is a “network of emerging business leaders committed to using the power of business to create a better world.” Since its founding in 1993 as Students for Responsible Business (SRB), Net Impact has grown to include more than 60 chapters on college and university campuses across the country and, internationally, 600 alumni and numerous corporate partners.

According to Laurie Gray, Net Impact’s interim director, the organization has held true to its mission. “We were started by a group of MBA students interested in alternative business careers—careers outside of Wall Street or the traditional corporate arena. They wanted to more fully explore business opportunities in not-for-profit and community and social organizations. Those who established our organization also wanted to address what they saw as a lack of attention to sustainability, environmental, social and community issues in most MBA programs.”

Net Impact’s founders focused on several core programs to help spread its message while providing opportunities for the organization’s members. First, they established an internship program with companies that had a strong community, social or environmental focus. They believed the internships would provide a way for participants to explore alternative business careers while also exposing the sponsoring company to the organization’s beliefs. An annual conference to address the organization’s core issues with MBA students, college and university business faculty and business leaders (see sidebar) was also an important element. Finally, the organization established student chapters on college and university campuses to provide on-going networking and support opportunities.

“Our internship program has been extremely successful,” says Gray. “We’ve had more than 600 individuals successfully complete internships during the past eight years. They have worked at companies of all sizes and types and have also opened the doors for others to follow in their footsteps. We’ve been very pleased with the results.”

How It Works

Net Impact recruits sponsoring companies, a list that has included Starbucks, Calvert Social Investment Foundation, Sustainable Conservation, Greystone Bakery and the Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment, among a host of others, through its Web site, at the annual conference, through its alumni and by word of mouth. Companies that are interested in participating must design a program for the interns and submit an organization application, a process that usually begins in the fall. Net Impact subsequently contacts the organizations to qualify and refine the projects and then publishes the project descriptions on Net Impact’s Web site (www.net-impact.org) and through career development offices at more than 100 business schools.

At the beginning of the year, individuals interested in becoming interns begin the application process. (Students between the first and second years of their MBA programs traditionally participate in Net Impact’s internship program during their summer break.) Those applying for internships do not have to be a long-standing member of Net Impact or a student chapter; however, they must join the organization, which is free, by completing an on-line application process that takes approximately five minutes. In addition to completing the student application form, individuals must select a specific project or projects that they would like to participate in during their internship.

Net Impact forwards résumés that it has received from student applicants to sponsoring organizations, which then review the applications and contact all candidates. Interviews are scheduled with selected students; students that are not selected for interviews are also notified. Once a match has been made, the organization and the student work out the terms of the internship. Net Impact recommends a minimum salary of $5,000 for not-for-profits and $7,000 from for-profit organizations for a 10-week internship. Prior to beginning the internship, students participate in a three-day orientation workshop sponsored by Net Impact that combines panel discussions and skills training in networking to help lay the groundwork for a successful internship.

What They Do

Net Impact interns participate in a variety of projects involving sales, marketing, investing, manufacturing and human resource issues. Sample projects include drafting a business plan to launch a not-for-profit social venture property management business; creating a marketing strategy to increase community awareness; researching micro-enterprise programs as a method of poverty elimination; and analyzing manufacturing processes to identify more sustainable production alternatives.

During their first week at the sponsoring organization, interns create a project plan, which is then followed by the implementation of the project. Reports are written during the last week of the project and are submitted to Net Impact for use in reports to participating organizations and financial contributors. Both interns and sponsoring organizations complete evaluations for Net Impact following completion of the internship. These are reviewed, compiled and used as feedback to improve the program.

The Voice of Experience

Seth Goldman, president of Honest Tea, has experienced all facets of the Net Impact equation. He was a member of the first official Net Impact internship class, formalized the Net Impact chapter at Yale University where he attended graduate school, served on the organization’s board of directors and now sponsors interns at his company.

“Being a Net Impact intern opened up a whole new world regarding career opportunities for me,” Goldman says. “Initially I thought that I wanted to have a not-for-profit focus for my career. The internship that I participated in showed me that I could combine a strong social, community and environmental focus in the for-profit world.”

Goldman completed his internship at the Calvert Group where he looked at socially responsible investment in China as part of the company’s venture capital portfolio. He also analyzed a new fund on sustainable development in Eastern Europe.

“My internship whetted my appetite for becoming an entrepreneur,” says Goldman. “During it, I also analyzed the first business plan for Wild Planet Toys, an opportunity that the Calvert Group ultimately pursued. The company, which is run by Danny Grossman, who helped to get Net Impact rolling, sought to engage children in environmental discovery. It showed me that good business and socially responsible operating and investment approaches could go hand-in-hand.”

Honest Tea markets and manufactures organic bottled iced tea and tea bags and is the leading natural foods producer of iced tea. In addition to focusing on sustainability as part of its manufacturing process, the company is actively involved with community programs that are designed to help disadvantaged areas and individuals. The company’s bottling plant is in a disadvantaged area of Pennsylvania, and one of the company’s organic teas is marketed and manufactured in partnership with the Crow Indians.

Goldman notes that Honest Tea interns participate in virtually every aspect of the company’s business. This year, interns conducted a socially responsible analysis of its business practices; analyzed Fair Trade policies relative to production of a Fair Trade tea; reviewed packing to help move the company away from the use of a polysynthetic covering for tea bag packages; and went on the road with Honest Tea’s van to promote products to various communities.

All Honest Tea interns report directly to Goldman and spend a great deal of time with all of the company’s leaders. Interns receive base compensation and are also eligible for two bonus programs—one related to their personal performance and one related to the company’s financial performance as a whole.

“In addition to providing opportunities for future business leaders to test their areas of interest while gaining experience, we receive a great deal from our interns,” Goldman concludes. “They come to work for us during our busiest season, which provides us with highly-motivated individuals during a peak time. Equally important, they bring to us an energy and enthusiasm that is contagious. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

What the Future Holds

Net Impact is currently in the midst of a transition. The organization has become a project of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) to more fully meet the needs of interns and sponsoring organizations. While changes will take place, Net Impact will continue to make its mark on individuals and businesses by opening the doors to business approaches and careers that have sustainability, social and community issues at their forefront.


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