Responsible Investment Imperial is a student club that came together as a group of students passionate about the business case of using finance and investment as tools to create positive social and environmental impact alongside financial returns.
We set out with the mission to spread awareness about responsible investing at Imperial and beyond. When the opportunity to organise a conference supported by Imperial College Business School arose, we didn’t think twice about writing a proposal – and we got it! But that was only the beginning of the journey.
Let’s start this story with the ending: our conference was called Defining Financial Responsibility in a Changing World. The conference aimed to provide an introduction about the responsible investment space and spark interest to delve deeper.
The day was kicked off with an energetic keynote by Shuen Chan, Co-Founder and Partner at Sustineri, showcasing the possibility of creating positive change through finance and investment. After followed panels defining sustainable and impact investing, as well as discussing tools to measure and manage impact.
Simon Howard, the CEO of UK SIF, walked the participants through the UK landscape of sustainable finance and responsible investing, after which the final panel discussed the future of sustainable finance. The whole day provided a brief 360° view of this very young industry and sparked discussions that continued long after the event had ended.
Challenges and triumphs
The event itself was extremely successful and it makes us proud that we received positive feedback from many sides. But the path to the event day was anything but smooth. The first big challenge we ran into was getting the speakers for our event. It took longer than expected to finalise a list of speakers that would be both available and most adequate for the panels we elaborated.
Finding the right balance between international organisations and private firms was challenging, but we received incredible help from speakers involved from the start. Our two main external relations team members showed outstanding resilience and creativity in catching speakers’ attention. In the end, we were finally able to fill our three panels with interesting individuals who were willing to share their insights and wisdom.
But having the speakers ready is only one element: what is a conference without participants? The second issue we struggled with was getting signups for the event, which in retrospect, there were probably three factors at play. Firstly, the conference was on a Saturday and people generally don’t like giving away their weekend. Secondly, the event day was only one week after most Business School students sat their exams so students might not have noticed the conference marketing as they were deep in their exam preparation. Thirdly, we first asked for a commitment fee as we all know that about 50% of people who sign up to events do not attend.
The signups were going very slow, so we decided to convert the fee into a smaller deposit refundable if the person showed up. Signups increased rapidly and on the event day approximately 70 delegates attended, which was a huge success for us.
Interestingly, our conference not only attracted business school students, but also professionals interested in the subject, and students and staff from other faculties and universities. For me, the cherry on the icing was when a Polish Executive MBA student told me that she had flown into London just to be able to attend our conference. It felt so surreal that someone would be willing to invest this much time and money into the event.
Don’t give up when contacting speakers and keep following up with them.
Many of the speakers you might be thinking of inviting get many requests to speak at events and these easily get lost amongst their day-to-day obligations. Don’t take it personally if they don’t respond to your request the first or even second time, and just stay persistent.
Another trick you might want to consider especially when you are inviting high-profile speakers is getting an introduction to them from someone they know. The Business School has an incredible number of alumni and often they are happy to help if they can.
The right team is the key to success
Having a common passion for the topic is the starting point, and from there everyone should take up specific responsibilities that leverage their skills while allowing them to learn something new. For example, in our team of five we split the tasks roughly as follows: two external relations people to find and communicate with the speakers; one person focusing on event logistics; one person focusing on internal coordination with the Business School and marketing, and finally one person who oversees things, coordinates the team and helps where needed.
For our team, this split worked well as everyone had clear areas of responsibility and we held each other accountable for our actions. At the same time, we all took responsibility for areas that we wanted to develop in.
Make use of the business school and programme teams
The MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance programme coordinator, Mirabelle Muuls, was incredibly helpful in identifying the right speakers and helped us connect where possible. It was also one of her contacts, Shuen Chan, who went to great lengths to convince people she knew to join her in speaking at the conference.
Further, both the Grantham Institute and the Centre for Climate Finance and Investment included the conference in their monthly newsletters. These inclusions in newsletters and the marketing support we received from Responsible Investor, a well-established publication in the responsible investment industry, would have played a crucial part in attracting a professional audience.
Finally, this conference tied in nicely with the programme content that we had touched upon in various modules and guest speakers both with MSc Climate Change, Management & Finance, and MBA electives. This was incredibly helpful in setting a meaningful agenda – one that would deliver the groundwork, that we as an organising group did in class and the RII club, quickly and then would deep-dive into the industry’s current, hot topics.
Organising the conference was an incredibly rewarding, but often challenging and stressful experience - keeping in mind that we still had to do all the exams and deadlines like anyone else. Having the team, we had and the generous support from the Business School, helped us to make this event reality. At this point a big thank you to my team - Marie-Adelaide Bullukian, Jai Mallick, Joshua Hope, Paul Rous, the BS ‘angels’ – Paula Socha, Julia McShane and Ebony Wheeler, the Responsible Investor magazine, Jamie Hicks, and our moderator Vibeka Mair.
To close, I want to echo Simon Howard’s call to action for students to take a proactive role in promoting sustainable finance, responsible investing, and impact investing. The future is ours to shape!