Imperial College Business School hosted business leaders, entrepreneurs and philanthropists for discussion on importance of social impact in business.
The Social Impact Day – hosted by the Business School’s Gandhi Centre for Inclusive Innovation – featured a keynote by a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, stimulating panel discussions and a celebration of student innovation.
“Transforming a Million People”
Professor Yunus, internationally recognised for his work in poverty alleviation and the empowerment of poor women, gave a talk titled ‘Transforming a Million People.’ He addressed the challenge of trying to create a positive impact in business, when economics is traditionally driven by self-interest and making profits. He discussed the concept of ‘social business’, which is business that tries to solve problems and is oriented with solutions.
Professor Yunus argued that this is not impossible, referring to issues of poverty, unemployment and carbon emissions: “Many, many impossibles have become possible. On that ground, you can conclude that nothing is impossible for human beings. If something remains impossible, we are not paying enough attention to it.”
Asked how one individual person can make a difference to all the complex problems in the world, Professor Yunus said: “We are eight billion people on this planet. You are seeing only your own part, only your individual brick. But if you put your brick down and I put my brick down, we have eight billion bricks. And once you create an example, suddenly it takes a shape, it starts becoming easier, better and more efficient and goes faster and faster. More efficient in every single way – net performance-wise, cost-wise, expansion-wise.”
Ideas to Impact
During the day, passionate student entrepreneurs were also celebrated as part of the Ideas to Impact Challenge. Shortlisted teams showcased posters summarising their ideas for participants, guests and judges to view and discuss. Seven teams were then selected to present their pitches, showing how their plan to positively impact one million lives.
The winning team Capta received the top prize of £10,000 for their innovation, a new device to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosing parasitic worms. They are building a microscope attachment for smartphones that requires minimal training and uses software to identify infection, reducing human error and enabling more accurate disease modelling and monitoring.
Second prize was awarded to Habi Tabi for their logistics and technology solution for the production of fair trade and sustainable pineapple fibre in the textile industry, and third to VUI Diagnostics who are aiming to help doctors detect eye diseases earlier using their novel imaging device.
“The art of failure”
Kamran Elahian, Chairman and Co-Founder of Global Catalyst Partners (GCP), an international technology oriented venture capital firm, also gave a talk about his successes and failures, discussing “celebrating the art of failure”, investment in high tech and the effects of positive change that shape society’s future. His advice to future entrepreneurs was “be willing to risk failure and overcome your fear of failure.”
Impact investing: the rise of women
A group of investment practitioners focused on diversity joined a panel to debate if diversity and inclusion are still an undervalued gap in the market. The discussion focused on the rise of women in impact investing – investments made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.
The panellists discussed how the transition to diversifying businesses and companies is very slow, yet this means that customers and investors are missing out on opportunities. They discussed the barriers that exist in organisations facing minority groups and how CEOs need to be held responsible for promoting diversity in the workplace.
Technology for social good
The second panel focussed on technology for social good. As it becomes easier, faster and cheaper to generate and process data, organisations are becoming increasingly reliant on technologies, such as artificial intelligence, data science and robotics, for efficiency and competitiveness. The panel discussed how companies need to plan for social, inclusive and ethical systems, must be flexible and agile, demand the latest skills and tools, and be socially responsible, adapting to technological changes.
Eze Vidra, Managing Partner at Remagine Ventures, discussed how technology can be an enabler and that “the tech community can make a real difference.” He added “technology can be a catalyst for change”, referring to his work promoting education in the developing world by building schools and libraries.
Asked what individuals can do to make a difference, he said: “Pick a cause and see what you can do about it – you’ll be surprised at how little can make a difference.”
Ripple of change
The Gandhi Centre for Inclusive Innovation, based within Imperial College Business School, aims to act as a principal catalyst for linking innovation and entrepreneurship within, and between, companies and institutions globally.
Opening the event, Dr Sankalp Chaturvedi, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership at Imperial and Director of the Gandhi Centre, said: “With the Gandhi Centre, we are trying to create a platform for open dialogue and trying to create a ripple of change. This starts with visionaries, such as Professor Yunus.”
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
Photos and graphics subject to third party copyright used with permission or © Imperial College London.
Leave a comment
Your comment may be published, displaying your name as you provide it, unless you request otherwise. Your contact details will never be published.