Imperial College London

Working with purpose in a post-pandemic world


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Academics, industry experts and investors explore the future of work and its potential to drive social change.

Social Impact Day, held by Imperial College Business School, brought together academics, entrepreneurs, students and industry experts to explore and celebrate how to achieve tangible social impact and improve lives around the world through business, enterprise and work.  

The event was organised by the Gandhi Centre for Inclusive Innovation, based at Imperial College Business School.  

At its core ‘purpose’ comes from a response to a very simple yet elusive question… ‘Why?’ ‘Why’ should we change, why should we do what we do, why is anything important or meaningful? Dr Sankalp Chaturvedi

Dr Sankalp Chaturvedi, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Leadership, and Director of the Centre, hosted the event. In his opening address, speaking about the changes the pandemic has had, he said: “Probably, the renewed ‘purpose’ has led many to transform and revitalise the whole future of work, and workstyles. Many companies have closed down, others doing well, and some are working digitally. Many companies have announced that they will be 100% virtual from now onwards… But the basic question is where does it all start? 

“At its core ‘purpose’ comes from a response to a very simple yet elusive question… ‘Why?’ ‘Why’ should we change, why should we do what we do, why is anything important or meaningful? Why should we care about equality, inclusivity, climate change, mental health, or vaccine equity? The focus should be on the ‘right’ purpose to push us all to create a win-win solution for self, environment and society.” 

During a keynote address, Paul Polman, co-founder and co-chair of social venture Imagine and former CEO of Unilever, echoed Dr Chaturvedi’s message of the importance of purpose, and discussed how companies can build back better in a post-pandemic world. 

Ideas to Impact 

The event explored how enterprise can have positive social impact and address global problems, challenging students to come up with innovative new business pitches in the Ideas to Impact Challenge.  

Seven teams of student entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their ideas that could solve some of the world’s biggest challenges and impact a million lives, with the top three teams receiving start-up funds and continuous coaching, mentoring and business support from experts at the College.   

Claiming the top prize of £7,000 was NexaCath who are developing next-generation urethral catheters with advancements in biomaterials and manufacturing technologies. NexaCath was co-founded by King’s College London medical student Valerie Cai.  

Second prize of £5,000 went to Cleanest who are developing sustainable nappies. Cleanest was co-founded by Imperial MBA student Morgan Mixon and MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management student Rima Suppan.  

Awarded with £3,000 of seed funding in third place was Watter for developing a novel turbine-free micro hydropower device that can generate affordable electricity from water. Watter was co-founded by MSc International Management student Sheldon Swanepoel. 

The winners of the Ideas to Impact Challenge

The other teams to take part in the Ideas to Impact Challenge were: 

  • WeWALK - a smart cane for the visually impaired, cofounded by Civil Engineering PhD student Jean Marc Feghali. 
  • E-Wash – off-grid washing machines for rural communities, run by a committee of Imperial students. 
  • Sukoon – developing a bespoke programme to make cardiac rehabilitation more accessible & empowering for all. Co-founded by Biological Sciences graduate Hansa Shree. 

The future of purpose-driven work 

At the event, a panel of experts discussed considerations for the global workforce in a post COVID-19 world, including exploring the meaning of purpose, its implications, and how can to set up offices to energise the workforce around purpose. 

On the panel, moderated by Simone Koo Ishikawa, Honorary Practice Fellow at Imperial College Business School, were Dal Bamford, CCO at Tenth Revolution Group, Haider Imam, Founder of Tao Leadership, Poornima Luthra, CEO of TalentED Consultancy and Keshav Murugesh, CEO of WNS Global Services.  

Attendees also heard two special addresses. Tom Cummings, Managing Partner at NOW partners and ex-Head of Learning at Unilever, shared examples of trendsetting global leaders. Sydney Price, CEO of The Knew Purpose, discussed her work building a social enterprise supplier in Rwanda as Senior Vice President at Kate Spade & Company. 


Joanna Wilson

Joanna Wilson
Communications Division

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Events, Entrepreneurship, Student-entrepreneurship, Enterprise, Comms-strategy-Entrepreneurial-ecosystem
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