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NYU 2021 Social Innovation Symposium5 min read

By Jean Rafaelian

On Friday, February 26, professionals across industries came together for the annual Social Innovation Symposium (SIS), planned in collaboration with NYU Stern’s Social Impact and Sustainability (SISA) club and NYU’s Law School and Wagner School of Public Service. Hosted for the first time online, the conference featured a range of voices speaking to this year’s theme: Human Centered Capitalism, Leveraging Resources to Drive Impact

This theme considers the shift in expectations for how organizations conduct business with respect to people, planet and profits. New generations seek out employers with a social mission, investors demand not only high returns but higher standards for where their money is invested, and corporations continue to see their business models disrupted by challenges of sustainability and social impact. As these trends accelerate and the urgency grows greater in coming years, the conversations featured in this conference seeked to thoughtfully consider these problems and envision solutions to the challenges at hand.  

The conference kicked off with opening remarks from Tensie Whelan, Clinical Professor and Director of NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business. Whelan introduced the conference’s keynote speaker, John Ghingo, President of Applegate, the natural and organic meat company. Ghingo charmed the audience with his discussion of a more sustainable hotdog or “greener weiner.” He shared Applegate’s ongoing work to reduce the use of antibiotics in their products and their related educational initiatives for consumers and farmers.  

Panels were offered throughout the afternoon on a variety of pertinent topics including impact measurement, ESG investing, finance, philanthropy, stakeholder engagement, media, and female entrepreneurship. Read on for highlights of some of the sessions. 

Scott Taitel, Clinical Professor of Public Service and Director of Social Impact, Innovation, and Investment Specialization at NYU Wagner, moderated “Impact Measurement: Monitoring, Assessing, and Delivering Results,” in which panelists Greg Waters, Associate Director of Research at SASB, Grace Earle, Senior Associate, IRIS+ and Impact Measurement and Management at the Global Impact Investing Network, Elizabeth Chu, Executive Director at Columbia’s Center for Public Research and Leadership and Jessica Camus, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Diginex Solutions, examined the state of impact measurement today and its future outlook. 

“The Evolving Role of Investors in Driving ESG Change,” moderated by NYU Stern Professor of Business, Karen Brenner, included investors, lawyers, and leaders in the from Impactive Capital, Brunswick Group, Kirkland & Ellis, and ICR in a discussion of the opportunities and challenges of socially responsible investing, as well as the tools and relationships being wielded to confront them. A topical discussion given that trends show that a growing variety of investors are increasingly adding ESG improvements to their roster of shareholder demands.

Initially brought together to collaborate on Closed Loop Partners’ Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag, panelists from IDEO, the Ocean Conservancy and Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners spoke on “Stakeholder Collaboration: Working Together to Reduce Plastic Waste,” moderated by Sophie Waskow Rifkin, Director of Corporate Research and Engagement at NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business. The conversation moved beyond their work on Closed Loop’s initiative to the advantages and challenges of stakeholder engagement in today’s world. 

Over the past several years, there has been increasing emphasis on sustainability and social impact in financial markets. “How Finance is Changing for Sustainability and Social Impact, ” moderated by Cristiano Zazzara, Advisory Board Member of the Volatility and Risk Institute and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Finance at NYU Stern, examined this focus on sustainability in this space. Featuring Whiteny Jiranek, Senior Analyst of Global Emerging Markets Equities at BNP Paribas, Summer Johnson, Sustainable and Impact Banking Associate at Barclays Investment Bank, and Jeffery Schub, Executive Director at the Coalition for Green Capital, this panel explored how traditional financial institutions and investors have responded while looking to highlight the new financial players and innovations within the sustainability and social impact space.

While it was disappointing to move another event online, the virtual space created new opportunities for connection and engagement. Panelists from around the United States and even abroad were featured, including Funda Sezgi, Co-founder & Managing Director at Norrsken Impact Accelerator in Sweden and Jessica Camus, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Diginix Solutions in Switzerland. Over 500 registered to attend the conference, including a mix of professionals, students and academics. The remote setting provided a unique opportunity to tap more deeply into the NYU community, including its undergraduate population.  The conference was delighted to receive sponsorship from several brand partners, including Cariuma, EarthHero, Goldune, RISE Brewing Co. and Saie Beauty, whose founder, Laney Crowell, was a panelist on “Investing in Female-Founded Social Enterprises.” 

For those who missed the conference, the keynote will be available on the Center for Sustainable Business’s website in the coming days and the website remains live, providing detailed information about the panels and their speakers. 

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