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A Glimpse Into the New World: The 2015 Wharton Social Impact Conference

03/10/2015 03:51 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015

Over the past decade, companies - big and small - have been increasingly focused on social impact, protecting the environment, giving back to society, and building sustainable business practices. These new-blood companies are building social impact aspects into their DNA, making the betterment of the world as much a part of what they do as making profits and providing investors with financial returns. In the words of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce commissioned by David Cameron, UK's Prime Minister, "the world is on the brink of a revolution in how we solve society's toughest problems. The force driving this revolution is impact investing".

This gradual but certain inclusion of social good into today's business world is also gaining traction and interest in the business schools arena, where students and alums are taking the lead in building new companies with social impact at the core of their business models. Over the past several years, the Wharton business school has taken this evolution very seriously. As a result, it is hardly surprising that some very successful companies founded by Wharton graduates, such as Warby Parker and Cotopaxi, now exist. This shift is best reflected in a quote from David Klein, co-founder of CommonBond, "I sometimes get the question, why do you have a social mission? To which I will respond that I can't wait for the day to come when I get to ask you why you don't."

Social entrepreneurs are also being supported by a growing infrastructure of investors, mentors, and business leaders in large, established companies. According to a report published by J.P. Morgan, there was a 20% increase from 2013 to 2014 in the amount invested in social impact ventures, based on a response from 124 investors across the world.

While these are all encouraging signs of the increasing momentum of impact ventures, we are far from an ideal world where social impact aspect is at the heart of every company or social impact investing is given the same attention as conventional investing.

These topics and more will be debated in depth at the third annual student-led social impact conference at the Wharton San Francisco campus on March 18th. The conference will engage today's thought leaders on the topics of social impact entrepreneurship, b-corp activities and impact investing around the world.

This year's conference features two extraordinary keynote speakers. Kevin Bayuk, partner and co-founder of LIFT Business Design, who will provide insights into how the New Economy is developing with a DNA that's distinct from the conventional economy. Keeley Stevenson, CEO and founder of Weal Life, will share her vast and varied experience in leading, mentoring and connecting social impact activities around the world.

The Social Entrepreneurship panel will highlight the entrepreneurial activities in the social impact domain. Olivia Khalili will present her thoughts about profitable for-purpose businesses through her work as the Director of Yahoo for Good and founder of Cause Capitalism. Tomas Alvarez will showcase how his startup, Beats Rhymes & Life, is using hip hop as a catalyst for improving mental health in the youth. Christopher Ategeka, featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, will discuss what Rides for Life is doing to improve healthcare in East Africa. Brandi DeCarli will present how Farm from a Box is bringing value to the agricultural communities, and Michael Zakaras will give an insight into the various social entrepreneurship initiatives that Ashoka is supporting.

The B-Corp panel will engage several prominent companies with social welfare at the heart of their business model. John Montgomery, chairman of One Global and founder of Montgomery and Hansen, will start off the discussion by sharing his work with leaders that integrate social good are part of their businesses. Davis Smith will share his experiences and motivation behind his model for Cotopaxi. Clara Brenner, also featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, will discuss how Tumml is supporting a broad range of entrepreneurs to solve urban problems. Elizabeth Dodson will highlight Silicon Valley Venture Fund's continued focus on B-corps.

With both Technology and social awareness at the heart of everything in the Bay Area it is not surprising that tech firms have such a prominent presence in the social impact space. Our third panel, Technology in Service of Social Impact, will include several Tech firm leaders who will cover the initiatives of respective firms in the social impact domain. These will include Paul Arnpriester, principal technology strategist at CDW, Scott Coleman, head of partnerships at Google, Cory Marshall, director at Splunk, and Brandon Middaugh, chief of staff at SunEdison.

Our Social Impact Investing panel will include luminaries whose activities have powered the social impact engine by focusing on investments in this domain. This panel will be led by Lee O'Dwyer, equity market specialist at Bloomberg. Cynthia Ringo will cover DBL Investors' philosophy in focusing on firms that enable social, environmental and economic benefits. Neal Hansch will provide insights into the investing activities that MEST Incubator at Meltwater Group is involved in in Ghana. Rick Moss will cover Better Ventures' investments in technologies that promise to solve major world problems.

In addition to the panels and the speakers, this years' conference will also feature rapid-fire idea pitch sessions where several new social entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to share their business concepts and gather input from the audience.

Please join us at this important annual conference on March 18th at the Wharton campus, 2 Harrison St, San Francisco. For more information and to sign up for the event, please visit the conference website.

This post was co-authored with Priyanshu Singh.