5 Takeaways from the Net Impact Conference

Liz Matthews
Liz Matthews

Liz Matthews joined the Career Development Office at the Carey Business School in 2017 as an Associate Director in the Employer Relations team. Liz has spent over 20 years working in the public, private, and government sectors. Prior to joining Carey, she worked for the federal agency that administers AmeriCorps, helping VISTA members transition from service to employment. In that role, she presented webinars and workshops on networking, resume writing, and interviewing; wrote a career development guide; and started an annual federal career fair. Liz has held communications and marketing positions at two national nonprofit organizations, a fortune 500 company, and a tech start-up. She also launched and ran her own yoga apparel business, Even Keel, for five years. Liz has a Global Career Development Facilitator certification and is in the process of becoming a Certified MBA Career Coach through The Academies. She received her BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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“Through over 350 chapters worldwide, Net Impact  mobilizes next-generation leaders to use their skills and careers to make a positive impact on the world.”

While Net Impact has been around since 1993, I only became aware of it after joining the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Now I’m a member of the DC Net Impact board and act as an advisor to the Carey Net Impact chapter. I’m all in and was excited to attend my second Net Impact conference in Detroit.

The conference is a gathering of individuals – mostly students but also professionals – who are committed to making a difference in the world. And this year, conference planners took it one step further. Everything served was vegan, which meant no cream for your coffee. Thank goodness for oat milk!

This is the type of crowd that always carries their own refillable water bottles, are upbeat and ready to engage in conversation, and are open and willing to learn how they can make even more of a difference in the world.

My 5 Takeaways:

1)     Lead with Compassion.

There aren’t many conferences that begin with an evening keynote that focuses on compassion. Nipun Mehta, the creator of ServiceSpace, is a gentle and lovely presence and you want to do what he says. It sounds simple, but making sure we are thanking those around us goes a long way. We may think we’re pretty good about this. I know I did.

I woke up early to get in a work-out at the hotel gym before the morning keynote. After doing my 20-minute routine, I headed out to get ready for the day. As I was leaving I noticed an employee diligently folding towels behind the counter. With last night’s lecture in mind, I made a special effort to say thank you.

She looked up at me and said, “Thank you for speaking to me. I’m not sure what’s going on this morning, but no one is talking to me. You’re the first person to stop and say something. Would you like some fruit?” I said sure and she returned with a bag containing an apple, banana, and orange. “Will I see you tomorrow?” she asked. “I hope so,” I said.

2)     If we don’t change the direction we’re going, we’ll end up where we’re headed.

This Irwin Corey quote was shared by Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea, executive chairman of Beyond Meat, and a long-standing supporter of the Net Impact community. This was his 24th conference.

The quote is featured on one of the Honest Tea bottle caps. Heading in the direction we’ve always been going in may not be the best thing.

For example, we need to re-evaluate the center of our plate. If our nutritional needs can be met by not eating animals, then why wouldn’t we try leaving them off the plate? Maybe we need to try and shift our focus to making vegetables and grains the center of the plate.

Even if it’s just on Meatless Monday.

3)     By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish.

We are in a waste crisis, in addition to the climate crisis. This conference can be overwhelming, but during the “Circular Economy of Plastics” workshop, there were great ideas coming from the panelists and participants, which gives me hope for the future.

Germany is addressing the issue well. Companies now get taxed for putting plastic in the landfill. The Schwartz Group, Germany’s largest retailer who owns Lidl and Kaufland supermarkets, came up with an innovative solution. Instead of getting taxed by throwing away their plastics in a landfill, they created their own waste management group. This new company, Prozero, is already earning over 500 million Euros annually while keeping tons of garbage out of the landfill – and out of the ocean.

We need to continue to look to other countries who are creating innovative solutions to this plastic crisis that we can adapt and use to make legislative changes here at home. After all, we all share the ocean.

4)     We need a continuum of care.

Not in the context of the health care industry, but rather in the care of marginalized individuals. As the “Coat Lady” learned, you can’t just give a homeless person a coat that turns into a sleeping bag. That’s great and all, but what you really need is a holistic approach to the problems that individuals face. Veronika Scott started the Empowerment Plan in Detroit, and now she is breaking the cycle of homelessness through employment.

She emphasized, “By pairing full-time employment with a wide range of supportive services, we have helped dozens of individuals achieve financial stability and independence for the whole family. Our holistic approach addresses everything from housing and childcare to transportation, education and more.”

5)     Vote.

One of the best workshops I attended was titled, “Businesses Speaking Out on Public Policy”. That’s a risky business. But it can also be good business. How much did it cost Dick’s Sporting Goods to stop selling assault-style weapons? $150 million in sales, not counting the $5 million worth of inventory they destroyed in military-style, semiautomatic rifles.

There is a high cost for businesses to take a stand. But as was pointed out by one of the panelists, how much money is already wasted in corporations? Extensive marketing campaigns that push a product but don’t actually work? The leather seats in the company’s leer jet? Not to mention the CEO’s salaries which are 300x higher than the average worker. Take a stand. Like CVS who stopped selling cigarettes. Like Patagonia, who backed political candidates defending public lands in Nevada and Montana. And like Dick’s Sporting Goods.

What were the parting words of this impressive panel made up of a former Director of Sustainability at Facebook, the former co-founder, and CEO of Seventh Generation, and the SVP of Corporate Sustainability at CitiGroup Inc?

Vote. Run for office. Be engaged.

Was this conference worth two days away from the office? You bet. If you live in the D.C. area, get ready because this conference is coming to Baltimore next year. Sign up to stay informed

Will I see you there? I hope so.

In the airport on the way home, I opted for the vegan shake at Joe & The Juice. And it was delicious.

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