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Net Impact 2018: Outside the Lines

Written by: Jeff Mathers
Originally published at: A Few Good Minds Blog

Every year, some of the world’s most innovative and inspirational leaders meet up at a conference organized by Net Impact, the umbrella to SFU Beedie’s NI chapter. As most of the low-hanging fruit relating to sustainability have already been addressed, future entrepreneurs will have to start looking “outside the lines” to solve our generation’s biggest problems.

In an effort to do so, we spent three days collaborating with other MBA students from around the world while being guided by world leaders in the industry. It was refreshing hearing from legends like Stephen Ritz, Chief Eternal Optimist of Green Bronx Machine, who has devoted his career to improving the lives of thousands of children by promoting entrepreneurship and healthy eating.

Inspiring and Cultivating Growth for our Future

I could not think of a better way to kick off the weekend’s events than with the high-energy, inspiring, and passionate Stephen Ritz. Stephen is a teacher from the Bronx, a borough of New York City. When Ritz began his career, his students didn’t have access to grocery stores, healthy food, or positive distractions from the poverty of the Bronx.

Ritz tackled some of the borough’s biggest issues: quality of life, nutrition, incarceration, and high-school drop-out rates. He did so by transforming his disinterested students into entrepreneurial, urban farmers. The school began by growing their own vegetables in the classroom and have since spread their roots across the Bronx, transforming the city streets from a concrete jungle into a lush 65,000lb urban farming hub. Since the program’s inception, school attendance rates have risen from 40% to 93% daily, and Ritz’s first indoor edible classroom consistently produced healthy meals to 450 students while teaching them farming and the importance of healthy eating.

Cryptocurrency and Hyper Transparency

Next, we heard from Ashish Gadnis, CEO and Co-founder of BanQu, a blockchain platform designed to increase transparency and supply chain accountability in third-world countries. His vision goes beyond Bitcoin mining and cryptocurrency trading, as his primary focus is to use the traceability of cryptocurrency transactions, to help reduce the injustices faced by third-world farmers. By using Gadnis’ program, organizations are able to trace raw materials directly back to the farmer who grew them and know how much they sold and at what price. BanQu allows farmers to show a history of transactions, helping prove to governments and banks that they exist as successful farmers. Large companies such as Anheuser-Busch have already bought into this business model and can now assure there is validity and transparency throughout all supply chain levels. Gadnis was an inspiration for how tech companies can be innovative and crucial to embedding sustainability into all levels of organizations.

Creating Meaningful Impact

The social shift that organizations are making can be overwhelming and inspiring all at once. Entrepreneurs and CEO’s are faced with many difficult questions: What is an appropriate social enterprise model for my organization? Should I focus more on my product or service, or make a donation with every purchase? Will I reap the financial rewards of running a socially responsible company? With the help of organizations like B Lab, companies are able to become certified based on their social and environmental performance. B Lab is a nonprofit that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good through its B Corp Certification initiative. It takes into account all affected stakeholders: workers, community, environment, and customers.

"Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.”

Transition to Renewable Energy

It is without a doubt that the use of fossil fuels for energy is nearing the end of its life cycle. We are challenged with the increased risk of non-reversible climate change, and one of the leading causes is our choice of energy. Although switching to clean, renewable energy may seem like a straight-forward decision to make, the infrastructure and key players need to be in place before significant changes can occur. In Shell’s Energy Transition Game, we interacted with a group of people who each represented several key players in the energy sector. Over the span of a simulated transition period from switching from non-renewable energies to renewable, the relationships between governments, suppliers, distributors and citizens were stressed and challenged. One of the key questions we asked was how much the government should intervene? Despite the United States federal government pulling out of the Paris Agreement, we see leadership being shown by the California state government, who plan to mandate that 100% of newly built homes in the year 2020 will have solar panels installed on the roof. This aggressive but necessary goal will hopefully be the gold standard that other governments and organizations will be compared to.

Jeff Mathers is currently a full-time MBA student at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the president of SFU Beedie’s Net Impact Chapter and has a deep passion for the environment and sustainability. He believes that the future of success looks like creating a world that is better for all and that it will be defined by our ability to efficiently implement change and educate the public about the need for sustainable practices. 

Jeff can be found on LinkedIn and reached by e-mail at