Why was the Wharton Social Impact Conference $95 and held on a Thursday?(1) Hear from Stephanie Kim, Associate Director of Community Strategy for the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, as she addresses the struggles with balancing altruism and business, inspiring Wharton students to owning their impact on the world, and her views on the “is a hot dog is a sandwich” war.
Ronald: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Stephanie: I was hoping you wouldn’t come to me with that. I think a hot dog is its own category of food, because sandwiches require two disconnected buns? You need meat, cheese, sauce, and veggies! You don’t have veggies in hot dogs! The buns have to be separate.
Ronald: But it is its own category?
Stephanie: Ya because you can do a lot with the hot dog framework. You can make a spam dog.
Ronald: With the recent Social Impact Conference on October 29th, what were some of your favorite insights from it?
Stephanie: We view the conference here as a seminal event because it was a joint collaboration between the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, the MBA Wharton Social Impact Club, and students from the Executive MBA program. There’s never been that type of collaboration before in the social impact scene at Wharton. WSII is finally at the scale to be able to do these types of activities, and the conference was a proof of concept that showed that kind of work together is possible.
Ronald: Was it the number of attendees that showed you were ready to take the next step and involve more groups. What were the measures of success that led to the decision to broaden out the conference?
Stephanie: When I started here a little over 2 years ago, Social Impact was a smaller thing on campus, and over the past 2 years we’ve seen that momentum grow. The conference is here to stay; it’s something WSII can bring our connections to since we’re here longer than 2 years. We’re able to stay ahead of the curve in knowing what the industry is talking about. We’re able to bring external people and it creates a richer networking activity and dialogue for all attendees, including students. Historically the Wharton Social Impact Conference had mostly students as attendees, this year a third of the attendees were students. There were two industry practitioners for every student.
Ronald: With the conference, there are rumors that there’s a focus more on constituency groups versus the students, with the $95 price point(1) and the decision to hold it on a Thursday. Can you address that?
Stephanie: This year, we needed the conference to break even and did not have an established precedent that would have sponsors knocking on our door. I think some students had the idea that since this is a “do gooder” conference it should be cheaper, but this is a high quality, professional event that has costs. In terms of the timing, that was such a hard decision! Executive MBAs have classes on Fridays and Saturdays, so the next best option was Thursday afternoon when full-time students were hopefully out of classes. This is something we want to address for next year.
Ronald: And the decision to not co-host it with WSIC?
Stephanie: That’s another thing to figure out. We did co-host it with WSIC. In fact, the co-presidents of WSIC were on the organizing committee, as were a few club members. The key difference was that we cut the organizing committee down to 12 people across three organizations and took a stronger leadership role. We wanted to cut this down to its leanest version.
Ronald: In your ideal world, what is the type of impact you want to create?
Stephanie: Big question. What makes me tick is helping people understand the potential of the kind of impact they can make with their unique skill set. Everyone can make an impact. I want to help people understand that while they might be just a speck on this planet, they can own that speck.
Ronald: How did WSII decide on the three pillars of social impact being 1) Africa, 2) Women, and 3) Philadelphia?
Stephanie: We actually work in six areas. The first 3 are vehicles for impact; tools and mechanisms. Those are impact investing, impact entrepreneurship, and corporate strategic impact. We apply those tools to 3 target areas, which are Philadelphia, Africa, most recently women and girls. At the end of the day we’re a start-up funded by major alumni donors, so that dictated much of where we started as an organization.
Ronald: From what I understand is, you’re more of an independent think tank, what inspired your group to be the ones to actually take initiatives and makes an impact versus just providing resources in a support role?
Stephanie: I’m glad people think of us as a think tank! I’d categorize us more as a think and do tank. It’s not by accident that just about all of our staff is from industry. And by involving Wharton students in our work through the Social Impact Fellowship, we show them that they can do it, too.
Learn more about Wharton Social Impact: https://socialimpact.wharton.upenn.edu/
(1) Author’s note that early bird tickets to the Wharton Social Impact Conference were $65