Social Impact at Wharton

I came to Wharton eager to learn how I could leverage my business education to add measurable value to both local communities and society at large. Now, halfway through my junior year, I have had the opportunity to pursue this goal from a variety of perspectives, from providing consulting services to Philadelphia non-profits with the Wharton Social Impact Consulting Group, an undergraduate not-for-profit student club, to discussing the intricacies of socially responsible investments (SRIs) in Finance 381: Impact Investing, a new Wharton course. However, some of the most exciting work related to social impact that I have been engaged in over the past few years has been through my involvement with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII).

For the past nine months I have been working alongside Katherine Klein, Vice Dean for Social Impact; Sherryl Kuhlman, WSII Managing Director; and Jacob Gray, WSII Senior Director, as well as a group of over 20 Wharton undergraduate and MBA students to help build and expand opportunities for students to get engaged in social impact on campus. My involvement has ranged from participating as one of the founding members of the Social Impact Advisory Board (SIAB), a team of two students from each undergraduate class year at Wharton who work directly with WSII leadership to advise and implement strategic social impact projects, to helping launch WSII’s Social Intrapreneurship Program (SIP), an initiative supporting undergraduate students at Penn to challenge significant problems and advance Penn’s impact in the greater Philadelphia community and beyond. Whether managing the development of strategic relationships with organizations like Spark, a national nonprofit that seeks to provide life-changing apprenticeships to youth from disadvantaged communities (and was founded by Chris Balme, C’03 W’03), to leading research projects on topics such as venture capital, impact investing, and women and leadership, the opportunities to create value with the support of the WSII team are varied.

One project I have been particularly enthusiastic about has been the Philadelphia Social Enterprise Partnership (PSEP). PSEP, a developing collaboration between the local social venture incubator GoodCompany Group, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Wharton, developed out of the City of Philadelphia’s interest in creating a submission for Bloomberg Philanthropies’ $5 million Mayors Challenge. PSEP arose out of a common desire to fulfill the Challenge’s call for “scalable ideas that can improve quality of life” from a partnership between the private and public sectors as a way of incubating innovative solutions to the city’s problems. Out of more than 300 submissions, PSEP was chosen as in November one of 20 finalists for the $5 million grand prize and one of four $1 million prizes.

As a SIP Associate, I have had the opportunity to participate in a number of conversations with PSEP leaders around how to encourage and support engagement opportunities for Wharton students in this partnership. Several weeks ago, I had the chance to facilitate a discussion with leading members from Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial community to discuss their visions for building a strong and vibrant community for entrepreneurs in Philadelphia–and how the Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics and the Philadelphia City Government could help them realize their collective vision. At the end, Mayor Michael Nutter (W’79) himself joined our conversation and our groups were able to propose our recommendations directly to him and solicit feedback. As the youngest student participant in the event, the opportunity to play an integral role in helping shape and direct Philadelphia into becoming a nationally recognized community for innovation and social entrepreneurship has been an experience I could never have dreamed of having available to me as an undergrad.

With two and a half semesters ahead of me, I know each day will bring new and exciting ideas, opportunities, and challenges to increasing the visibility of social impact at Wharton and encouraging more students to think broadly about the many different ways they can apply their education to add value to society. As Dean Thomas Robertson has said, “At Wharton we believe the role of business is to advance society as a whole, creating new wealth and economic opportunity for all people, in developing regions as well as the developed economies. In our research and teaching, we are educating the next generation of leaders with the firm conviction that business can and must be a force for good in the world.” With the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, that force is a reality.