BfE Panel Discussion Challenges Dichotomy Between Corporate Ambitions and Social Impact

October 15, 2017 | Holly Schofield

From left to right: Aaron Tam (BfE President), Lienda Kavindele (Leapfrog Investments), Mike Meaney (PhD Student, Gates Cambridge Scholar), Minsung Kim (HSBC), and Karen Leigh Anderson (Judge Business School).

Can a student’s dream of changing the world be reconciled with corporate ambitions? This thought provoking topic formed the core of a panel event hosted by Bridges for Enterprise for undergraduate and graduate students of Cambridge University on Saturday 7 October.  

The dichotomy between the corporate world and social development seems, at first glance, to be profound. Many students, when asked at the start of the event whether they believed a corporate career could have an impact on social change, agreed that the two are not easily reconciled. Yet the four guest panel speakers; Lienda Kavindele of Leapfrog Investments, Minsung Kim, an investment banker, Mike Meaney, a PHD student and Gates Cambridge scholar, and Karen Leigh Anderson from the Judge Business School, deeply challenged this widely held assumption.

Each of the panellists had a unique perspective on careers for social impact. Lienda shared with the audience how personal experience of working as a donor and investment manager for LeapFrog Investments had revealed to her that profit and purpose can be synergistic. This message was echoed by Karen, whose years of experience empowering social entrepreneurs in scaling their businesses gave her insight into how these firms can provide real jobs that have a tangible impact on quality of life. In contrast, Minsung focused on how large corporate companies can have a “profound impact” on change through mobilisation of a unique combination of resources. Mike adopted a more qualified approach to the question, maintaining that it was the design and perspective of markets that mattered to whether corporate and social impact can be reconciled.

Over the course of the discussion, many insights into the causes of the perceived schism between the corporate world and social impact were discussed. Lienda observed that information asymmetry often prevents students from entering careers in companies that have a social, as well as profit, orientation. Whereas all students hear of the great names of the corporate world, the Barclays and the Goldman Sachs, they have to actively search for companies that concentrate on empowering emerging markets. Karen corroborated this by demonstrating her knowledge of the thriving market of social enterprises, most of which require financial, consulting and legal expertise. They agreed that the opportunities are out there; it is simply up to individuals to seek them out.

When asked by a member of the audience how to keep the passion for social impact alive whilst in a corporate environment Minsung and Karen offered advice based on personal experience. Minsung said that having a specific cause that you care about, rather than the vague commitment to change the world, fuels your passion to work for social impact much more effectively. This opinion was supported by Karen, who believed that knowing your personal motivations and choosing the impact that matters to you were the two most significant tools that enable individuals to use corporate skills for social development.

After the event, many students remained to discuss with the guest speakers and members of the Bridges for Enterprise team. Isabel, a PHD student at the Judge Business School, said that the evening had been “inspiring, encouraging us to think about alternative career paths” that are not usually advertised.

Aaron Tam, President of BfE remarked, “We are really glad that this event has brought together a passionate group of students who are keen to make an impact through their careers, and that the messages resonate well with the audience.”

Bridges for Enterprise was founded on the conviction that it is possible to bridge the gap between corporate skill-sets and social development. The team has already empowered more than thirty social enterprise startups from across sixteen countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to achieve sustainable social change. For more information about joining the team, see details on the website.

Special thanks go to Lienda, Minsung, Mike and Karen for their time and inspiring insights.