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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Social Innovation Students Connect & Share Ideas with San Diego’s B-Corp Leaders

Written by Grayson Walker, MA

With fresh saltwater in the air, a collection of over 100 social innovators gathered together at the Southwestern Yacht Club in Point Loma on October 13th, for an evening of connection and collaboration around how San Diego is redefining the role of business to create a positive impact on society. Hosted by the University of San Diego’s newest institute for social innovation, Spark @USD, the event brought together Master of Arts in Social Innovation (MASI) students and alumni with the leaders of San Diego’s Certified B-Corporations (B-Corps). The ethos of a B-Corp is to strive to be the best for the world, not just in the world, reflecting a growing global social awareness and demand for businesses that take more responsibility for the social and environmental effects of their practices. Today, nearly 5,600 companies around the world have completed a rigorous assessment process administered by B Lab, the independent reviewing body that began the B-Corp movement. Certification includes a business reviewing and taking action to ensure their sustainable, ethical, just, and socially-beneficial operations (see the full list here). California boasts the highest concentration of Certified B-Corps in the world, and the San Diego-based B Local is an organization consisting of 25 San Diego B-Corps. B Local encourages connection between local organizations, helps grow the local B Corp community, and seeks to raise awareness of both the local and global B Economy.

With the goal of connecting students to action, Spark @ USD organized the evening so that social innovation students and alumni could hear directly from those on the forefront of developing profitable businesses that contribute to a more prosperous future. The leaders sharing their expertise and ideas with students included:

Social Innovation in Action San Diegos B-Corp Movement (1)Social Innovation in Action San Diegos B-Corp Movement (2)

Social Innovation in Action San Diegos B-Corp Movement (3)Social Innovation in Action San Diegos B-Corp Movement (4)

Social Innovation in Action San Diegos B-Corp Movement (5)Social Innovation in Action San Diegos B-Corp Movement (6)

After each B-Corp leader shared with the group what about their business’s ethical practices makes them the most proud, students were invited to gather at the table of the B-Corp that interested them the most, in order to learn more from that organization’s leader. While students stayed in their groups at each table, the B Corp leaders rotated every 10-15 minutes to speak with and answer questions from different groups of students. This format allowed students to ask specific questions and hear from a diverse variety of companies representing an equally-diverse variety of industries. With the backdrop of San Diego’s sunset and harbor, along with food and drink in hand, the setting made for a comfortable and conversational environment about the future of business and prosperity in San Diego.

“It was really helpful talking directly to professionals that gave us their insight in many different matters that interest us,” shared Master’s in Social Innovation student Ines Candano. Those matters of interest were not just limited to the industries of the B Corps represented - some of the most important knowledge shared was around what it was like to work at a for profit company while adhering to the ethical and environmental standards required by the B Corp certification. Students heard about what it meant to support nonprofits from a for-profit platform from Krista Lamp, Classy’s Senior Director of Brand, Events, & Communication, and how finding your small product niche can be both successful and sustainable from Kevin Lee, an Environmental Impact & Compliance Specialist for Dr. Bronner’s. Think Parallax CEO & Co-Founder Jonathan Hanwit provided unique insights into the startup journey of a B Corp, and Kristin Carroll, the CEO of RESCUE, dove into the realities of balancing customer expectations with organizational capacity. 

“The leaders from the six B-corp certified organizations were so generous with their time and it's obvious they are passionate about their companies, since applying for and maintaining B Corp certification every three years involves staff time and funds,”, observed the Kroc School’s Dammeyer Distinguished Professor of Global Leadership and Education, Dr. Paula Cordeiro. “These organizations are truly committed to the environment and their employees' well-being. So many of the students told me afterwards that they really enjoyed and valued the evening. Many MASI students want to work for these organizations and they were grateful that the B Corp certified organization leaders were so gracious.” With a passion for helping students discover pathways for their careers, Dr. Cordeiro has always emphasized theory into practice. Zoe Luiz, a 2022 MASI alum, shared that, “while in Dr. Cordeiro’s Social Entrepreneurship class, I was able to learn more about B Corps and the importance of getting B Corp certified. It was really great to see the actual fruition of what B Corp certification is and learn more from organizations that are actually doing this work.”

“I very much want the Kroc School to be tied to the B-Corp certified community,” Dr. Cordiero explained after the event. “This is one way to begin that relationship. The values built into the certification process are directly in line with what we teach in the MASI program. Many of our students want to work with organizations that are aligned with their values and this was an opportunity for our students to learn about these organizations that care about people, planet and profits.” 

Considering the experience a few days later, current MASI student Rodrigo Garcia’s reflections mirrored Dr. Cordiero’s learning goals for her students. “The meeting was a unique opportunity to see in practice what entrepreneurs are doing to combine profit with purpose through B-Corporations,” Rodrigo shared. “More than getting to know companies, for me it was also a meeting with myself where I could witness the effective transformation that is advancing towards the new capitalism and thus ask the following question: if they did it, why can't I do it too?” 

Learn more about the Spark @ USD here, and explore the B Local community of organizations here.

Grayson Walker, MA

About the Author

Grayson Walker, MA

Grayson is a graduate of the Kroc School of Peace Studies where he earned his MA in Social Innovation.