Alumni, Faculty, Students Celebrate 15 Years in Asia

Published on May 12, 2015

Chicago Booth celebrated 15 Years of Making a Difference in Asia with talks by guest speakers and faculty, panel discussions, “Back to the Classroom” sessions and opportunities to socialize and reconnect in Singapore. This two-day celebration April 24-25 was attended by nearly 300 guests including faculty, alumni, and students.

The Making a Difference theme focused on the rise of the social enterprise: organizations that apply commercial strategies to improve human and environmental well-being, and place a premium on maximizing social impact and business sustainability rather than profits for external shareholders.

The weekend featured two globally recognized pioneers of the social enterprise movement as featured speakers: Amy Lehman, AB ’96, MBA ’05, MD ’05, founder and president of the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic; and Robert H. Gertner, Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance, and deputy dean for the Part-Time MBA Programs.

Gertner, in his keynote speech on Saturday, explained how social enterprise is distinct from philanthropy. “Social enterprises are those that are driven to be managed, financed, and governed to support their mission, not by business revenue. It’s the application of solid business principles and rigor to solving pressing social problems,” he said. SEI supports students and alumni who aim to impact social issues and further research on how institutions help solve social problems.

Two panel sessions—Founding and Managing a Social Enterprise, and Impact Investing and Financing Social Ventures—raised the discussion to a more interactive level. Panelists explored a range of issues: managing social enterprises in emerging markets, sectors with the best chance for success, and the use of data analytics. Investors with experience in social enterprises said it’s critical to determine the return on investment required before investing in a social enterprise. Investment in social enterprises required a long-term horizon, panelists agreed.

Panelists also shared personal stories of how they came to be involved in managing or investing in social enterprises.

Before Saturday afternoon’s proceedings winded down, attendees were treated to two Back to the Classroom sessions. Jean-Pierre Dubé, Sigmund E. Edelstone Professor of Marketing, spoke on “Network Externalities and the Effects on Economies, Cultures and Organizations,” and Michael Gibbs, clinical professor of economics and faculty director of the Executive MBA Program addressed “Marketing Analytics and Big Data.” Many of the day’s sessions were presented to standing-room-only audiences. Sunil Kumar, Dean and George Pratt Shultz Professor of Operations Management, provided an overview discussion of the school at the Saturday dinner.

“The program was an excellent mix of inspirational content, fun, and networking,” said Calvin Chu,’09 (AXP-8). “There was real intellectual rigor in these sessions, which is classic Booth.” For Chu, whose career focus is social enterprise, the event was especially valuable. “I was excited to meet such a wide range of influential speakers from seasoned social entrepreneurs and impact investors, to government agency people and academics,” he said.

Foo Yin Peng, ’12 (AXP-11) said she was amazed at the large turnout from cohorts across the 15 years of Booth’s time in Asia. “There were close to 30 people from my own cohort, “ she said. “A number of us flew in from across the region and also Europe.”

A flow of tweets from the sessions and a presence on Weibo highlighted the level of engagement of speakers and attendees. Said speaker Pamela Chng, founder of Bettr Barista Coffee Academy: “Collaborating conversations are the key to igniting new ideas that affect the world.”—Deborah Wang