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October 31, 2007

Social Enterprise Conference on Value Creation Breaks Participation Record

Unilever group chief executive Patrick Cescau, awarded the Botwinick Prize for Business Ethics, delivered the keynote address on the importance of corporate social responsibility.

Dramatically increasing participation, the 2007 Social Enterprise Conference nearly doubled last year’s ticket sales, bringing students, faculty members and practitioners face-to-face with pressing challenges and revolutionary developments relating to this year’s theme, “Creating Value.”

Held Friday, October 26, the 5th annual student-run conference kicked off with a keynote panel discussion in Low Library Rotunda on strategic philanthropy, a concern that “has certainly become the issue of the day,” according to panel moderator Matthew Bishop, chief business writer and American business editor of the Economist.

Panel discussants included Melissa Berman, CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and adjunct professor at Columbia Business School; Alex Friedman, CFO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Steve Beck, CEO of Geneva Global. The group spoke of the need for collaboration in order to leverage the social impact of philanthropic initiatives, yet acknowledged the resistance. “Sadly, collaboration is an unnatural act for many people,” said Berman.

Patrick Cescau, group chief executive of the combined Unilever PLC and Unilever N.V. and winner of the 2007 Botwinick Prize for Business Ethics, delivered the keynote address. While presenting the various social enterprise projects being developed by Unilever, the world’s single-largest purveyor of consumer goods, Cescau emphasized that “corporate responsibility is not only central to business strategy but is also crucial to business growth,” and proposed that in the future the degree of a company’s dedication to such an agenda will determine whether or not it survives. “Doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Conference breakout sessions were held in Uris Hall and addressed topics including cradle-to-cradle design, microfinance, social entrepreneurship and business strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, among others.

Whereas conferences in past years had predominantly educated participants on the meaning of social enterprise and its place at Columbia Business School, this year’s event focused on “digging and arguing about best practices to effect social change,” said Jessica Wyman ’08, who served as conference cochair along with Aynsley Toole ’08.

Raymond Horton, the Frank R. Lautenberg Professor of Ethics and Corporate Governance and director of the Social Enterprise Program, said the expanded scale of this year’s conference is an indicator of burgeoning interest in the program and a reflection of the increasing number of people who “seek to use business school training to make the world a better place.”