An evening on Sustainability & Social Entrepreneurship with the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal”. – Thomas Jefferson

These words from a great Virginian embodied the spirit of an event we held this week for the University of Virginia Darden School of Business students in Stockholm.

Mark and I are both products of Virginia universities.  We are convinced that there’s something special between Virginia and Sweden! Both have a commitment to great universities, emphasize a harmony between humankind and the land (a genuine love and respect for the environment being a common thread), and have incredibly innovative, forward-looking business ecosystems that are also firmly rooted in a strong connectivity and respect for history and the lessons the past can imbue upon the future.

These shared values were palpable as scores of UVA students and their Swedish counterparts from the Stockholm School of Economics filled the U.S. Ambassadorial residence for an evening discussing social innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainability. The event marked the kick-off for a week in Stockholm where the American students would explore and learn from the dynamic Swedish startup ecosystem while also sharing their business school expertise in growth and shared value from a U.S. perspective with our Swedish friends.

What does it take to truly start and grow a profitable and responsible business? How can you leverage the social good and make a difference while also making sure the bottom-line doesn’t suffer? Through a vibrant discussion moderated by Mark and myself, we engaged five successful Swedish entrepreneurs in getting to the bottom of the true business case for sustainability, diversity and using the platform of business leadership for meaningful social change.

Jefferson’s words exemplified the tone of the event: one of change and speaking truth to power. It exemplified the students in the room— hungry to make the world a better place through their work. They also personified our 5 panelists.  They were:
·         Sarah McPhee, CEO of Storebrand SPP,
·         Martin Lorentzon, co-founder & Chairman of the Board for Spotify,
·         Sebastian Siematowski, founder & CEO Klarna,
·         Carolina Sachs, Secretary General for Axfoundation, and
·         Ben Gorham, founder and CEO Byredo.

Each of these businesspeople has revolutionized their fields, boldly disrupting convention and acting as a change agents from within on sustainability, diversity  and inclusion, transparency and efficiency

Through a vibrant discussion, we engaged the five panelists in getting to the bottom of the true business case for sustainability, diversity of thought and using the platform of business leadership for meaningful social change.

Whether it was avoiding doing business in countries with records of corruption and human rights violations (even though it meant turning down major profits!), infusing sustainable practices into the supply chain, focusing on green bonds and investments even if they don’t provide immediate shareholder returns and simply voicing inequalities and injustices in society, these businesspeople showed all of us how “walking the walk” on core values can be good for the community, good for the board and the bottom-line, and also good for the soul!

The entire evening reminded me of one of my favorite Mahatma Gandhi quotes: “be the change you want to see.” We saw examples of this that evening and I think all of us walked out the door inspired to do the same.

Thank you our awesome panelists and Thank you the University of Virginia for joining us on such a thought-provoking initiative!