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August 26, 2009

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Some positive thinking from Net Impact

CURRENT and future business professionals are being encouraged to play a greater role in social responsibility as a new chapter of Net Impact opens in Shanghai.

Established in 1993 by a group of American MBA students, the Net Impact group aims to encourage future business leaders to have a positive impact on society.

Net Impact was first established by 60 students from five business schools with its inauguration at Georgetown University. Now 16 years later it has grown to 240 chapters worldwide with 7,000 members.

The Shanghai chapter is its latest addition, the first chapter on the Chinese mainland. It has 65 members.

"Many professionals think they should give back to society after they have retired, or have accumulated a sum of money to donate," says Sam Lee, head of Net Impact Shanghai and a corporate social responsibility consultant at InnoCSR.

"But we want to emphasize that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is in how you earn the money, not how you spend it. It's about how they conduct business now, whether they're making ethical and responsible decisions. Businesses are often encouraged to donate money, but not skills. We want to give professionals the chance to use their skills now."

The group's activities include talks and seminars. There is an event every quarter and past events have included "CSR as Your Career" and "Expo and Sustainability." There will be an event on volunteering in October.

The group is completely not for profit and organizers are professionals who give up their spare time to arrange activities.

As a business school graduate, Lee had been involved in student social responsibility ventures and was always interested in CSR issues. He initiated contact with Net Impact to set up the Shanghai chapter.

As the network expanded, they reached outside business students to business professionals.

As Net Impact is not well known in Shanghai, the group is targeted at professionals while also encouraging students from Shanghai's major universities and business schools to join in the activities. Lee hopes this will incubate student leaders who will later start their own group.

Net Impact first entered Asia in 2003 with a branch at the Indian Business School.

Side effects

Lee says each country chapter faced different challenges with regard to CSR.

"China is a very interesting market. Fast growth has resulted in lots of side effects such as issues in health and safety, traffic congestion and wealth disparity. There's a lot to do here and we hope to start by raising awareness of sustainability in the business community and motivate them to get involved in tackling these issues."

The group is in discussions to open another chapter in Beijing. It is also planning more cooperation with established charity organizations such as Shanghai Charity Foundation and Red Cross China.

"Charity organizations in China also lack talent and transparency. They can also benefit from business professionals donating their time," says Lee.

By being involved in CSR, professionals also begin to see how social issues fit into their core activities and business. Then both the beneficiary and the benefactor will get something out of reaching out.


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