How fresh business thinking is inspiring young minds

Unilever has teamed up with NGO Net Impact to host three pilot gatherings, bringing together young people in the US, South Africa and India to inspire them to make business sustainable – and give them practical tools to do so.

The meetings followed an initial event in London, held in May 2013. They featured a similar format: inspiring presentations from young intrapreneurs (people driving change within corporations) and entrepreneurs, followed by lively Q&As and break-out sessions.

First stop: Silicon Valley

The US event took place in a hotspot of progressive business thinking: Silicon Valley. The audience got to hear a talk by Alex Velez, co-founder of Back to the Roots – which sells kits enabling people to grow gourmet mushrooms from coffee grounds. Alex was joined by Kirsten Tobey, whose business Revolution Foods is transforming the way children from less affluent backgrounds eat at school. With them on the panel were Atlanta Mcllwraith from Timberland and Dove Director Brenda Demers, contributing insights on working for change within organisations.

"It was useful to hear about the significant challenges faced by corporations, but that if you are authentic, driven, and positive, then it can be done,” added Miranda Spradlin, a student at the University of Michigan.

On to Cape Town

Next in the diary was Cape Town, South Africa – where Unilever’s James Inglesby and Woolworths’s Justin Smith spoke out about changing business from the inside. Their intrapreneurial perspective was complemented by entrepreneur Dianna Moore of Reel Gardening, which offers gardeners water-saving growing kits.

"I learned sustainability champions within an organisation can sometimes come from unexpected places so we should always keep an eye out,” said one participant. “Also while most people want to be involved in sustainability, it’s important to make it part of a proper business case. It can’t just be because it’s the right thing to do."

Last but not least: Mohali

Then it was on to Mohali, India. Lifebuoy intrapreneur Anila Gopal spoke about her role driving change through her brand’s handwashing mission, alongside GIBSS change-maker Jiten Grover. The entrepreneurial angle came from Anish Joel of My Earth Store, which promotes produce grown by India’s organic farmers and small-scale rural co-ops.

"The objective behind these events is simple: to equip young people with practical ideas and tools for driving sustainable growth within their business environment,” explains Lori Zoppel, Unilever Brand Director.

"While we have some great Unilever insights to share, our aim is to create a much wider movement of young people, in line with our CEO Paul Polman’s drive to ‘make sustainable living commonplace’ – which our business can’t do in isolation."

Building on the success of this year’s pilot meetings, 2014 is likely to see a wider global roll-out featuring 20 to 30 similar events. The programme will also be an integral part of Unilever’s Project Sunlight – a new initiative designed to get millions of people adopting sustainable lifestyles by inspiring them to look at the possibilities of a world where everyone lives well and within the natural limits of the planet.

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