Friday, May 15, 2020: Social innovation was celebrated this week as the inaugural IMD-elea Social Impact Recognition was awarded to three exemplary IMD alumni, whose work showcases the ground-breaking dynamism required to positively address the world’s most pressing challenges.

The elea Center for Social Innovation launched the recognition in a pandemic-friendly virtual ceremony at the All MBA Alumni Event during which 600 alumni, judges and nominees gathered online to learn more about the inspiring work of this year’s recipients.  

The recognition was created to highlight the efforts of IMD MBA alumni, whose passion for sustainability and innovation inspired them to use their business acumen to address social and environmental issues. The three accolades highlight social innovation at the international organizational, entrepreneurial and company levels.

Professor Vanina Farber, elea Chair for Social Innovation outlined the underlying ethos that led to the conception of the recognition: “At the elea Center, we believe that social innovation is best inspired by forging connections among corporations, social entrepreneurs, academics and other stakeholders. Our candidates this year show that no matter what sector you are in, you can challenge what is and inspire what could be. By applying the leadership and business skills obtained at IMD, the recipients embody our ethos of real learning, real impact.”

Nominations for the recognition came from the IMD MBA alumni community. These were then assessed by the jury, headed by Professor Farber and comprising Natalia Olynec, IMD Head of Sustainability, and the sustainability cluster from the IMD 2020 MBA class to decide upon the finalists of this year’s award.

The IMD-elea Social Impact Recognition Award 2020 recipients are:

  • IMD-elea impact entrepreneur: Darshana Joshi
  • IMD-elea impact International organization: Yongfu Ouyang
  • IMD-elea corporate impact: Manu Jindal

Darshana Joshi, who was chosen as this year’s IMD-elea impact entrepreneur said she was honoured to be recognized by her peers. “My experience at IMD helped me articulate the need to find my purpose in life and to align it with my professional goals,” she said. “For me, the future of sustainability is sustainable impact-led, blended finance projects to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Joshi is based in Rwanda where her two start-ups aim to bring financial inclusion and access to nutrition to under-served communities. Benefactors, for which she is a board member and investor, was launched in 2017 and connects impact funds with small/medium-sized enterprises. She also co-founded Lentera Ltd with fellow IMD MBA colleague Moses Kimani. The firm utilizes satellite imaging and precision agriculture to increase efficiency in the East African agricultural value chain.

The second recognition went to Yongfu Ouyang, who was awarded this year’s IMD-elea impact International organization recognition for his work as Chief of Institutional Investment Facilitation at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He leads a program to promote and facilitate long-term sustainable investment by institutional investors under the SDG framework, in particular SDGs targeting investment in developing economies.

“I regard this award as a recognition of the work of UNCTAD in making investment work for sustainable development. As an IMD alumni, I am also delighted to see it increasingly integrating sustainable business into its curriculum,” he said.

Referring to his work in spearheading the establishment of the UN Institutional Investor Council, to facilitate the mainstreaming of ESG and the SDGs in the investment of institutional investors, he spoke of the importance of quality reporting for sustainable investing.

“The top priority for sustainability reporting in coming years will be enhanced harmonization, and the UN SDGs can serve as a useful universal framework. But this will require the concerted efforts of all parties,” he said.

The third recognition this year went to Manu Jindal. He received the IMD-elea corporate impact recognition for his work on sustainable supply chains as the Sustainability Project Manager for Nespresso.

“Life seems to have come full circle in some ways. Back in 2012, IMD awarded me a scholarship based on my work in India’s social sector and I have now received this recognition eight years down the line. It is humbling to be honest,” he said.

Jindal leads the implementation of Nespresso’s sustainable coffee sourcing program in India and Indonesia and its global carbon footprint initiatives. He also drives the monitoring and evaluation program for the global coffee sustainability program and manages key partnerships with global NGOs, experts and international institutions. His view of sustainability centers on the empowerment and agency it delivers individuals and communities.

“When it comes to actually making a difference on the ground, what really matters is the mindset, empathy, respect and local partnerships. We need to collaborate and empower people to own the change. The focus should be on contribution, not attribution,” he said.

According to Natalia Olynec, this year’s recipients provide inspiration for others.

“Our alumni community is rich with leaders who consider the social and environmental impact of their business decisions and innovations. By highlighting these examples, we can demonstrate the possibilities for business leaders to contribute to a more balanced world,” she said.

At a time of significant global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its unfolding economic ramifications, the role of business is under scrutiny, said Olynec. Business leaders play an important role by focusing on sustainable solutions, she said.

“The pandemic magnified the lack of coordination among global governments and international organizations, resulting in calls for responsible leadership from the private sector. In such a crisis, the public expects businesses to consider all stakeholders in decision making, including protecting their employees and the local community. Businesses can help address some of the imbalances in our world by engaging all stakeholders and putting sustainability at the core of their strategy.”

Responsible leadership, said Olynec, is central to good business practice in the emerging era.

Professor Farber echoed the sentiment “The silver lining of the current crisis is that in a world where systemic risks can quickly bring economic activity to a standstill, collaborative purposeful innovative solutions will be required to build a better tomorrow. Making the business case to solve grand societal challenges will require cross-sectoral collaboration and leaders in the public, private and non-profit sectors to think innovatively. This year’s IMD-elea recognition awardees embody this mind-set.”