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Five social innovation and sustainability leaders feature at IMD’s All MBA Alumni Event

Sharing their stories of inspiration and dedication, the 2021 IMD-elea Social Impact Recognition winners spoke alongside the co-founders of IMD’s newly launched Social Entrepreneurship community.
May 2021

The elea Center for Social Innovation announced the three winners of the second annual IMD–elea Social Impact Recognition at the IMD All MBA Alumni Event today. Alumni, judges and nominees gathered to learn about the IMD alumni changemakers who are driving sustainability and social entrepreneurship projects.

“This year’s IMD–elea recognition awardees all embody the mindset needed for successful social innovation,” said Professor Farber, who leads the elea Center. “They show the important role not only social entrepreneurs, but corporations, have in building sustainability and social innovation.”

The three winners – Gillian Diesen, Thales Crivelli, and Jesper Hornberg – were all honored for their work to tackle environmental and social grand challenges that require innovative and cross-sectoral thinking.

A former political advisor for the European Parliament, Diesen (MBA 2014) is currently the client portfolio manager at Pictet Asset Management. She covers the human, nutrition, premium brands, and timber thematic equity strategies in this important role. Diesen took up the position just after completing her MBA to work on the strategy of the Pictet Group’s private assets platform, developing products across private equity, debt, real estate, and hedge funds.

“I think that with my background in entertainment in the Middle East and with private banking, it goes to show how different a form that impact can take,” she noted.

The second recognition went to Thales Crivelli (MBA 2016), the senior manager for the circular economy at Borealis AG. He began his career as a lab technician in the wastewater treatment plant of a pulp factory, and 15 years later Crivelli is now responsible for strategizing and deploying the recycling business of a major petrochemical corporation.

“We should not always do good, but do better,” said Crivelli, explaining how working for a mining company is sometimes viewed as a contradiction to his drive for sustainability. “Companies need people like me to develop solutions if they are to do better and sometimes those with more resources are better poised to implement these solutions.”

The final awardee, Jesper Hornberg (MBA 2008), founded GIVEWATTS, which distributes renewal energy to households in rural East Africa, in 2010. Its innovative funding model allows carbon offsetting and impact investments to be directly tied to specific projects. GIVEWATTS has reduced the carbon footprint from fossil fuels, cut deforestation, improved grades for schoolage children, improved health, bettered gender balance, and boosted monetary savings for participating households; every CHF 50 deployed as working capital by GIVEWATTS generates a household-level saving of CHF 700 in offset kerosene and fuel for cooking.

“The problem is so big and I’m so small, but it’s great to see the actual impact on the ground,” said Hornberg. “This helps for thinking outside the box to get problems solved in the most efficient way.”

Hornberg also serves as an advisor to the Global Resilience Partnership at the Stockholm Resilience Center on Innovation & Scaling for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, and funds like the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund on sustainable investments.

Launching the IMD Social Entrepreneurship community

Besides the winners being revealed, the afternoon sessions at the All MBA Alumni Event featured talks by three inspiring social entrepreneurs who, since completing their studies at IMD, have dedicated their lives to social inequality around the world.

“The world is increasingly forcing organizations to internalize the negative costs of their actions – regulators, customers and civil society organizations are requiring companies to be more responsible,” remarked said IMD President and Nestlé-Chaired Professor Jean-François Manzoni. “These social innovators are a perfect example of doing well by doing good.”

These three alumni – Smita Suchde Gruetter, Jimmy Scavenius and elea Social Impact Recognition winner Hornberg – have come together to co-found a new space with the IMD Social Entrepreneurship community. Improved social equity and equality feature strongly in their professional trajectories.

Scavenius (EMBA 2013) used his EMBA thesis as the business case for an organization that supports youth in low-income countries with higher education. Kwera is innovative not just in its curriculum but in its scalable, self-sustaining model. Students sign an income-sharing agreement – the organization pays their tuition fees and in return they must complete the skills-building program. Once in employment, the students pay back 10% of their salary to Kwera for a decade; its first group of “Student Climbers” recently graduated from university.

The community’s second co-founder, Gruetter (EMBA 2016), has always been passionate about emboldening girls and young women. Post-EMBA, she founded HEMLATA and designed the organization’s H100 initiative with a mission to create sustainable impact based on the UN SDGs; it is committed to creating sustainable and measurable impact by providing 100 talented girls from India’s lowest socioeconomic strata with full scholarships for tertiary education. The initiative is also constructing water wells and opening businesses that employ women.

The three speakers all agreed on one thing: social innovation requires a clear vision, business mindset, persistence, and patience. The IMD Social Entrepreneurship community, which counts the three as members, will serve as a vehicle for the impact that a wide-ranging group of social entrepreneurs can make.

“Build sustainability into your model, and how you’ll engage and interact with the ecosystem around you,” said Hornberg. “Business is not the entire ecosystem; it actually includes the biosphere and the people on the planet, and we can no longer disregard that.”

If you’re an IMD alumna or alumnus and would like more information on this new community, please visit IMD HIVE.