Fuqua is run by students, which works better here than in Lord of the Flies. All around, throughout the week, there are events of every variety, sponsored by student clubs ranging from luxury goods and asset management to outdoor adventure and arts.

Once in a while, one of these clubs will muster all their networking and logistical power to put together a superstar-packed conference that is open to the whole Fuqua community. In fact, on many Wednesdays, you can find the classrooms labeled with panel names and breakout session schedules for conferences on energy, or business in Africa, or entrepreneurship or … you get the picture.

Picture of the Net Impact Club's banner
Net Impact Club members organized the SBSI Conference.

The largest of these conferences is the Sustainable Business and Social Impact (SBSI) Conference, which hosts over 400 attendees each year from Fuqua, Duke and the Durham community. I signed up to help plan this year’s conference, which is my usual reflex when something has “sustainable” in the title. I hadn’t planned a conference before, but I had planned assorted panels as a Peace Corps recruiter, so I was feeling (irrationally) confident in my expertise.

The fun began in November, and it turned out that it’s a bit easier to coordinate local volunteers for panels than it is to pack 3 panels with directors of sustainability and company founders, and other such resume-busters. It was intimidating the first time I had a phone conversation with the director of sustainability for a company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars. But 3 factors propped me up:

1) Business leaders know Fuqua.

I was speaking as a representative of Fuqua, not as Jen McFann. The school’s academic reputation, as well as its credentials in the field of social entrepreneurship, opened the door to conversations with many of the companies invited to participate in the conference. See our list of impressive speakers and list of sponsors.

2) Fuqua alumni are well-placed and ready to help.

Nearly all of the panelists who populated my panels had been contacted through Fuqua alumni, or students who had interned with the companies the previous summer. This included major companies like Cotton Inc. and Stonyfield. In some lucky cases, we were able to feature Duke alumni from the companies, including:

  • Alex Michalko (Daytime ’10), REI — Podcast
  • Will Patrick (Duke ’10), GoogleX — Video
  • John Troy (Daytime ’09), Education Pioneers — Podcast
  • Chris Tessone (Daytime ’11), Maya Angelou Charter Schools — Podcast

3) Team Fuqua has your back.

If I spent 2+ hours each day during recruitment season planning my panels for SBSI, consider that I was only one of 4 panel track managers — others managed tracks in finance, technology and social impact — and that there was also a first-year student who managed logistics and 2 second-year conference organizers who did 10 times as much work as the rest of us. Add to that the volunteers who managed registration and provided transportation, and throw in all the other student clubs that dipped into their budgets to co-sponsor the event, and only then do you have a popular, successful conference. In short, it really did take the whole village called Team Fuqua.

One of the best parts of SBSI was sitting back and listening during the big day while the moderator and panelists chewed on the topics I’d spent months distilling. Feel free to relive that with me — podcasts and videos of the sessions are available online. Check out the Money Grows on Trees session if you’re interested in sustainability efforts by food and beverage companies.