Taryn Degnan's blog

4 Reasons Why This Leading Career Coach Attends the Net Impact Conference Every Year

Our team recently caught up with Shannon Houde, a longtime advisor and friend of Net Impact, and owner of Walk of Life Coaching, the leading talent and career advisory service in the impact and sustainability sectors. Here, she shares why she comes back to the Net Impact Conference year after year, how students and professionals can make the most of their Conference experience, and why it’s one of the best investments anyone can make in their social impact career.

Net Impact: There are so many like-minded social impact organizations out there. Why have you remained so committed to Net Impact through the years?

Shannon Houde: When I arrived at Thunderbird for my MBA in 2002, there were no formal programs or curriculums for sustainability, corporate responsibility, or impact. We had a track called International Development, but that was it. I met an alum who said that the Net Impact chapter there needed new leadership, so I jumped at the chance to reignite it, became Chapter President, and with my Chapter, ended up hosting the first corporate citizenship conference on our campus in 2003. 

When I later started my own business at Walk of Life Coaching, I strategically chose Net Impact as my community partner because our missions are so aligned, and I love enabling recent graduates to be their authentic selves in converting their passion and purpose into pay.  Seventeen years, many custom-tailored workshops, six conferences, dozens of coaching calls and career courses later, I think my commitment to Net Impact speaks for itself! 

NI: As a busy career professional (on the other side of the globe!) why do you keep coming back to the Net Impact Conference year after year?

SH: There are so many reasons! Here are my top four:

  1. For more than 25 years, Net Impact has created change leaders at the university level and beyond, making it not only a pioneer in this space, but a preeminent Conference for career changers and graduates looking to learn, grow, and network for their next dream job. Programs like Career Central create an open environment for people to connect, exchange business cards, and recruit, while the interactive sessions and keynote speakers educate and inspire attendees to get busy creating world change.

  2. The Net Impact Conference is a safe space to come and meet like-minded people who could be in your circle of influence for years to come. Networking there is easy because everyone shares a similar passion and purpose for making a difference. The experts in attendance are extremely knowledgeable, open, and engaging, and they truly want the best experience possible for Conference attendees.

  3. The Conference is the annual landmark event that lures many of us professionals away from our busy desks, from across the country and globe, because we want to enable and empower young professionals to leverage their passion of making scalable change a reality. We want to make it easier for them to carry forward the torch of change, and, we’re equipped to help them do so. I walk away each year feeling not only inspired by new content and issues that get me fired up, but also, feeling energized in that I’ve helped a group of committed students and professionals blossom and develop.

  4. Every year, the Conference feels like a family reunion. It’s so invigorating to reunite with my people year after year, and the networking opportunities from both the professional and student standpoints are simply unmatched. There’s just nothing like those face-to-face conversations, brainstorms, and discussions about everything from diversity and inclusion to clean tech to sustainable coffee.

Just last year, at one of our annual reunion dinners that has become a longstanding tradition, I sat next to a pioneering academic, thought leader, and Net Impact Board Member, Stuart Hart, whose work I have been following since I decided to get my MBA in 2001. I reached out to him by phone a few months after the Conference, and he has since hired me on as University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA’s Launch Careers Director. This is an incredible career opportunity for me to work one-on-one with 30 students who are eager to disrupt traditional business to create a more sustainable world.  These types of career opportunities come from the meaningful, personal interactions that a Conference like this provides. 

NI: What advice do you have for someone attending the Conference for the first time?

SH: Whether you’re a student, an activist, an early career professional or a seasoned one, have your elevator pitch ready! Do your homework on each of the people you want to meet. Do as much “pre-networking” as you can via email, LinkedIn, or other social channels. Find a place to meet people for a quick hallway conversation or coffee and schedule it with them in advance. Don’t be afraid to ask for others’ phone numbers and connect in real time. Plan which sessions you want to attend, and reach out to the speakers in advance if there’s something you want to share with them. Introduce yourself to the speakers just after their session if time allows. Most of all, come with an open mind, network better than you flirt, and be eager to soak in one of the best professional experiences you could ask for!

Meet Shannon next month at the 2019 Net Impact Conference! Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn

Shannon Houde, Walk of Life Coaching

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2019 Net Impact Conference: What Did I Miss?

Plant-based! Detroit! Showcase of local organizations. Paperless. People from all over. The boat.” -NI19 attendee in answer to the question, “What did you like most about NI19?”

Didn’t make it to the 2019 Net Impact Conference? We’ve got you covered. Here are five of our top highlights from NI19 in the words of our attendees:


Thanks to this conference, I’m now obsessed with oat milk!” -Coffee drinker at NI19

We are proud that environmental sustainability was a big focus this year. Our LEED-certified conference center team did all the heavy lifting to collect compost and recycling onsite and promote clean energy sources.  Our staff worked with vendors and catering to create as close to a zero-waste event as possible. We relied on technology instead of paper programs, and all of our name badges were recyclable. Our conference partner, TripZero, offset the carbon footprint of all participant travel.

Our biggest and perhaps most disruptive (in a good way) sustainability win this year was being a plant-based conference for the first time ever!  We worked with our Conference Caterer and our sponsor, Beyond Meat, to provide nutritious vegan meals on-site, and we introduced many attendees to the oat milk revolution. 


Come for the boat, stay for the sessions.” - NI Staff member and riverboat enthusiast

Yep, there was a boat at NI19. On Friday night, after a very full day of conference programming, over 1,000 people left it all on the dance floor of the Detroit Princess Riverboat. We had a live Motown Band, a multi-course meal, drinks, and some of the best informal networking of the entire conference. One attendee said, “The Friday reception on the boat was my favorite part of NI19.”  Another person said, “It got people mingling and letting their guard down.” Really, there’s little that can beat doing the Cha Cha Slide to a live Motown band with 1,000 of your new best friends.


I loved the coat lady story.”  -attendee who was in a packed-house, standing-room-only plenary session

This year’s keynotes showcased a diversity of perspectives — from Iqbal Quadir’s foundational work in the critical role that entrepreneurship plays in creating prosperity in low-income countries; to Shannon Watts’ impassioned talk about building the most powerful and impactful movement in America advocating for gun safety.  

One fan favorite this year was Veronika Scott’s inspiring story about designing a coat that ultimately led her to address the root causes of homelessness. See her 20-minute plenary session here. (We’ll upload more mainstage talks soon.)

We were also fortunate to work with top-notch corporate sponsors who brought their fascinating case studies, learning, and insights on topics like corporate social impact, ESGs, SDGs, community engagement and shareholder activism. NI19 attendees had many opportunities to meet and network with corporate partners one-on-one, as well as during breakout sessions, trainings, and networking salons.

Our theme of Widening the Lens opened people’s minds to new ideas— one attendee shared that NI19 was “an experience where I felt safe to express my opinions, even if they were different than everyone else's,” while another attendee said, “really diverse, inspiring sessions with great content and speakers.” And several people reflected on how our content and speakers brought so many perspectives together under one roof. “NI19 was like traveling to different parts of the world and across different states,” recalled one student.


I have never been to a conference that had such a wonderful nod to the host city. The energy, and how place-based it was, helped make the issues real rather than purely conceptual.”  -NI19 participant who appreciates “The D” as much as we do

Detroit is where it’s at! The city of Detroit welcomed NI19 with open arms. Thanks to our phenomenal host committee, and plentiful scholarship funds for Detroit students and social entrepreneurs, we were able to make NI19 accessible to anyone in Detroit who wanted to come!  We provided a platform for over 35 local speakers to showcase their work including on the main stage, in our Solutions Showcase event, and in over 20 breakout sessions. Detroiters showed us how inspiration, innovation, and hustle can be leveraged to address seemingly intractable challenges not just at the local level, but on the national and global stage. Want a real Detroit treat? Watch jessica Care moore’s one-of-a-kind standing-ovation welcome performance.


Being surrounded by people who were as passionate as me in this space really reenergized me and gave me hope for the future.” - A common sentiment shared by many

Fifteen hundred people came together this year armed with commitment, optimism, and endless curiosity about using our lives and our careers toward a more just and sustainable world for all. We welcomed friends from all over the globe, and in the words of one attendee, there was “a feeling of interdependence and familial love.”  

With such an enormous diversity of students, professionals, speakers, multinational companies, startup ventures, nonprofits, artists, activists, and even kindness ambassadors, the networking at NI19 was on point!

Participants enjoyed three career networking salons where they could convene in small groups with industry leaders in a wide range of fields. They took advantage of one-on-one career and personal brand coaching sessions, book signings, and speaker meet and greets.  One participant remarked, “It was easy to meet new people who care about the same issues I care about.” Another shared, “Net Impact is the most important conference for meeting like-minded people looking for sustainable solutions to the challenges our planet faces.

Is your FOMO setting in yet?  Save the date now for the 2020 Net Impact Conference in Baltimore, Maryland on October 22-24, 2020.  Sign up here to be alerted when registration opens, and get up to 50% off your ticket. 

If you have a workshop or panel to propose for NI20, we’re all ears. Tell us about it here.

Ford Fund Invests in Students, Communities Through the Ford College Community Challenge

As a sponsor of the Net Impact Conference which begins in just two days, we invited Ford to share all about how their philanthropic arm, Ford Motor Company Fund, has been helping people reach their full potential for 70 years. The fund continually invests in programs that support education, promote safe driving, enrich community life, and encourage employee volunteering. Read all the way to the bottom to find out how you can take part in their programs.

Education is the foundation for success. It is key to making lives better, creating social change, and building sustainable communities. Ford Motor Company Fund invests more than $16 million annually to support educational programs that people and communities use to facilitate and inspire. At the Ford Fund, we believe that the best way to learn is by doing -- taking classroom and book knowledge, and applying it in the real world. These beliefs and values are demonstrated in our signature educational programs, including the Ford College Community Challenge.

For over a decade, the Ford College Community Challenge has awarded grants to student-led projects and social enterprises aimed at meeting community needs. In 2018, the EARTH University chapter of Net Impact was selected as a grant winner for their Costa Rican project, Dirt to Power Initiative (DPI). 

DPI is a project committed to educating the local community, particularly women and children, about sustainable approaches to food production. The program not only promotes food security, but also encourages community engagement with open recreation spaces. Through DPI, the public can learn how to use locally available-food waste materials to build sustainable gardens that nourish body and soul. The recreation space is a charming park built of discarded items that demonstrates beauty and sustainability.

As the cost of food staples rise, malnutrition, hunger and starvation increase. DPI is set on a 36-month timeline with the first year encompassing design and construction. Community engagement begins in year two, followed by international tours and promotion. The grant encourages students to flourish while scaling their efforts, in the hopes that they can achieve a more transformational impact in the communities where they work and live.

The students involved in the DPI initiative are just one example of how Ford Fund is working with students to strengthen communities and make people’s lives better. To find out more about the Ford College Community Challenge visit www.fordfund.org. The 2020 Ford College Community Challenge will launch on the website in March.

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Widening the Lens: International Paper’s Path to Setting Next Generation Sustainability Goals

International Paper is one of the world’s leading producers of renewable, fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper. Hear from International Paper’s Sustainability Project Leader, Devin Giles, on the process of setting the next generation of sustainability goals at IP.

International Paper is closing in on our Vision 2020 goals – a set of 12 sustainability goals, which we have been measuring progress on since 2012. While we’re on track to meet or exceed most of our targets by the end of 2020, we recognize that the world around us is changing and there is still work to do. And so, over the past two years, we have been working to craft our next generation of goals. Our process has truly been an exercise in widening the lens.

As we prepare to launch our next generation of goals, we have been reflecting on the path we took to get here. When the team initially sat down to think about our new goals, we sought to define ambitious and meaningful targets that are aligned with today’s accelerating sustainability trends, that also drive innovation and enable our future success. 

We began our work by focusing on three questions:

  1. What will the future look like?

  2. What do our stakeholders care about?

  3. What is our organization’s role in this future?

Ultimately, these three questions led us to ask: What do we need to do to build a better future for people and the planet and also for the success of our company? 

We realized that if we wanted to make a truly global impact, we needed to expand our view. Our Vision 2020 goals were focused on environmental stewardship from a mostly operational vantage point. We needed to look across our value chain and craft a more comprehensive set of goals for people and communities and the products we create. 

We also took a cue from our company’s corporate strategic framework, The IP Way Forward. This framework comprises five strategic drivers: Sustaining Forests, Investing in People, Improving the Planet, Innovative Products and Inspired Performance. Tying our sustainability ambitions to this well-rounded framework enabled us to widen the lens and to connect our new goals with all our employees, enabling us to achieve a better future for people, the planet and our company.

I hope you’ll join us at the 2019 Net Impact Conference in Detroit. I’m excited to join Intel’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, Suzanne Fallender, during our panel discussion on Upping the Ante: Setting Sustainability Goals That Work.

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Sustainability at NI19

As an organization that cares deeply about environmental sustainability, we are constantly working to align our values with our actions. Let’s face it, in-person conferences require enormous amounts of resources for 1,500 people to come together in one place from all over the world, and mitigating the collective impact of the travel alone is something we look at very seriously here at Net Impact.

We are proud of our partnership with TripZero who provides carbon offsetting for the travel footprint of all of our participants who book in our conference hotel. We selected TCF center as a conference venue specifically for its sustainability efforts including its robust onsite compost and recycling its energy conservation programs, and the fact that it is soon to be a LEED Certified venue. We strive to achieve zero waste through using recyclable and compostable items throughout the conference, and reusing everything we can. Please help us by making extra sure you put your compostable and recycling items in the right bins -- this action alone can have a significant impact on ensuring our conference waste does not go to the landfill.

We also encourage attendees to plan ahead and bring their own reusable water bottles (we’ll have lots of water refill stations on site) and reusable coffee mugs.

One of the sustainability initiatives we are most proud of this year is becoming a vegetarian (mostly vegan!) conference. Over and over again, research has shown that the meat production industry is the #1 contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, with some estimates saying that as much as 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from meat production. According to a recent study by the University of Oxford and published in the journal, Science, “Eating a vegan diet could be the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your environmental impact on earth. Cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent.” By serving exclusively plant-based foods at NI19, we are working to significantly reduce the environmental impact of our conference.

Thank you to two of our conference partners, TripZero and Beyond Meat, for helping us make NI19 a more sustainable sustainability conference!  And thank you to all of our participants for partnering with us in all of our efforts this year.

image via R&D Magazine

America Can’t Afford Unaffordable Housing

With just three weeks to go until the 2019 Net Impact Conference kicks off, we're inviting you in to understand how some of this year's sponsors make a difference for people and our planet at scale. Here, Connie Wright, Senior Vice President and Assistant Director of Housing Philanthropy and Customer and Community Programs at Wells Fargo, talks about how her company is Widening the Lens to tackle one of America's toughest issues.

Every month, more than one-third of U.S. households spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Of this group, around 18 million spend 50% of their income to stay in their home. Just think about that. The cost burden of housing impacts so many people in our communities, maybe even you.

To help address housing affordability, the Wells Fargo Foundation recently announced a $1 billion commitment through 2025 to focus on the spectrum of housing needs, from homelessness and transitional housing to rental inventory and homeownership. This housing commitment, though, comes out of a new approach to investing philanthropic capital in communities across the country.

Many people don’t realize that Wells Fargo is one of the largest corporate foundations in the U.S, contributing more than $444 million in 2018 to nearly 11,000 community organizations. Historically, we supported a little bit of everything, which didn’t really allow for maximum impact. Starting in 2019, the company will target 2% of after-tax profits to philanthropy, ensuring that community support grows along with the company. In fact, it was this long–term vision for our philanthropy that prompted us to ask if we had the right strategy in place to deliver scale and impact against those sizeable financial resources. We arrived at the conclusion that we were spreading the resources too thin and missing an opportunity to better connect our funding with our business expertise for greater impact. So in June, we narrowed our focus areas to three pressing issues affecting underserved communities: housing affordability, financial health, and small business growth.
In this strategic evolution, we are starting with housing first because a safe place to live is stability we all need. Housing prices have been steadily increasing since 2012. High housing costs force Americans to make trade-offs with other basic needs like food, healthcare, and education. Every major metropolitan area in the U.S. has a shortage of affordable and available rental homes. Today, the U.S. needs 7 million affordable housing units to meet the demand.
The daunting question is: how do you begin to take on such a complex community challenge? The answer: You can’t do it alone. You collaborate. You invite as many people into the conversation who want to participate. You seek out diverse viewpoints and experiences to help create a more equitable solution. You listen and learn from each other. But most importantly, you adopt a problem-solving mindset. To us, that means more than writing checks. It means combining our philanthropic resources with our business expertise and then partnering with experts and residents to find new ideas, or effective ideas that we can scale.

Innovation is a key driver behind our new strategy because we can’t close the gap with more of the same. At a practical level, it means inviting community innovators to come forward and empowering their creativity. For example, this fall, we are launching a $20 million Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge with Enterprise Community Partners to discover fresh thinking around housing construction, financing and support services. As we build out our approach for financial health and small business, uncovering new ideas will also be at the core of those pillars. 

For the challenge you want to take on, what voices do you need to add to the conversation? How can you inspire bold thinking? How can you combine your resources and expertise?

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Better Together: How Driscoll's Connects Thousands of Lives As One Family

Driscoll's works hand in hand with thousands of independent farmers, harvesters, grocers, and everyone in between. Rooted in community, the company's recent launch of One Family aims to tell the stories of the many people involved in growing and sustainining the leading berry company. Below, hear from Driscoll's Corporate Social Responsibility Marketing Manager, Alison O'Shaughnessy, on the launch of One Family and why it matters.

I feel far from my food. I think a lot of people can agree. City living gives way to complicated supply chains that make it difficult to feel a connection to the people who grow what we eat -- and that’s why I sought a career in agriculture. I was hungry to uncover what goes into bringing fresh fruit to our world every day. 

After working at Driscoll’s for just a few weeks, I learned just why they had become the leading berry company. It wasn’t their knack for complicated logistics and data management, but a dedication to their people. I was hired to begin telling that story. 

Before I was hired, I was surprised to learn two things -- that Driscoll’s is family-owned and operated for over 100 years, and that we don’t grow our own berries. We specialize in the proprietary varieties, and then we hand those off to over 700 independent growers that range in size to do what they do best. We also rely on grocers (many of which are small, independent stores) to sell our product. Once sold, about 85% of the revenue goes back to the growers. This mutual dependence and shared success led to an understanding -- that we are all better together; that we are an interwoven family greater than the sum of its parts. 

Starting late in 2018, we set out to tell Driscoll’s unique story and communicate our vision with the world: to enrich the lives of everyone we touch. This was difficult. One of our values is humility, so talking about ourselves felt alien. It felt natural, instead, to peer through the eyes of those who grow, pick, and sell our berries.  This resulted in a platform called “One Family,” centered around three intimate and connected portraits of a grower, a harvester, and a grocer. Each has a unique story of hard work, dedication, love, setbacks, and success. This gives us a brief, but powerful glimpse into the people behind the berries. And this is just the start – I’m excited to uncover and share even more stories that help us feel just a little bit closer to our food.

Watch one of the videos or learn more about One Family here. You can also share your favorite Driscoll's moments by following the company on Twitter and Instagram!

Alison O'Shaughnessy is the Corporate Social Responsibility Marketing Manager at Driscoll's, a proud sponsor of the 2019 Net Impact Conference. Sign up now for the chance to meet Alison and her team in Detroit, Michigan on October 24-26, 2019.


One Family
Only two people touch a Driscoll's berry -- the harvester and you.