Influential Leaders

Vanina Farber

elea Professor of Social Innovation and Dean of the IMD EMBA Program
Recognition Year(s): 2024
Area of Impact: Community or Social Impact
School: IMD
Location: Switzerland

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Vanina Farber serves as the elea professor of social innovation and the dean of the EMBA program at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). Farber’s research focuses on the supply and demand of social innovations, emphasizing both social entrepreneurship and impact investment. Central to her work is the integration of private sector engagement for impact, challenging traditional views that set impact and returns as opposites. Farber’s contributions not only define the contours of the impact economy but also actively shape its trajectory by presenting a path forward for both academia and practitioners.

Description of Research Impact

Farber’s commitment to bridging the divide between academia and real-world practice is pivotal in challenging and expanding the boundaries of traditional business school programs and research to ensure education remains relevant, dynamic, and effective.

At IMD, Farber directs the elea Center for Social Innovation, a platform dedicated to innovating through impactful and action-driven research. Established through a generous donation from the family of Swiss businessman Peter Wuffli, the center’s mission is to motivate leaders across business, government, and civil society to champion social innovation. A key focus is on how the private sector can harness capital to scale innovations. Moreover, the center’s outreach activities foster collaboration between private, public, and philanthropic entities.

In 2019, Farber pioneered one of IMD’s inaugural custom programs focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) integration, specifically tailored for CaixaBank Asset Management. Due to its success, Farber was subsequently approached by CaixaVida to replicate the program and accelerate the group’s ESG integration. She also participated in a program guiding HSBC board candidates from various subsidiaries through the complexities of ESG risks and opportunities.

Farber doesn’t solely work with large financial institutions, however. She also designed a program dedicated to helping social entrepreneurs build the necessary tools for scaling their business and its influence. An objective of the program was to create a knowledge-sharing community, through which entrepreneurs’ learning could proceed after the program ended. Similarly, Farber specially designed a coaching-skills module to give entrepreneurs the skills to continue supporting each other.

Farber stands out for her vision in addressing issues at IMD that many business schools shy away from, such as the need to scale solutions for protracted humanitarian crises. Her innovative executive education program, Driving Innovative Finance for Impact, champions novel financial instruments in humanitarian and developmental sectors. It also serves as a collaborative platform for the private sector, philanthropists, nongovernmental organizations, and developmental finance institutions. Farber is an ecosystem player, and she believes academia has a key role to play.

Beyond the academic realm, Farber actively participates in research networks like the Swiss Lab for Sustainable Finance and the Gender Lens Initiative for Switzerland. In addition, she holds advisory roles at the Impact Finance Forum, CaixaBank’s Diversity Council, and the Católica Porto Business School in Portugal.

Examples of Research Impact

  • In 2020, Farber co-authored The elea Way: A Learning Journey toward Sustainable Impact, with Peter Wuffli, the founder and chairman of the elea Foundation for Ethics in Globalization. The book summarizes the principles of impact investing using insights from the foundation’s 15-year journey. It is aimed not only at entrepreneurs but also investors, executives, philanthropists, policymakers, and anyone who is curious about entrepreneurship and inclusive capitalism. Using real-life examples, the book includes suggestions on how to lead impact enterprises in such areas as developing strategies, plans, and models; building effective teams and organizations; managing resources; and handling crises. It also includes “right vs. right” cases at the end of each chapter, so readers can reflect on the ethical implications of making decisions and trade-offs in the impact sector.
  • Farber has been a prolific case writer in the areas of sustainability, social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and sustainable finance. She was named Outstanding Case Writer in the 2022 Case Center Awards for her study on the pay-as-you-go technology company Angaza. She has also been recognized as a winner of the 2022 EFMD Case Writing Competition in two categories: African business for Angaza, and responsible leadership for Nia Impact Capital. Farber also won the responsible leadership category in the 2019 EFMD Case Writing Competition for her case on Philip Morris International’s vision of a smoke-free future.
  • Reaching beyond the academic, Farber also dedicates her expertise to writing practitioner articles. She is an advocate for disseminating knowledge to wider audiences, believing that timely communication can spark immediate action and create broader impacts. Her articles serve as a bridge, translating academic insights into actionable advice for professionals, thereby making a difference in real-time settings.

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