Impact X: Making a Profit While Making a Difference
ImpactX is an incubator that uses the principles of impact economics to enhance the school’s relationship with the Charleston community and promote consequential learning.
Call to Action
In 2013, one of the project leaders was introduced to Stuart Williams, an impact entrepreneur and corporate executive who co-founded The Strategic Research Institute. He had moved to Charleston and wanted to encourage the College of Charleston’s School of Business to embrace “consequential learning.”
The plan was simple:
- Use the platform of “Making a Profit While Making a Difference” to solve public problems.
- Enhance the school’s relationship with the Charleston community.
- Promote consequential learning.
- Increase academic performance and standards.
The first class created in this framework was a six-credit impact entrepreneurship “lab” called ImpactX. Selected students were tasked with learning the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They were asked to form teams of three to four students based on their shared passions for helping the Charleston region achieve one or more of the SDGs. Each team received technology and business mentors in Charleston and spent the semester creating profit innovations purposed to achieve their goals.
ImpactX became one of the most popular classes and has now been adopted as an incubator by the city of Charleston. Each semester, the city provides incoming students with the top five socioeconomic problems it is facing. At the end of the semester, on a public demo day attended by the mayor, business leaders, and impact investors, teams pitch for the opportunity to win a share of 15,000 USD—money to be used to continue building their innovations. Stuart Williams takes the winning team to the United Nations General Assembly to present at the SDG Media Zone during United Nations Week.
Given the success of ImpactX, we chose to keep moving forward with the initiative, which has led to the following developments:
- Creating an accredited class on Impact Investing
- Building Impact Management into our management classes
- Building cause marketing into our marketing classes
- Developing a program for Impact Measurement
- Preparing integrated reporting to be embedded in select accounting classes
- Creating an executive education program on Leadership and Management Through the Lens of Profit for Purpose
We did not confine our work to academia. In an effort to be as inclusive as possible, we wanted to expose our work within the community. Each cohort for the ImpactX community class is 12 weeks long and consists of one and a half hours of class each Wednesday night.
To date, over 600 residents of the greater Charleston area have attended the free community classes, with over 50 percent residing in the most marginalized segments of our community. Needless to say, this impact has significantly improved the school’s relationship with those community sectors and residents, and the innovations coming out of this class are every bit as profound as those coming out of ImpactX.
We also launched Impact Day Charleston, an annual event that brings speakers from around the world to our city to discuss the importance of community-based “in place” impact. The proceeds from the event help fund the impact classes we are building.
We have also been privileged to have Williams start the Stuart W. Williams Impact Scholars program, as well as offer a free Impact Incubator for graduates of both the student and free community classes.
The impact that all of the aforementioned has had on the school and on our community has been remarkable. The School of Business at the College of Charleston is now being used as an exemplar for, and an integral part of, a new community-based economic model. It has been tested in Charleston for six years, proven to work, and is now being scaled across the country.