As part of the January intake of INSEAD MBA program, I had the opportunity to pursue an 8-week internship over the summer. With my eyes set on spending this time in Europe in all its glory: picking up a local language, learning new skills in business development, building a strong network in the impact space and reciprocating with maximum impact, ChangeNOW stationed in Paris, presented the perfect package.
What is ChangeNow?
ChangeNOW is an international summit to boost innovations that can improve the world and address social and environmental global issues by helping entrepreneurs raise funds, find their corporate partners, enlarge their media coverage, and simultaneously inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Founded by two INSEAD ’15J alumni and an MBA partner: Santiago Lefebvre, Kevin Tayebaly and Rose-May Lucotte, the project assumes the familiar air of diversity, inclusivity and high performance and aspires to become the leading international summit for impact.
The team’s year-long effort, culminated in the first edition of the summit which took place on September 29-30th, in Paris, at Station F, the world’s largest startup incubator. As the very first event to happen at Station F since its inauguration, it attracted massive visibility onto impact businesses and social entrepreneurship ranging from latest solutions to clean up the oceans (Seabin project, TheSeaCleaners, Expedition 7e continent, …), generate clean energy (Zephyr Solar, Meteor Swift, …) assure food and water security (Ynsect, Agripolis, Svalbard seed vault, …) and boost healthcare (Fasosoap, …) among several others.
The event hosted 165 speakers and project presentations, 150 investors, 80 media networks and over 2000 participants representing 20 nationalities. In my role as an International development and investors lead, I focused on forging key international partnerships with sponsors, network partners, funding and media agencies.
Prior to INSEAD, I had been engaged in sustainability consulting for high influence government and corporate clients. Having often brainstormed on solutions for achieving energy efficiency, there was a perpetual demand for identifying innovations that presented a robust business model, and which could be scaled up in diverse contexts.
ChangeNOW attracted me for addressing this specific need. The summit brings a business perspective to impact innovations, gives them the exposure to diverse stakeholders, gears them towards large scale adoption and focusses on action.
I began my 2-month journey with ChanceNOW, 3 months prior to the event, with a clear goal to drive maximum international growth in the little time I had.
My ChangeNOW experience can be summed up in three words: Conversations, Positioning and Momentum
Conversations: A typical day included minimum 5 conversations that were unthinkable prior to this stint. Mostly conversing with entrepreneurs across the globe, I constantly learned of unique innovations that had immense potential to make it big. I learned of their journeys, challenges they faced and often brainstormed on their future strategic roadmaps.
Positioning: The value of ChangeNOW is different to different stakeholders. I spent a majority of my time, developing and communicating the business value for any participant to engage with ChangeNOW, which also constantly reiterated the relevance and need for such a platform.
Momentum: As a small team of 8, we would share little successes everyday- onboarding a new entrepreneur, new speaker, new media partner or being featured in a news article, nailing a key meeting, attracting more social media followers, receiving more participant sign ups- it all added up. We often joked that it was like organizing a big party. Every little positive action in planning, created ripples of joy in the team which kept the momentum and had us look forward to the big day.
My two months of an action-packed summer in Paris came with a multitude of learnings on both professional and personal fronts.
Professionally, this experience significantly helped me understand:
- The breadth and depth of social innovations being developed at present
- The challenges being faced by social enterprises to launch new products and business models that can have high impact
- The priorities of various stakeholders including impact investors and corporates engaged in the process of scaling up new innovations
Since my core responsibility was to help investors and corporates see the business value in a range of social enterprises, I gained valuable insights into positioning social impact as a for-profit activity.
Personally, interacting with the co-founders: Santiago, Kevin and Rose on a regular basis was pure delight. It gave me:
- The confidence to always think big
- The encouragement to pivot strategically, when faced with setbacks
- The joy of celebrating small wins
- The contentment of making a difference
Above all, I gained first-hand experience of the commitment and dedication it takes to be an entrepreneur. It was phenomenal to observe the team making a series of calculated decisions every day at work, always keeping the end goal in mind and making sure there remained a constant influx of enthusiasm in the project.
Swati Sharma is a ‘17D MBA candidate at INSEAD who is passionate about design, innovation and sustainability and their role in the future of business and governance. An Architect by training, Swati has worked across Asia, Africa and Europe, with diverse corporate and government clients to support their vision for achieving energy efficiency, specifically in the construction and infrastructure sector. The experience has significantly encouraged her to view sustainability as a key driver for growth in businesses and aims to accelerate mainstream action towards sustainable development in diverse industry settings