Consider current Wharton students and the world around them: In the past two years alone, they’ve seen rising temperatures, devastating flooding and wildfires on multiple continents, a crippling global pandemic, and an American movement for social justice and equity. And these are but a sliver of the global forces impacting lives today. So it’s no wonder a new generation of business leaders is redefining corporate responsibility, or that students today are laser-focused on business as a conduit for social impact and sustainability.

“When I think about what our students will be doing, especially when it comes to climate, they are going to have a role in shaping the future of the planet,” says Diana Robertson, vice dean and director of the Undergraduate Division and Samuel A. Blank Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics.

Wharton’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Analytics Lab is doing crucial work in gathering and using new data to help ESG-conscious investors and leaders think about matters like climate risk. Meantime, the newly restructured Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center now includes the Business, Climate, and Environment Lab and the Disaster Risk Management Lab, both of which help decision makers across sectors factor research on everything from energy markets to environmental ethics into the plans and policies that will affect us all.

The Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII), now a decade old, is thriving as a pipeline connecting students with thought leaders of all stripes. Wharton students have access to 90-plus courses ranging from global social enterprise to behavior change — not to mention more than 100 faculty who are doing social impact research, myriad fellowships, an impact investment group, and numerous speaker series. Demand is growing: There are more interested students than there are seats in WSII’s training programs right now. The Lipman Family Prize for innovation in the social sector is also expanding with the addition of the Beacon Awards, for former Lipman winners who have successfully scaled their impact.

In 2020, longtime Wharton supporters Bobby Turner W84 and Lauren Golub Turner W85 gifted $2.5 million to the MBA Impact Investing Network & Training program (a.k.a. the Turner MIINT program). A collaboration between WSII and the Bridges Impact Foundation, the program trains MBA students around the world in impact investing, says Katherine Klein, WSII’s vice dean and the Edward H. Bowman Professor of Management. This new gift complements the Lauren & Bobby Turner Social Impact Executive Speaker Series and the Turner Social Impact Society.

“Lauren and I both passionately believe — and have seen firsthand — that business used as a force for good can solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges,” Bobby Turner says. “Creating a new generation of business leaders that recognizes the interdependencies between profits and purpose is at the core of the WSII. We believe in the positive impact these future leaders will make in the world.”


Published as “The Social Impact Imperative” in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of  Wharton Magazine.