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How Net Impact UCLA changed my definition of business

I despised “business.” To me, “business” meant corporations, sweatshops and social inequity. “Businesses steal your data, value profit over people and are rampant with toxic masculinity.” 


I was wrong. 


Net Impact UCLA has redefined “business” for me, opening my eyes to social innovation.

As a first-year at the Enormous Activities Fair, I weaved my way around the tables, but didn’t find a group I was particularly interested in. Just as clubs started to leave, I walked past Net Impact, and heard @Ted Park describe “social impact consulting.” I’d never heard these three words together and was cautiously intrigued. 


What did it mean?


The social enterprise model is where profit meets purpose. For-profit models allow for autonomous decisions, while nonprofits rely on core principles and clear mission statements. The social enterprise model combines the two. 


At the first general meeting, we discussed Salt & Straw’s sustainability efforts. Though I was always an avid consumer of the $5 Honey Lavender single scoop, I had never heard about their mission to reduce food waste — a serious issue in the U.S. where over 30% of all food is wasted per year


At another meeting, Tai Sunnanon, founder of LA-based social impact consultancy the strategic insights group, taught me the necessity of authenticity and “taking off my mask” within the impact space. 


When I asked him a question about balancing familial expectations with pursuing a niche sector I’m passionate about, he told me I was seeking validation when I already knew the answer. I came into UCLA set on becoming a doctor but quickly realized that the system was not built for equitable access to care. 


Tai’s response made me question: Why was I pre-med? Was I hiding what I was truly passionate about? What mask was I wearing?


For me, taking off my mask meant accepting the path less taken: finding a career that combined my two interests: healthcare and business. I could use business skills to impact patients by lowering healthcare costs and increasing access to value-based care. 

This inspired me to pursue an internship at a digital health company that leverages the current healthcare system to offer their product, a Bluetooth inhaler sensor and companion phone app, at no cost to patients. The tables that depict our pharma-sponsored patient acquisition numbers are more than pretty data visualizations. They represent endless opportunities for tangible impact: on a girl who just wants to play tag with her friends, a tired parent who struggles to remember each time his child needs a puff, a grandfather who yearns for more time with his grand-daughter.


I realized that this is where I belong, in the healthcare space with a macro perspective driven by people-centric impact. 


I would never have discovered the opportunity to positively change the health system through business without my experiences with Net Impact. I’ve learned that business isn’t inherently negative. It’s also a catalyst for social change. 


Here at Net Impact, we use business to empower communities and create tangible impact for generations to come. Businesses need to be mission-driven in order to achieve these goals: that’s where we come in. We work with organizations who do good and help them do better.

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