Each spring, Harvard students organize a series of student-led conferences. These conferences focus on issues that are timely, relatable, and of substance. And they’re also opportunities for our students to listen to, learn from, and speak with thought leaders from across fields and sectors—and to present their own ideas and research.
The 24th Annual Social Enterprise Conference (SECON), presented by students at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, brought together top leaders, practitioners, and students on March 4-5, 2023 to engage in dialogue, debate, and expression around Social Enterprise.
The conference featured sessions and presentations on topics as varied as climate change, funding ecosystems, education, reimagining capitalism, health care, the future of work, inclusive leadership, and cross-sector collaboration.
SECON 2023 was hosted in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and welcomed 500 attendees from all over the world—from Europe to Asia to North and South America.
Student co-chairs Lia Parker-Belfer MPA/MBA, Marc Alain Boucicault MC/MPA, Nora Jendoubi MPA/MBA, and Shivika Bhasin MBA, reflect on the conference and their experiences planning the event.
The theme for the conference was “Narratives for social impact.” Why was that theme chosen?
We wanted to ensure that the theme was broad enough to cover a variety of topics and to inspire folks in their work. With competing global priorities, building a collective story and a narrative for change is imperative in order to bring people together and to accomplish our aspirations for global justice.
What speaker were you most excited to hear from at the conference?
We wanted to have a keynote speaker who embodied our conference’s theme. Abi Daré, author of The Girl with the Louding Voice, was that person. Her New York Times bestseller tells the story of a Nigerian girl who finds her “louding voice” and uses it to change the world. We were excited to hear from Abi about how to find our own louding voices. The personal stories and accompanying lessons she shared with us were not only educational but also inspiring. We left feeling a greater sense of purpose and commitment to make an impact in our respective corners of the world.
A key feature of SECON is the pitch competition. Who were this year’s finalists and who was selected as the winner?
Over 80 teams applied to our pitch competition this year. After a difficult judging round by expert judges, five teams pitched live on the last day of the conference at Klarman Hall at HBS, including:
- JANE, a carbon reporting platform for real estate
- DETOXYFI, next-generation drinking water filters that are effective, affordable, and efficient for individuals displaced by disasters
- REENTRY CARE, a tech-enabled platform to connect individuals leaving incarceration with community-based primary care, behavioral health, and social service
- RAAJI PADS, a social enterprise based out of Pakistan that aims to educate and empower girls on reproductive health using technology
- DYNACARE, a modernized web platform for home health care providers and agencies hoping to modernize this industry
Their presentations were evaluated by experienced judges including Rebecca Xiong, Managing Director of Programs and Engagement at the Harvard Innovation Lab; Rym Baouendi, Senior Advisor at the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT; Macauley Kenney, Entrepreneur in Residence and lecturer at MIT Sloan and MIT D-Lab; and Ramesh Raskar, Associate Professor at the MIT Media Lab.
The winner of the pitch competition, receiving a prize of $5,000, was REENTRY CARE. As runner-up, DETOXYFI received an honorable mention.
What did you enjoy about being conference co-chairs?
We really enjoyed working with 40+ peers across HKS and HBS to plan SECON 2023. It was energizing and inspiring to collaborate with people passionate about social enterprise. We are excited to see how they continue to change the world after graduate school.
Another rewarding part of being co-chairs was the opportunity to be involved in shaping a conference that has a 24-year legacy at Harvard. During the conference, we met attendees that have been coming to SECON for over 10 years. As this legacy continues, it was an honor for us to add new perspectives focused on empowering narratives for social impact for our audience this year.