Net Impact is a global organization with a mission to drive environmental and social change through the power of business. My first introduction to Net Impact was as a corporate sponsor at my former employer. I took my boss to Vanderbilt to check out the "crazy Millenials" and she stood back amazed at the students' drive, the recyclable materials, and the passion they shared to create change. For years she spoke about her experience and continued to sponsor the conferences at Penn, Cornell and Michigan.
But every time I attended I felt something was missing. I didn't have an MBA, which made me feel like I was lacking that shared experience so many of them had. Even though I was participating in the important social conversations, I wanted to engage even more deeply with the students and professionals around business and change.
This week, I'll attend my seventh Net Impact conference, but this time things are different. First, I'm in a completely different industry as the Manager of Sustainability at Darden. Second, I now have my MBA. But I think the most important change is realizing it's not the degree that makes Net Impact unique, but the drive of the participants who are there. It's the willingness to take risks and to push forward into new territory. This Net Impact will be different not because I have changed, but because it will change me and motivate me (and many others) to instigate change in the world.
But can I convince others of the value of changing? Working in food systems, it's popular to rage against the "titans of industry." It's easy to stand out and declare yourself different, unique or a pioneer. The reality? Our food systems are complex; built on science, technology, culture, history and sometimes pure passion. But we gain nothing from demonizing or distrusting.
Net Impact taught me to embed myself within business and work to change it from the inside while embracing those who bring new ideas from the outside. I am lucky to work for a company that wants to positively affect our industry and our planet. As the largest full-service restaurant company in the world, we have a responsibility to create social value.
But if we turn food into politics or religion, we will lose before we ever begin. We must understand that behind everything we eat, every morsel we consume, there are people: people who grow, harvest, process, nurture, and craft life from the ground or from water. We must respect their land, their perspectives and their resources before we declare them unfit to farm.
My hope this Net Impact is not to convert, but to convince others to have the strength to understand. To embrace how innovative thinking comes from among disparate audiences. To see how our food systems must evolve, adapt and expand if we will feed the world and feed our desire for good.
This Net Impact will be my chance to celebrate the change I've experienced over the past seven years. And for the next seven years, I hope to shape through not only my commitment and my company's commitment, but the commitment of thousands who believe that, "Change Starts Here."
By: Brandon Tidwell, Darden Restaurants
Brandon Tidwell is Manager of Sustainability for Darden Restaurants. In this role, he is responsible for the development and implementation of corporate sustainability strategies and policies across all of Darden. Brandon joined Darden from FedEx. He received his Master of Business Administration at the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler School of Business. He also holds a master's degree in Social Work from Baylor and a certificate in Philanthropy from New York University.
Pictured: MBAs at a recent Net Impact Conference