The UVA chapter of Net Impact is a locally focused group representing a truly global community of more than 435 likeminded chapters across 40+ countries that calls more than 130,000 people members. Founded at UVA as a McIntire-affiliated student organization during the 2005-2006 academic year, it continues to pursue its goal of creating a positive impact at the University, in the greater Charlottesville area, and across the world.
By promoting the application of skills and career paths that incorporate the organization’s beliefs in the significance of social entrepreneurship and sustainability, students learn valuable lessons in leadership, collaboration, and networking. But current Co-President Roshni Puli (McIntire ’23) says that the upheaval caused by the pandemic and other pressing issues has directly influenced changes at Net Impact that have broadened its reach.
“As a sustainability-oriented organization, we changed our ‘curriculum agenda’ to be more inclusive for more students,” she says, noting that they have made a determined effort to discuss the myriad impacts of COVID-19 on many of the same environmental problems that have long served as a major part of the group’s raison d’être.
Puli recalls that, as a first-year student, she had a personal interest in joining the student org solely because of its orientation toward sustainability issues and its affiliation with the Commerce School. Yet after attending a general body meeting, she was fully drawn to immerse herself in it and what it hoped to achieve.
“I just felt heard and a part of a conversation that mattered to me,” she says. “Whether it touched on topics of wealth disparity undermining already vulnerable communities or nature’s ability to solve structural obstacles, Net Impact was a place for me to feel the world’s problems and nature’s solutions.”
She notes that the emotional connection to solving real-world problems resonates with her and extend beyond the boundaries of some of the skill development and topical areas that she has undertaken as a Commerce student.
“McIntire is all about forming relationships with diverse people, and Net Impact focuses on the same idea while incorporating common themes of environmentalism. I really am looking forward to using the Integrated Core leadership skills as President of Net Impact,” Puli says.
Beyond employing those leadership skills in the future, she has already found a place for herself at the student org thanks to moving conversations about climate change that coincided with discussions about the financial repercussions of Hurricane Ida.
“No stone is left unturned for our members or for myself. I love walking into our meetings and knowing that what I care about, the people around me care about, too. For me personally, there is no prestige in caring about climate change or sustainability; it is an expectation. At Net Impact, we treat these topics with the urgency and importance they require but also approach them with a fundamentally nuanced perspective.”
A Growing Legacy
In the 15 or so years that the group has been on Grounds, its former members contributed to the strength of the organization and to the work Net Impact does today. Puli credits the most recent executive team for its involvement during the last three years.
“They really emphasized the power of inclusivity and diversity as our two core values. Every time it gets to new member application time or exec board interviews, I still champion those two values above all else, and that precedent was set by our former members,” she says.
Understandably, topics such as sustainability or environmental science elicit perspectives that Puli believes generate the true value of the conversations that take place through the group. “Expressing emotions and being vulnerable about urgent topics are a major part of Net Impact’s club identity, and I think that the former members have done a lot to create an environment that can handle that.”
Looking ahead, the student org is determined to make more connections both internally at the Commerce School and across UVA, but also with groups further afield.
“Starting with more bonding sessions with our members and COVID-safe mixers with similar clubs, we want to jump back into the social element of clubs,” Puli says. The group also plans to “host a hybrid of Zoom and in-person seminars with alumni and professors discussing intersections of sustainability and business.”
If there’s been an upside to the forced remote interactions of 2020, it’s been the ability to reach around the globe and expand the pool of participants in events. “Having opened our horizons to international panelists last semester, we plan to follow up with another online panel with Barcelona-based environment-centered architect at Needlab, Sameera Chukkapalli; newly invite the familiar faces of environmental science professors like UVA Environmental Sciences Professor Deborah Lawrence; and open up our stage to student leaders like Louisa Edwards (A&S ’23), who has worked closely with Ashoka, a social entrepreneurship organization.”
As Puli and Co-President Lily Toruteva (A&S ’23) help steer the future of Net Impact, Puli hopes her experience with the group will have a positive influence in her professional life as well, as she intends to constructively impact and incorporate climate responsibility into any role she assumes in the future.