Santiago Lefebvre’s MBA’15J ChangeNOW summit provides a forum for innovators taking action on the most urgent global issues
Santiago Lefebvre seeks out entrepreneurs working at the forefront of innovation on the world’s greatest social and environmental problems and does everything he can to help them succeed.
Lefebvre is founder and CEO of ChangeNOW, the largest positive-impact conference in the world. Launched at STATION F in Paris in September 2017, the summit highlights ground-breaking projects with the potential to reshape tomorrow’s economy. That includes sustainable and scalable solutions for global issues such as global warming, air and water pollution, renewable energy, food security, new models of education and the refugee crisis.
True to the vision set by Lefebvre and co-founders Rose-May Lucotte (MBA’15J partner) and Kevin Tayebaly MBA’15J, the event helps change-makers find funding, customers, partners and visibility to help them grow. The goal is to be “involved in solving the most important challenges we face today,” says Lefebvre.
ChangeNOW’s second summit is scheduled for 28-29 September at STATION F, the world’s biggest startup campus, where ChangeNOW is part of the INSEAD LaunchPad programme for alumni entrepreneurs. Lefebvre hopes ChangeNOW will help build a wider community of business leaders with a true vision for the future.
“We’re doing everything we can to accelerate the shift toward action,” he says. “We believe that innovation in business can be a force for positive change, because if you want to make change on a large scale, you need solutions that are viable.”
A love for business
The entrepreneurial bug bit Lefebvre at the age of eight, when he created a small newspaper and sold it to neighbours. He used his earnings to participate in a programme that helped fund animal-rescue initiatives, and soon wanted to earn more so he could help more endangered species.
“I realised at that moment that business could be a great way to achieve things and have an impact,” he remembers. “Since then, I have loved business and wanted to learn as much as I could about it.”
That desire led him to INSEAD. The intensity of the school’s one-year MBA programme, coupled with its commitment to using business as a force for good, resonated with Lefebvre. “I came to INSEAD hoping that I would gain the keys, from a business point of view, to do things that matter and can really have an impact,” he says.
It was a transformative experience. “You’re not the same after INSEAD,” he shares. “I learned what my strengths are, such as being a creative, out-of-the-box thinker and having the ability to drive a project, even if there are a lot of uncertainties, which is very important as an entrepreneur.”
INSEAD also taught him how to build a strong team that counterbalances his strengths, something he’s utilised in many ventures, including TEDx INSEAD, a local TED Talks event that he launched while he was a student, and Startup Career Day, a job fair for digital start-ups he founded in 2016.
Using tech for good
Before starting ChangeNOW, Lefebvre launched two other ventures: QuizzTournament, which provided gaming platforms to media and news websites, and Club Digital, a business club that organised conferences with leaders from digital and new media industries. Through this process, he observed that the tech industry had many conferences that showcased the latest technologies, but no conferences that focused on using technology for good. He also sensed that the push for social impact within business had reached a tipping point.
“I thought, we have to create the same kind of event that has proven super effective in tech and apply it to positive impact,” Lefebvre says.
He points out that the launch of ChangeNOW “came at the right moment.” The first summit in 2017 drew 2,000 attendees from 47 countries, 200 social impact projects, 180 investors and international media. The feedback from attendees showed that 90 percent left ChangeNOW with connections to help them move forward, says Lefebvre.
The 2018 conference will be even bigger, drawing more than 6,000 participants from 80 countries along with about 400 investors. The event will showcase 500 projects and 100 speakers. It will also feature events across Paris to bring the city into the summit and the participants into the city, similar to how the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, works.
“The energy of the first year was really good, and we want to make it bigger so that we can accelerate our impact ,” he says. “Our goal is to get the whole city, just for a few days, to breathe impact and push the industry forward.”
Editor’s note: ChangeNow is closing a round of funding from investors and invites all INSEAD Alumni to join in the next summit on 28-29 September.