rePurpose Global — an environmental startup founded by three Wharton alumni — is the world’s first plastic credit platform dedicated to reducing waste, reviving lives, and restoring nature’s balance.
Co-founder Peter Wang Hjemdahl, W’18, joined Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s Turner Social Impact Society during his time at Wharton. “My dream of running a social enterprise would have never come true without Turner Social Impact Society,” Peter said shortly after graduation. “They helped me and my cofounders every step along the way with introductions and mentorship — without which we would have never gotten the President’s Engagement Prize that helped us fulfill our dream!”
To build on this strong Turner Social Impact community, WSII funded two students to intern with rePurpose Global. Sabrina Chann, W’23, C’23, and Julie Xu, WG’22, spent their last school year exploring the intersection of business, social impact, and sustainability. Here, they reflect on their experience and offer advice to students.
What is something unexpected you have learned from your internship?
Sabrina: I had always thought that the only way to create mass impact in the sustainability space was to invent a product or a system. Through rePurpose Global, I have seen firsthand that there is a need to connect existing innovations. Invention is not the only solution. The rePurpose Global flagship product “Plastic Neutrality” is more than a simple plastic credit purchase — it is a service. By funding the collection of plastic waste, rePurpose Global is providing additional income to waste workers.
How has this internship grown your understanding of social and environmental impact?
Julie: Social impact does not have to be multi-million dollar initiatives to decrease greenhouse gas emissions (although the more of those we see the better). Social impact can also mean encouraging firm employees to reduce plastic consumption, or partnering with organizations like rePurpose to get plastic neutral certified. Every little bit helps.
Sabrina: In my view, our environmental crisis is the most under-resourced and under-funded problem. The reason for this is that human beings are inherently myopic: we don’t address issues until it’s pressing or until it’s too late. Apart from Covid, our environmental crisis is one of the only problems that affects everyone, regardless of geographical location, social-economical standing, gender, etc. It is a global problem that can only be solved if everyone works together. I am optimistic that we will be able to solve it.
Since you worked remotely for this role, what tips do you have for others to stay engaged virtually?
Julie: Be proactive and over-communicate. This will help you hold yourself accountable, keep others informed on the great work that you are doing, and build meaningful relationships virtually.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in learning about or working in social impact?
Sabrina: Working with rePurpose Global or any other social enterprise is a great way to get firsthand experience in impact. The benefit of working in a growth-stage startup is that you are given the chance to dabble in a range of tasks; you learn a varied range of skills that you may not be exposed to as an intern/junior at bigger corporations. This gives you a head start when you start working.
Julie: Stay up to date on industry trends, leverage social media tools like Twitter or Clubhouse to engage with social impact and sustainability experts, volunteer, or intern with organizations fighting for a cause you believe strongly in. Most importantly, in your day-to-day life, don’t be afraid to speak up when you think you can make a positive difference.
Posted: July 26, 2021