Sylvia Grewatsch, Assistant Professor, Goodman School of Business, Brock University
Updated: Sep 11
“What are the different aspects of impact creation? How can we help our community members to achieve it? The Impact Scholar Community is a network that aims to support each other. We don't take it for granted that everyone has a senior scholar next to their sides who is a great impact scholar that can guide the junior scholar.”
During an ethnographic research project that Sylvia Grewatsch conducted as a post-doctoral researcher at the Ivey Business School a few years ago, she realized two things. First, academic research can be important for practitioners, but finding the relevant research can be difficult for practitioners because it is published in academic journals in theoretical language. To overcome this challenge, the academic scholar can act as “the bridge to academic knowledge”, as a participating manager told Sylvia after her field research. Second, she realized that doing impact work is something we need to learn from senior scholars as it is not part of the typical doctoral training. However, not everyone has such a mentor. “I felt so fortunate to work with a great mentor like Tima Bansal, and I know that not all junior scholars have the same support system. Therefore, I wanted to bring people together to share their collective wisdom.”
Later, Sylvia was a member of the ONE Greening Team, which discusses sustainability issues related to the AOM conference. In late 2019, the opportunity occurred to apply for the AOM Strategic Project Fund to get new AOM related projects running. The Team supported Sylvia’s idea of a community for early-career impact scholars and they applied for funding, which was granted shortly after. Sylvia then asked Garima Sharma and Nicholas Poggioli to join her in founding this community: “I was thinking, if I start a community like that, I would like to do it with these two.” After four months of developing the basic ideas for the community, the Impact Scholar Community was finally launched in April 2020. In early 2021, Wren Montgomery replaced Garima Sharma in the leadership team.
Values for the Impact Scholar Community
Since the beginning, the vision of the Impact Scholar Community has been to be hands-on and provide different insights on how to do impact-related activities. Trying to do things differently, the events feature at least two sides or different approaches “because there's always two sides of the story, right?” as Sylvia puts it. This can be both the academic and the practitioner, the author and the editor, or scholars with different views on sustainability.
The community is also reflective and critical of its own activities. “What sometimes happens is that we have events that are too confirmatory in terms of what we have to do. We always try have a mix of perspectives. We don't just want to have rose-colored glasses on and yes, impact work is so easy to do. We also want to showcase that there are challenges with it, and be aware of that.”
What Sylvia enjoys most about the leadership team of the Impact Scholar Community is that they do not agree on everything. Behind the scenes the three team leaders discuss a lot, “I think that's what makes us interesting as we don't align with our opinions. It may take a bit longer to get through things, because we talk a lot about it, but I really enjoy our conversations.”
Future of impact scholarship
Organizing events for the Impact Scholar Community, Sylvia has noticed that the momentum for sharing and absorbing information about impact work is now here. “Many scholars want to participate in our events these days because everyone wants to share their experiences with impact, and I also feel that people listen more to it now. In the past, scholars would have maybe followed their interest for impact more in silence.”
Sylvia has witnessed an increased interest in topics around impact, especially among early-career scholars who aim for impact beyond journal publications. “There's no longer that great appetite to just go for publications, although that's what's rewarded most. I really hope that the shift will happen that young scholars can feel that they can start early in their career to pursue impact.”
In the bigger picture, Sylvia hopes that giving back to practitioners participating in a study becomes more the norm than an exception. As an empirical researcher, one engages with informants and gets to know them and their work. Thus, engaging with practitioners beyond the research interaction should not be anything distant to scholars. “I also think it would be nice if impact no longer was something outstanding. Especially as a qualitative researcher, you engage with participants, so they are no longer something very foreign that you study, not just a data point or an interview you are doing. We should be aware that we can engage with them.”
Advice to fellow young scholars
Be brave in pursuing impact. Sylvia hopes that early-career scholars would not feel hesitant to pursue impact in their academic work. Engaging with managers and practitioners provides depth to the data. “The better knowledge you get from the field and the better you understand practitioners, the better you understand their problems. If you have the opportunity to create impact, do it and don't think too much about your publications because these will follow afterwards.”
Stay engaged with the discussions on impact. As there seems to be a shift going on in the interest and understanding of impact work, it is important to stay engaged and follow the direction this change is taking. “There's a lot right now. I feel like we are at the peak of something and we are deciding whether we want to pursue it or not.”
Find peers that support you. While this might sound like a cliché, it is very important. Sylvia feels lucky to have worked and keep working with senior scholars with experience in doing impact work but also like-minded peers at her level of experience, and to be able to learn from them. “They all do fantastic impact work and they really inspire me with the work they are doing.