My Goals, and Life, After The Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Ruchi Nadkarni ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

I remember I was 10, when I watched the cartoon network show ‘Captain Planet’ for the first time. It was a show about teenagers who would team up with Captain Planet to keep the spirit of the earth (‘Gaia’) safe. Eerily, little did I imagine that I would live to see the destruction that was only imagined in a cartoon show, come to life. I started my journey at 21, with a nonprofit for animals. It was the most pristine love I could have ever imagined. As life went on, I pondered being another version of ‘Captain Planet’ and 10 years, and millions of happy animals later I hope to expand the course of this odyssey.

The influential driving forces of everything I do in my life stem from uplifting the distanced and forgotten in our world. To me, at this juncture, the environment including waterbodies, land and air combined with the quickly disappearing animals of today are of immediate concern. I am especially passionate about aiding frontier markets with sustainable business solutions addressing their immediate environmental problems using environmental business and sciences. I am passionate about effective solutions that are about more than band-aid remedies, a panacea for most difficulties if you will. This includes creating business solutions for developing countries that especially address their environmental strains.

This is especially important as developing countries struggle as their environmental degradation is a result of the last priority given to it. Countries like India place such a high importance on the development of their economies, that this often comes at the cost of environmental disregard. The lack of facilities for waste processing, soil health, water health and air quality are quandaries we are all too familiar with. The existing large corporations do very well on empathetic marketing to get their products in these markets – however rarely ponder the consequences of their products. The lack of knowledge, education and concern for the immediate environment and the widespread effects of an impaired ecosystem cause relentless practices, that destroy the planet far more rapidly in these places.

Since economy and survival is at the center of these communities, I plan to permeate through these issues, in ways that are coveted. To introduce a way that is sustainable and utilizes environmental gains as well is a triumph in my eyes. From environmental impact measurement, strategy, finance and restoration; I hope to beget measures that will gradually change the way business is done. More specifically I intend to do this by working within consulting companies before venturing out with my own consultancy, as well as business incubator a few years down the line. In this way I plan to start working with corporations, businesses and entrepreneurs to introduce business in these markets. The intentions of these businesses while economy driven of course, will not be to create new markets, but instead disrupt current markets and gain existing market share. Additionally, authentic intentions and shared value creation will be at the core of these solutions.

Whether with renewable energy, soil sequestration or pollution control practices – the businesses I will work with will combine environmental engineering, science and business. The merit of being able to affect all three facets of environmental well being in this way not only widens the scope of my practice but also satisfies my altruistic tendencies. I was often told growing up, that I need to hone my focus on one thing, and that I cannot fix everything in the world. While adult life has made me utterly aware of the fallacies of my childish fantasies, I think I have found a way to address this dilemma.

At the core of it all, I believe that we are transient beings in a home that we stay in for a little while. Our gracious host is currently sick and needs more from us. I am hoping I can influence enough businesses and people across the world to join this movement and that one day my aspiration to be ‘Captain Planet’ will be redundant.

How I Learned to Love Business

This post was written by Ally Polla ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Halfway through my junior year in college, the reality of graduating with a business degree planted a pit in my stomach that manifested until I found The Sustainable Innovation MBA. Looking at what others did with a business degree, I could not see myself having any of their career trajectories or lifestyles. At that time, I truly believed that all businesses operated at the bottom line and I dreaded becoming part of that system. Hearing about the vast success of major corporations, I had little interest in their monetary successes, but thought about their carbon footprint, their employees, and how resource intensive they were. I wondered if anyone else in the business world felt the same way and why no one was doing anything more. 

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

 I was aware of fair trade and individual sustainability practices at the time but still was unaware of the positive impact businesses can  have. A few months before graduation, I desperately began to research fair trade and B corporations to find a career path that I could hopefully see myself in. This research ultimately led me to the University of Vermont and The Sustainable Innovation MBA. It felt like all the tension between what my life was and what I wanted it to be had fallen away and everything finally connected. I started my application, scheduled my GRE, and couldn’t see my future looking any other way. 

I  wanted to attend the University of Vermont for my undergraduate degree for civil engineering but upon getting accepted, I realized I wanted to stay closer to my family and home. This led to me attending Manhattan College, enrolling in civil engineering, switching to the school of business freshman year, transferring to Marist to study human resource management for 1 semester, transferring back to Manhattan College, graduating from Manhattan College with a business degree, only to lead me back to the University of Vermont for my MBA.  I never planned on getting a business degree, let alone an MBA. Being in this program has solidified my business knowledge from my undergraduate studies as well as changing my perspective about the problems in the world and ways to solve them through business. The pit in my stomach about business that I once had, has been shaped into motivation that pushes me to be a positive force in the world through business everyday.

Family Business, Entrepreneurship and the Base of the Pyramid

This post was written by Ruchi Nadkarni ’20. Connect with Ruchi on LinkedIn.

“Family Business,” I thought – sounded like just another core course in the laundry list of core courses that we needed to know about. I wasn’t inspired or even intrigued at the notion of it. I had committed the very first faux pas that the class instructor warned all of us about – our A’s – our assumptions. However, my postulations were quickly checked when a poised woman, world renown Family Business scholar Pramodita Sharma entered the class and shook me to my very core, with the inspiration that followed the notion of Family Business.

As if I wasn’t already excited to be learning about concepts that spoke to my very essence, I became deeply fascinated with the promise of family business in the first thirty minutes of the class. I was captivated. As someone that grew up in India, I had a picture of what family business in my mind. It was a common occurrence growing up for me to have come across several family members and friends who were in variously sized family businesses around me. Family business was close knit, small and seemingly inconsequential to me from what I had observed. It seemed to be just another way of making a living, and I concurred with the popular opinion of it as being rather minor-league. Interestingly, I was very aware of the top 1% of my country’s wealth as being in the hands of some of the wealthiest in the world from the Tatas, Ambanis and Birlas! I again erroneously assumed that they were a small minority to the rule.

The various advantages and disadvantages peculiar of family businesses started to familiarize me with the telenovela that is family business! From high passion to high drama, it seemed to have it all. I wasn’t surprised to read the first reason why I was always averse to the idea of family business – its Achille’s heel mixing family and business together. My aspirations to work with the base of the pyramid were augmented further when I read about household enterprises in developing countries. As a more privileged member of society, privy to the lives of the base of the pyramid, I have intimately seen the struggles, lives and phenomenal resourcefulness that resides within it. My nonprofit work took me deep into the slums of Mumbai, and I was honored to have made it into their circles, as these communities are usually very wary of outsiders.

In my working with the community, I happened to also have a chance to observe the enterprises run by them, leaving me fascinated and inspired to bring more to them. It was heartening to read about the resilience of these populations and how their close knit, family-oriented values created informal micro-enterprises that helped void marginalization for them. These societies internalized institutional theory without even realizing it with each member of the family contributing to the household in these enterprises to combat poverty. Their norms, solidarity, values and beliefs in forming these institutions despite being marginalized from resource rich networks was always something of a feat to me as I have admired them all my life. In the US, I recently learned of at-risk neighborhoods and how, the law enforcement and broken system keep them in an inescapable cycle of abjection. Despite the challenges the socio-emotional wealth as an economic consideration was comforting to read about. They subsist where opportunities do not exist.

All our simultaneous classes and lectures pointed out to the most opportunity for business and sustainability for all stakeholders was in the bottom of the pyramid. When we shifted gears to alter that notion and understand that opportunity also resided in the top of the pyramid which consisted of family businesses in a big part because of their legacy oriented outlooks, it was almost like a eureka moment for me. The idea of sustainable innovation can sound insipid to a lot of businesses primarily concerned with the bottom line, but when the bottom line can be tied into this idea, a golden bridge is created where it suddenly all makes sense. This bridge I thought, was that of family business.

Growing up as I went through the various stages of academia, and many of my decisions were usually influenced by my parents or by society and I always had an entrepreneurial streak. I was a natural risk-taker and even have a black book full of business ideas that can change the world. As my non-profit venture progressed, as I became familiar with the pains of entrepreneurship my rose-tinted glasses slowly came off. That combined with the severe strain that my nonprofit put on my work-life balance and my family relationships made me more averse to entrepreneurship than ever before.

Outside of these challenges, being in the non-profit industry for ten years and pure science academic background before that, through my academia and career I was always convinced that ‘entrepreneurship’ is a bad word. Even still, as I ponder about being an entrepreneur I am absolutely terrified of the notion. The lack of resources, loneliness and stress are concepts that I am all too familiar with, being a nonprofit owner. As we spoke of various family businesses that our professor studied over the years, and how passionately she felt about them being contributors to the sustainability and business future of the planet, my fears were slowly dissipating. Every day in this program as we are convinced of becoming entrepreneurs, I can see the silver lining and feel like I am gaining my starry-eyed wonder that I harbored before life’s many challenges bogged me down. I was all at once reminded of the dividends of entrepreneurship, as well as family business as a route to solve the world’s sustainability challenges. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and reminded to be completely in that moment even as I was churning several ideas for the future.

Because the truth is, that we only have the present moment, and to be completely immersed in it is the true joy of life. So even as I drew grandiose plans with my learnings from this class and this program, I truly enjoyed being right there, just in that moment.

Alumni in Review: Maggie Robinson ’19

Maggie is a member of the Class of 2019. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I am the Director of Community Outreach for Generator, a business incubator at the intersection of art, science, and technology in Burlington, Vermont.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I felt in my previous role before the program that I was stagnating. It was everything that I needed to be gaining experience, yet at the same time, I didn’t see a clear path into higher management roles.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

Learning more about myself through the process. Being that I switched career paths, I had to look at my experience and decide what problems I wanted to solve, not just deal with. Additionally, this program was ridiculously time-consuming. I probably wouldn’t do it again, but it really sharpened my organizational and prioritizing skills. I also enjoyed the team collaboration and getting to know talented individuals, and some are lifelong friends now.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

I’m finding I’m using the most material and knowledge from organizational behavior, complex systems, and being deliberate and strategic on growth and collaborations.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

No matter what, you’ll get something out of this program that will be life altering.

Embracing Plastic(ity)

This post was written by Cody Semmelrock ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Plastic.

Understandably, this word has been vilified as it becomes more and more apparent how its mismanagement may define our generation. It is painfully clear how damaging this resource can be in the natural ecosystem. As such, I won’t spend much time on that discussion. Instead, I would like to offer up a different take – one that embraces the word. These synthetic materials boast a tremendously impressive and valuable quality; they all are plastic in nature because they are easily shaped or molded. From a manufacturing standpoint, they are highly adaptive and can be purposed and repurposed to serve different needs under different conditions. Although some promising programs are beginning to emerge, on the whole, the industry’s management of recapturing the value of their product has not looked for inspiration in the product’s defining adaptable nature, and has instead practiced the status quo for far too long.

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

As I reflect on the first few months in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, it is hard for me to shake the word. Initially, I felt like I shouldn’t acknowledge my work history that I shouldn’t talk about plastic production in a sustainability program unless I had to. I quickly realized this was the wrong approach. My work background includes project development, management and sales of plastic packaging. My job was to develop and create products that don’t have adequate or appropriate disposal methods. Many single-use medical device packages inevitably would end up thrown away and/or incinerated. The “Take, Make, Waste” model was, and still is, being practiced. Movement away from this model is on the rise and conversations centered on a circular economy are materializing. When I think of the greatest take away of this program so far, I can’t help but think to the adaptability I have been forced to hone, how essential it is for my own career and how this level of adaptability will need to be utilized for a successful transition within the plastics industry.

These past few months have been truly transformative. Like many, I decided to pursue an MBA for a variety of reasons. I was looking to outfit myself with a “toolkit” comprised of a variety of skills that would help bolster my career while simultaneously setting a foundation for using business as a vehicle for substantive social change. Ultimately, I was seeking to better understand financial statements, canvass business strategy and evaluate the feasibility of my own crazy business ideas. For the purpose of strengthening my resume and making myself more marketable, I understood these skills to be most critical. It has become apparent, however that my ability to adapt, to be reshaped according to new conditions and embrace plasticity in my career approach and personal development has been my greatest take away of the program thus far.

My education in adaptation started the first day of orientation. Transitioning back to life as a full-time student after a five-year academic reprieve did not occur overnight. It was difficult and it was exhausting, but innate in the program’s structure were lessons I can reflect on as defining moments which have made me a more adaptable student, employee and citizen.

Prior to starting in the program, I would have incorrectly identified myself as being adaptable. I would have cited some lesson learned on the mini-tour golf circuit about how important it is to approach novel problems (like sitting 40 yards off the fairway with the pin nowhere in sight) with calm, optimism and creativity. The primary distinction between this example and the adaptability required in SI-MBA and moving forward toward a more sustainable future is the notion of playing with others.

Within an intimately sized cohort of 30, we are assigned to module learning teams. Groups of 3-4 students are hand selected to build diverse groups in an effort to reflect real world working environments and prove that highly diverse groups are more likely to solve increasingly complex problems than their more uniform counterparts. We then tackle assignments in every class together. This team experience inevitably differs for everyone but illustrated to me areas where I should improve, be more flexible and help encourage others development.

Without a thorough understanding and appreciation of this soft skill, hope for a more sustainable future seems bleak. Across every industry and profession, a need for highly adaptable individuals will exist and SI-MBA has uniquely outfitted myself and my fellow cohort members with a distinct ability to roll up our sleeves and roll with the punches. I am confident this lesson in adaptability will serve us well as we venture beyond the classroom and face many of the same problems that drew us to the program a few short months ago.

A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex

This post was written by Than Moore ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Before matriculating to business school, I worked full time as an emergency medicine physician assistant at the University of Vermont Medical Center. I, along with my colleagues, was solely focused on maximizing patient care. My responsibilities included diagnosing and treating patients of all ages and acuity levels. The clinical world became my home. Putting on scrubs every day to go into the hospital, I join the hundreds of other employees working towards a similar mission of delivering the highest level of patient care. The ability to practice and treat members in my community is a privilege. It is one of the greatest accomplishments with which I can relate. However, it can also monopolize your life, and is forever demanding. It becomes nearly impossible to pause and observe the system in which we operate. The pursuit of my MBA disrupted the traditional linear trajectory of my medical career and provided the time and space to refocus the lens in which I viewed the world.       

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

Medicine is a vortex. To become a doctor, one must dedicate years of commitment to the craft. You must first complete prerequisite coursework before donating countless years toward schooling, residency, and fellowship. By demonstrating academic and clinical excellence and passing more tests than one could imagine, it then becomes time to start your clinical practice. The journey is arduous, but the reward to grant another breath to a gasping loved one is worth all the effort. Medicine becomes an addiction. We are slaves to the system to glean all the knowledge we can to optimize our performance. It monopolizes our lives with long days, demanding call schedules, and tragic cases that keep us up at night. However, I was granted the opportunity to take a sabbatical from my clinical responsibilities and observe the field from the outside. 

I first learned of The Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program at UVM from a friend who knew of my love of academia and solving problems. Sustainable business became the perfect blend of my undergraduate analytical mathematical degree, my medical background, and my passion for the environment and society as a whole. Embedded in the curriculum are quantitative business skills such as finance, accounting, and economics, but there are also fundamental organizational skills taught through courses on corporate social responsibility, sustainable leadership, and teamwork. The focus of the coursework is to optimize a sustainable enterprise by maximizing the triple bottom line: people, profit and the planet. 

The beauty of the SI-MBA program is that one can personalize their education to incorporate individual interests. For example, I am fortunate to tailor my business research and projects towards medicine. Subsequently, I wish to highlight ways in which the triple bottom line educational model has broadened my perspective to incorporate sustainability into fundamental daily operations in both the medical community and greater society. 

People:

To begin, people are at the core of all operating systems. Our world revolves around successful human interactions. The ability to collaborate with one another stems from leadership and teamwork skills. Group work is a fundamental component in the SI-MBA curriculum. During each of the module terms, every student is designated a team. The team is responsible to execute all projects, presentations, and assignments together. Rarely, do you see employees working alone, so why should academics reflect that?

Medicine, in particular, revolves around team collaboration. With the blending of specialties and skills to navigate different disease processes, we are constantly reliant on our colleagues for their expertise. If a trauma victim presents requiring extensive resources, multiple hands are needed to gain IV access, deliver medications, perform diagnostic studies, and make life altering decisions. One could not operate alone in such a high stress environment. By maximizing team collaboration, executing impeccable leadership qualities, and maximizing the potential of all skilled team members, a team can perform at its highest capability. Medical schools are paying more attention to these traits by focusing efforts on team based learning; however, the ability to acquire these skills outside of medicine through my coursework and integrate them back into the clinic will become a critical asset in my performance as a provider. 

Continue reading “A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex”

Why I Left the Nonprofit Sector (and It’s Not the Reason You Might Think)

This post was written by Taran Catania ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Whether I was working in field research for a local conservation group or serving as a legislative representative for a national environmental organization, I loved my time in the nonprofit sector. No matter where I was, I was surrounded by mission-driven people, my work gave me a sense of purpose, and I was always proud to answer the standard icebreaker “so what do you do?”

Nonprofit technician in the field: Taran Catania ’20 flags a Semipalmated Sandpiper as part of ongoing endangered shorebird research for New Jersey Audubon.

But then I left the nonprofit world – and not for the reasons you might think. The assumption when people leave the nonprofit sector to go to business school is that person wants to make more money. Now, don’t get me wrong: there are extremely good reasons the nonprofit sector should stop undervaluing and underinvesting in staff. But the short answer is no, I did not leave for that reason.

The real reason is: I was tired of fighting for change, but not seeing an obvious plan for its impact or scalability. I was tired of “doing good” by rules that limited how much good we could do. I wanted the chance to take risks for something I believed in.

During Dr. Erik Monsen’s Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model class, I was introduced to a TED Talk by activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta called “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” As Pallotta points out, nonprofits are rewarded more for not acting like businesses (such as severely restricting overhead spending – “For every dollar donated, 83 cents go to the cause!”) than for what impact they have. From inherent rules limiting nonprofits’ ability to competitively compensate staff, market and advertise to generate revenue, or access capital markets to spur growth, the nonprofit sector is at a disadvantage to the business world in almost every way.

To add further limitation, nonprofits are systematically discouraged from taking risks. Risk, which always carries some chance of failure, is a generally unacceptable use of charitable dollars. And as Pallotta puts simply: “When you prohibit failure, you kill innovation.”

In other words, there is a reason there is no “venture capital” of the nonprofit world. No one is looking to make large donations to a nonprofit that wants to take chances, invest in its own growth, and pursue unexplored, better ways to make and scale change.

But as we can tell from the growing list of Certified B Corps and the increasing buzz around Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the business world is evolving to pick up where the nonprofit sector leaves off. And it’s doing so with some creative, innovative risk-taking.

So until we can foster a nonprofit sector that operates under fewer limitations, fighting for social and environmental change from a business angle may offer greater opportunities to create positive, scalable impacts. (That is, as long as businesses commit to doing so meaningfully.)

In the meantime, I’ll be here reading anything written by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF, bicycle commuting in my Allbirds sneakers, and pursuing a Sustainable Innovation MBA to be a part of this business evolution.

Alumni in Review: Jenny Kalanges ’16

Jenny Kalanges is a member of the Class of 2016. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Jennifer Kalanges

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I am the Director of Sales for Ursa Major, a skin and body care company focused on authentic, healthy products made sustainably.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

Before The Sustainable Innovation MBA, I had worked in management in small, mission-driven businesses. I chose this program because I felt I needed a toolkit to take my career in leadership to the next level and create real impact in the growing world of sustainability. I loved that it was an intensive one-year program where I could really sink my teeth in and then quickly apply those skills to real world experiences.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

The connections I made with other members of the cohort, professors, and alumni — those have proved invaluable since completing the program and certainly buoyed me throughout the year of study.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

I’m currently heading an internal sustainability task force within Ursa Major, which is really exciting. The skills I learned around transformational leadership will always provide an incredible backbone to my career.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

If you are looking for a skillset that will will help develop you as an innovator or “intrapreneur,” this is a great program to consider. The global business world is looking to change agents like our grads, so the opportunities to apply these skills are endless. I’m always happy to share more with prospective students!

Alumni in Review: Bharagavi Mantravadi ’19

Bharagavi Mantravadi is a member of the Class of 2019. Connect with Bharagavi on LinkedIn.

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I am currently a Research Associate in the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I was an IT consultant before joining the program and was really interested in how sustainability is ingrained in each and every course.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

Our professors were really accessible, and the classroom experience was amazing.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

Emerging markets is definitely my area of interest. I am applying my knowledge that I gained during The Sustainable Innovation MBA program in the research that I am doing today in “sustainability in family businesses” in India.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

It’s a great program with global outreach. The professors are amazing and very helpful. I would strongly recommend this program anyone who has an interest in solving complex problems of the world.

Alumni in Review: Kaitlin Sampson ’18

Kaitlin Sampson is a member of the Class of 2018. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I’m a Communications & Programs Associate at the Sustainable Food Lab.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I worked in the hospitality industry and was looking for a career pivot that focused on sustainability and allowed me to use my skills for a good cause.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

The curriculum and the vast network that The Sustainable Innovation MBA provides.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

The Food Lab was created by systems thinkers so I feel very fortunate to work with others to think about agricultural production in a system everyday. One of my recent projects has been collaborating with cocoa farmers to increase incomes through women-led diversification. Having base-of-the-pyramid experience from The Sustainable Innovation MBA has been very helpful.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

That the program has a lot of diversity and a wide network which will allow you to explore different interests. Within just a year you’ll learn a lot about yourself and you’ll come away with concrete skills.