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.

My Experience as an International Student

This post was written by Melissa Chima ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Where should I start? The university? The classmates? The program? The weather? The town? As an international student, the things I have experienced at the University of Vermont Sustainable Innovation MBA have been completely new. A couple of years ago, while working at a machine dealer for the mining and construction industry in Colombia I felt my life needed a change and a new purpose. I needed to have a positive impact in this world in crisis. Therefore, my search for a better future began and an instant match with The Sustainable Innovation MBA core values happened.

After the decision was made, I had to start a lot of paperwork and countless errands to be here: first, preparing for the TOEFL (The Test of English as a Foreign Language), taking it; approving it; preparing for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), taking it, approving it; applying for the University; getting the visa, packing my life into two suitcases; and getting the right state of mind to adapt to this new birth. This last part, the “new birth,” has been surprisingly “not abnormal”. After all, it is easy to get used to new things when you are surrounded by an entire community of kind, accepting and lovable people. For me, a person with high score on the personality trait of introversion, speaking of how nice people are around here is quite a big challenge. But I must recognize that the value that I have found in my cohort and the faculty members is incommensurable.

What can I say about the town and consequently about the weather? Burlington, Vermont is…Burlington, Vermont. A quiet and calm environment for people seeking for a quiet and calm environment. The weather has been quite a subject for me. In my couple (or more) decades of life, I have been living in Barranquilla, a city located in the north coast of Colombia, where a word such as “seasons” does not exist. We only have hot, hot with wind, hot and rain, and “hot like hell” weather. Hence, the introduction to this magical experience of having seasons has been kind of unique. About my first encounter with the snow and the “extreme” cold I have to say we are getting to know each other, and so far, I do not hate them. The key is, as someone said at the beginning of my experience, to wear layers. A couple or millions of layers.

Finally, I must talk about the program and my experience. After my first two modules in the program, I am convinced that it is possible to implement business as a source for good. The goal then, is to use the power of business to make a positive impact on the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. With courses such as World Challenges, marketing, finance, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and Leading for Sustainable Innovation, a-not-so-small-bag of tools have been added to my knowledge and development kit.

Currently, the second half of the experience is waiting for me, but I am completely sure it is going to be as great and rewarding as the first one. So far, I just have to thank the wonderful people that have been part of this experience and my personal journey.

A Letter to Mother Nature

This post was written by Juan Adorno ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Author’s Note: The recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico inspired me to write this blog post. I felt a blog to be a fitting forum to speak about a serious topic in a fun way. Because, the only thing I know to bring to darkness — to understand it — is light. Secondarily, I hope for this blog post to serve as a promotion for the new, fresh, literary genre: literary nonfiction: true events, displayed as authentic, original, creative forms.

This blog post aims to illuminate Puerto Rico in a way that is as free to me as the Coqui voices that will continue to sing. In other words, to share a literary nonfiction art work: true events, displayed authentically. From this chair in the Bronx, NY to another in Burlington, Vermont, to the forest of El Yunque, to the Castles of San Juan, to the beaches off the coasts of Vega Baja and Manati—Puerto Rico is the subject of this Letter…

We Hear You, Mother Nature, The Time is Now.

From: Juan Adorno

To: Mother Nature

Cc: Motherland (Puerto Rico)

Bcc: JP1—Blue (Pen Name)

Subject: Puerto Rico

Mother Nature, please, be merciful on the Motherland: sway those hips of the Carribean tectonic plates up against the rigid tips of the North Americans, in such a way that the BoricuasThe spirit of the People of Puerto Rico— are sparked, secured and prosperous in the long-run. Puerto Rico. The Enchanted Island. The Boriken Island. La Isla del Encanto.

On Tuesday, January 11, 2020, you rocked the motherland, 6.4 earthquake, sending people across the island to sleep in their patios, the streets and beaches in fear of their houses collapsing on them and their loved ones. The street where my Grandma lives was shut down and folks set up tents to sleep. In Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, half hour away from San Juan.

Grounds shaking, power outages: and, you continue to speak Mother Nature. Tremors. Traumas.

In spirit, I put myself setting up a tent in the Vega Baja Beach while Earthquakes pass, probably not the smartest move, but it’s the same beach that was travelled to by one of my writing heroes, Manuel Adorno. That beach was the setting of his seminal short story, and the hippies came.  Manuel was praised by great writers of his day like Gabriel Marquez.

Mother Nature, may you grace this blog post to serve as a genuine illumination of an interaction with you and may you grace the motherland.

I felt it was just the other day when I was standing in front of my Sustainable Innovation MBA class, in Burlington, Vermont, delivering a business pitch of Puerto Rico Solar Energy Company LLC., a PR-based TBL solar energy company idea that serves to help Puerto Rico toward Energy Freedom. I opened the group presentation with a personal story of the origin of the idea to create the business: A Hurricane Maria Story. The power was out in the neighborhood and it was renewable energy, namely solar energy and electric batteries that save the day. I delivered that presentation several months ago and it was in reference to Hurricane Maria which took place in 2017. Hurricane Maria exposed the island’s infrastructure vulnerabilities. 

It’s been years since Hurricane Maria, the history-bending catastrophe that took thousands of lives, and, yet, the islands energy mix is still not fixed.

The time is now: to be energy rich; to sustainably capitalize and commercialize; to self-sustain; to, then talk of food, economic, and artistic world warping potential contained in the rich port—Puerto Rico.

We Hear You, Mother Nature, The Time is Now!

Sincerely, Concerned Son

On Motherhood and the Importance of “Balance” for Success in the Program

This post was written by Sara Farnsworth ’20. Connect with Sara on LinkedIn

As the only mother in the Class of 2020, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on a key skill needed to achieve holistic success throughout the program —”Balance.” I came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program after some 20 years in the work force, where I have worn many hats, from catering to property damage repair and managing a business. But, my most important job is that of Mom. What is it like to be a single mother and dedicate myself to earning my MBA?  It’s about Balance. 

Sara Farnsworth ’20 (Photo by John Turner)

The program has taught me that balance is about setting healthy boundaries and managing time effectively. A challenge that arose for me was making choices between desiring to be out socializing and networking with classmates vs. spending time with my two boys. While, instinctively, the choice is easy for me — Mom duties always come first — I have come to learn that it is also important to build rapport and develop relationships with teammates as a way to cultivate team cohesion. 

One of the important skills I’ve practiced in the program is simply being present. When I am at school, I am in MBA work mode; when I am home, I am in Mama mode — and, so forth. After riding the bus into town with my kids and dropping them off at their campus, I make my way to Kalkin Hall.  These moments of walking up College Street are full of reflection, peace and planning. These “quiet” moments are scarce so I really cherish the morning light and walking to the Grossman School at UVM. I arrive to school a few hours before class to work while my mind is fresh.  I find my time in the morning prior to the start of classes, getting assignments completed and focusing on readings, has been incredibly helpful in achieving balance.  

Furthermore, I generally work through the 90-minute lunch break we are allotted each day, and sometimes stay until 5:30 or 6pm, to ensure I am getting my schoolwork done.  My goal has been to ensure that when I leave the building for the day and scoop my children from their afterschool activities, I’m ready to be Mom –- fully. I find that through my life experiences, I can contribute meaningfully to others’ learning, while I also am learning from others. Through all of this, I find time to be at home to make dinner with my kids each day, to help them with their homework and reflect on their day. When I am at home, my job is Mom. 

When it comes to social activities among the cohort, I pick and choose wisely, generally participating in group potlucks that enable me to bring my kids.  My kids have also been learning through this program and have watched me to ensure I am maintaining our life and home, while pursuing my dream of achieving an MBA. My children have met my fellow classmates and have learned and grown through their interactions. This program is positively affecting our lives. 

I won’t say that it’s easy to create balance, but it is so important to my mental health and well-being to recognize when things are not in balance and making changes so that I am able to feel at ease with the pace.  This program has been wonderful for my two sons and I, and I have the utmost confidence that I have made the right decision in joining this program, and it will positively affect their lives in addition to my own.  They see me working hard and dedicating myself to my studies, while enjoying the benefits of the Mom they have always counted on.  The balance is what will get me to the day of graduation and will propel me toward all the goals and dreams I have following the completion of this program. I hope that my sharing of my experience of being a part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program may influence people of all walks of life, from all circumstances, to consider the program, as with diligent balance and a positive “can-do” attitude, one can be successful in the SI-MBA program. 

I’m so happy to be a part of the SI-MBA class of 2020, and I look forward to what is to come, with a full heart and hands ready to change the world. 

With Sustainability, Should Motives Matter?

This post was written by Lauren Frisch ’20

As long as you are making lasting sustainable change, should motives matter?  

This past semester, we’ve taken a deep dive into the world of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and thought about the different motives companies may have to invest in CSR practices. Some companies have economic motives.[i] Others want to build relationships with various stakeholders, called relational motives. Finally, some companies have moral motives, wanting to make the world, or their piece of it, run a little better.[ii] Consumers tend to digest CSR information better when there is at least a hint of a moral motive. But is this the right way to truly encourage CSR across the board?

Volkswagen stock prices before and after Dieselgate

Let’s use Volkswagen (VW) as an example. In 2015, news broke that VW had created technology that faked emissions levels in about 580,000 vehicles between 2006 and 2015.[iii] Defeat devices were created to register when a vehicle’s emissions were being tested, and modify performance to achieve a particular emissions level. By March 2019, VW had paid more than $30 billion in fines, penalties, resolutions and settlements towards Dieselgate.[iv] The company agreed to invest in electric vehicle (EV) technology and infrastructure to offset some of the damage caused by their deceptive technology.[v]

VW was able to survive this scandal and continue to thrive as a company, but not without a cost. The company had a turnover in high-level leadership after the scandal. The brand’s reputation was tarnished and stock prices dropped 23%[vi]. Enter Herbert Diess, a new CEO with a plan to completely reinvent Volkswagen as a sustainable leader in the industry. Diess and his team created Together 2025, a vision for how VW would grow between 2015 and 2025.[vii] The main goal of Together 2025 is to transform VW into a leader in the EV market. The company hopes that by 2025, 25% of VWs on the road will be EVs, a lofty goal that will help transform the makeup of the worldwide auto landscape.[viii]

Concept photo for Volkswagen’s new I.D. Buzz, an electric bus

The company has promised to launch a fleet of seven new electric vehicles, including four for VW, two for Audi and one for Seat.[ix] VW is also investing in new EV factory space and charging infrastructure, and the company hopes to establish and implement a carbon neutral supply chain by 2050.[x],[xi]

Critics of VW argue that the company should not be viewed as a leader in sustainable innovation because they were forced to implement aspects of this radical transformation to make up for Dieselgate. Others believe Diess is a transformational leader with strong moral motives, and is using this colossal environmental mess up to inspire change and create an automotive industry that he truly believes in. Consumers may never know the exact motives behind VW’s together 2025 campaign, although the truth likely lies somewhere between the suspicion of the cynics and the hope of the optimists. Almost all human behavior and corporate action is driven by varying degrees of multiple motives.

But should Volkswagen’s motives matter if the company is able to advance renewable technology? What matters is that Volkswagen is on the road to becoming a leader in EV technology, and is investing not only in vehicle design, but factories and infrastructure that will help support growing demand into the future. It would be best for the industry if Volkswagen’s transformation is wildly successful, because it will build momentum to advance critical EV technology at VW and may inspire other companies to make similar commitments. Of course, I’d prefer if all companies had strong moral motives to back their CSR work. But it’s important for us to recognize that people come from different experiences, and companies have different priorities. At this stage, the change we’re making matters more than the reason we started on the path. And if companies can profit from solving a problem for someone, hopefully it will encourage others to follow in their lead, and help sustain more change.


Endnotes

[i] Aguilera, Ruth V., Rupp, Deborah E., Williams, Cynthia A., Ganapathi, Jyoti. “Putting the S back in corporate social responsibility: A multilevel theory of social change in organizations.” Academy of Management Review. 3 Nov. 2007.

[ii] Aguilera, Ruth V., Rupp, Deborah E., Williams, Cynthia A., Ganapathi, Jyoti. “Putting the S back in corporate social responsibility: A multilevel theory of social change in organizations.” Academy of Management Review. 3 Nov. 2007.

[iii] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[iv] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[v] Voelcker, John. “VW Electrify America plan for electric-car charging across the US released.” Green Car Reports. 18, Apr. 2017,https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1109971_vw-electrify-america-plan-for-electric-car-charging-across-u-s-released.

[vi] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[vii] “2018 Sustainability Report.” The Volkswagen Group, Mar. 2019, https://www.volkswagenag.com/presence/nachhaltigkeit/documents/sustainability-report/2018/Nonfinancial_Report_2018_e.pdf

[viii] Keith, Travis. “Volkswagen stock price plunges after emissions scandal.” Column Five Media. https://www.columnfivemedia.com/volkswagen-stock-price-plunges-after-emissions-scandal

[ix] Rauwald, Christoph. “Volkswagen’s road to riches or ruin starts in this factory.” Bloomberg, 6 Sept. 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-06/volkswagen-s-road-to-riches-or-ruin-starts-in-this-factory

[x] “2018 Sustainability Report.” The Volkswagen Group, Mar. 2019, https://www.volkswagenag.com/presence/nachhaltigkeit/documents/sustainability-report/2018/Nonfinancial_Report_2018_e.pdf

[xi] Rauwald, Christoph. “Volkswagen’s road to riches or ruin starts in this factory.” Bloomberg, 6 Sept. 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-06/volkswagen-s-road-to-riches-or-ruin-starts-in-this-factory

Greta Thunberg and the Power of Words

This post was written by Faith Vasko ’20

Greta Thunberg. The face of climate resilience. Notice how I didn’t say change? Because that’s what Greta is trying to stop. Change means an ending, resilience is the ability to recover. Words are important. Greta recently released a preview for the film Nature Now in coalition with several climate organizations, such as Conservation International, exposing the solution to climate breakdown. The proposed solution from the Queen of climate resilience? Trees.

Photo by Santtu Perkiö on Unsplash

Her partner in the film, writer and climate activist George Monbiot, further elaborated that trees are “natural climate solutions,” saying, “nature is a tool we can use to repair our broken climate.” This type of language, framing nature as a “tool,” has been an influential concept in my time as a MBA candidate in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. In our first week of classes, Taylor Ricketts, the Director of the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont, presented on Ecosystem Services.

Through the business lens, the concept of value is important. The value of ecosystem services is that they provide benefits to society. There are several ways in which to classify these services as well as how they can be applied. In framing ecosystem services as valuable natural capital for business opportunities, ecosystems and biodiversity is then quantified. This allows ecological economies to be emphasized.

This ideology, similar to biomimicry — in looking to how mimic natural processes in design and production — was new territory to me just like the University of Vermont this past August. Taking these concepts I learned in class, with the access to the campus experience, I was able to further my curiosity by beginning work under a Gund Faculty Fellow and Doctoral Candidate researching the non-material relationships and benefits from cultural ecosystem services in the face of scientific uncertainty.

I am grateful and excited by the expansion of opportunities learning fosters and the rabbit holes they can lead you to. Greta has exemplified this notion of expansion in spreading the message of climate activism. Nature is a tool, and with the right language applied —such as ecosystem services and ecological economies— its value can be communicated to transform and create sustainable business ventures while supporting the environment.

Getting to Know Our Faculty: Rick G. Vanden Bergh

Dr. Vanden Bergh came to UVM in the fall of 2000 after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a Ph.D. in Business and Public Policy and an MBA. Prior to academia, he worked in banking in Colorado, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dr. Vanden Bergh’s areas of research include: firm strategy in the political environment and the effects of political institutions on business investment. For the past several years Dr. Vanden Bergh has been exploring issues in the energy sector including an exploration of how the political environment affects investment in renewable energy. Dr. Vanden Bergh was instrumental in designing the new Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum. He teaches two courses for the Sustainable Innovation MBA program including a course on Business Sustainability & Public Policy.

What do you enjoy about teaching in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

The diversity of backgrounds of the students really contributes to engaging conversations in class.

What surprises you the most about the students?

Each year, I am surprised again by the student’s level of passion for solving super challenging problems. I think this level passion helps students to manage the intensity of the SI-MBA program and to maintain energy throughout the year.

While there’s a great deal to learn in your course, what’s the single biggest idea or concept you hope students take away to use in their business careers?

Think deeply about choices. Important business and/or public policy decisions involve both benefits and costs, and to fully understand these requires careful analysis.

What’s your media diet like lately? What are you reading, listening to, streaming, or watching?

I just finished reading Becoming Nicole by Amy Nutt and am reading two other books, Deep Work by Cal Newport and The Third Pillar by Raghuram Rajan. These days, two of my favorite podcasts are “Stay Tuned” with Preet Bharara and “After Hours” with Youngme Moon, Mihir Desai and Felix Oberholzer-Gee.

What do you do for fun when you’re not in the classroom?

When the snow flies, I ski (nordic and alpine) and snow shoe. Other times of the year, I like hiking, mountain biking and gravel-road biking. For passive viewing entertainment, I love to watch premier league and champions league soccer.

Anything else?

Be humble about your views/opinions and be open to hearing and understanding alternative perspectives. I find my own thinking is not well developed unless I can explain the argument of a person with a different perspective.

Getting to Know the Class of 2020: Dan Versace

Dan is a native of the small fishing town of Scituate, Massachusetts where his passion for the natural world began.  Dan graduated from Saint Anselm College in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Science and a minor in Politics. During his time there, he founded the Saint Anselm Environmentalists Club. He also started a divestment campaign with the goal of fully divesting the schools endowment from fossil fuels, a battle that he is still fighting today. Upon graduation Dan moved to rural Tennessee where he worked in the National Parks to research and mediate the invasive plant populations that are taking over hundreds of square miles in the south. Connect with Dan on LinkedIn.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

For me, this program is the perfect cross-section of business and environmentalism. As someone who came out of undergrad with a degree in environmental science and no formal business experience, this program allows me to leverage my prior knowledge of the problems facing our world into creative solutions that utilize the world of business. Not to mention the faculty here is comprised of some of the most influential people in the field of sustainable business which made the decision to apply and attend easy.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program?

Personally, my favorite element of the program is the people who comprise it. All of the students in my cohort are supportive and genuinely great people. Having the opportunity to discuss issues with intelligent and like-minded people is invaluable. Not to mention, the professors are all extremely supportive and really want everyone to succeed.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1. When they say this program is intense, they’re not lying, but it is all manageable and the people around you always have your back and are there to help.
2. If you’re someone like me who had no previous business education, this program will supply you with the skills you need to understand and internalize all of the “hard business” aspects while also offering unique, disruptive skills that are so uncommon in other MBA programs.
3. Vermont is incredibly beautiful at all times of year, but the winters can be a little dark and snowy. Pack your skis and get ready for a fun winter.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

This program has opened my eyes to opportunities that I had never thought of before.

What business, sector, or issue would you like to have an impact on after the program?

I would like to have an impact on the beer brewing industry, as a consultant to larger firms or by starting my own brewery here in Vermont.

Anything else?

This is an amazing program that I think anybody who has any interest in creating impact change on the world should definitely check out!

Getting to Know the Class of 2020: Taran Catania

Prior to coming to The Sustainable Innovation MBA, Taran had been in Washington, D.C. working as a legislative representative for national conservation organizations and later as an environmental staffer in the U.S. Senate. Taran also served two years on the executive board of DC EcoWomen, a nonprofit connecting and empowering women for environmental leadership in the nation’s capital. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

Coming from the environmental policy world of Washington, D.C., I wanted to use a business degree to find a different way to take on the world’s most pressing environmental challenges that better utilized my strengths. What sold me on The Sustainable Innovation MBA was knowing I did not have to settle for a traditional MBA with one environmental or social justice course relegated to the end of the program. I knew I wanted to break the mold in the work I was doing, and that I wanted to learn conventional skills but apply them in unconventional ways. When I learned that this is what this program is doing, itself, in the breaking the mold of what an MBA has always been, something simply clicked for me.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program?

It was my mom who advised me to think twice before going to an MBA with a demoralizingly cutthroat culture in which, when your calculator died during an exam, the student next to you would merely smirk and turn away. I took this advice and evidently ran with it: at The Sustainable Innovation MBA, we embrace and support each other as classmates. Not only do we pump each other up for tests, collaborate on study guides and flashcards, and share pencils when the occasional Scantron bubble answer sheet appears… but I’ll admit that just a few weeks ago when I forgot my calculator during a finance quiz, Chuck (our finance professor and academic director) lent me his.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1. You will be drinking through a fire hose. The program moves fast, and you have to move fast with it. There will not be a lot of time to stop and absorb — instead, you have to absorb on the go. This pace might not be for everyone, but if you manage your time well and remember to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, you’ll do just fine.

2. Your classmates will be some of the best people you have ever met, and they will be a key part of why you feel so at home in this program. The diversity of backgrounds brings significant value into the classroom, and you’ll find you learn just as much from your classmates as you do your professors.

3. Perhaps most importantly, be ready to dive into your own vulnerability. Part of the beauty of The Sustainable Innovation MBA is that this program forces you to really look at yourself, examine what is particular about you and how you see the world, and how all of those things show up and shape how you’re a teammate or a leader. If you’re not ready for or at least open to this level of self-awareness and self-management, the program will be a struggle for you.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

Although some of the concepts are intuitive, the business vocabulary and frameworks we learn are immensely helpful — whether analyzing an entire industry in Business Strategy for a Sustainable World to segmenting a market and deciding on a target audience for a product launch in Sustainable Brand Marketing.

What business, sector, or issue would you like to have an impact on after the program?

I hear this story repeated often: good people that are drawn to meaningful, cause-driven work (who are willing to take a pay cut and still give 110%) end up leaving these progressive movements because of poor management or disingenuous leadership. I am lucky enough to have had both challenging boss experiences and extremely empowering boss experiences. I tried to remember these lessons when I became a boss myself: to be authentic, to embrace vulnerability, and to empower my team to take risks even if it means inevitable, occasional failure. While I’m still figuring out exactly how I want to bring this into the next step of my career, I know what a powerful impact a positive leadership experience can have on employee retention. Especially for these environmentally-driven causes that simply cannot afford to lose good, mission-driven, hard-working people, I want to be a part of the solution.

Anything else?

I cannot say enough good things about the competitive broomball team we formed at the beginning of the year through UVM intramural sports. It was often the highlight of my week, and provided me with (a) a chance to get to know my classmates outside of the classroom, and (b) an opportunity to wear my sloth onesie costume as our goalie. Although we finished #2 in the final playoff standings, I’d like to think we were #1 in everyone’s hearts.

Getting to Know Our Faculty: Dita Sharma

Dr. Pramodita (Dita) Sharma, Ph.D. (University of Calgary) is the Sanders Chair & Professor of Family Business at the Grossman School of Business, University of Vermont. She holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany. Her research on succession processes, governance, innovation, next generation commitment and entrepreneurial leadership in sustainable family enterprises has been honored with several international awards. Editor of the highly ranked Family Business Review, she is amongst the most frequently cited scholars in family business studies. She teaches Entrepreneurial Family Business in the MBA program.

What do you enjoy about teaching in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

The passion of students to launch and work in a mission-focused company, making our world a better place to live in.

What surprises you the most about the students?

Because of the nature of student who gets attracted to this program, their responses to family business dilemmas are uniquely different from what I hear from other students at UVM or beyond.

While there’s a great deal to learn in your course, what’s the single biggest idea or concept you hope students take away to use in their business careers?

What’s my “A” (assumption)? Everything we write, say or think has at least one underlying assumption. Making it a habit to ask and answer this question, shortens the pathway to have an impact in life and career.

For any organization, look for its founding mission, evolution, and who controls the ownership — management/governance now (that is, in whose hands is the remote control). That clarity can help to connect with them as humans and having an influence without authority.

What’s your media diet like lately? What are you reading, listening to, streaming, or watching?

The Origin of Species.

What do you do for fun when you’re not in the classroom?

Walk, hike, yoga.