Adapting to Online Learning and Off-Grid Living

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

These times are unprecedented for our generation — that goes without question. I knew this year was going to be about change, about growth, and about perspective, but what I, and so many others in the program, didn’t know was exactly how this change would manifest itself.

I wrote recently about the need for industries to adopt some of the lessons in adaptability that I had learned earlier in the program and I would like to build on that sentiment by offering up an example of my existence these past few months.

Disclaimer: this post is grounded in the gravity of this pandemic. It has exposed some of my own vulnerabilities, but I recognize that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I have the current luxury of financial security, higher education and a solid support network. I recognize that many do not have this same level of privilege, yet I think the sentiment remains for many.

In the beginning of March, rumblings of the COVID crisis were underway. I had been following the stories coming out of Wuhan, but they were distant, geographically and mentally. We were rounding out final module projects and preparing for spring break. I could feel anxiety mounting as I began worrying about friends and family traveling abroad. I grew hesitant of taking trips to the Harvest Cafe for lunch. This invisible enemy, if anywhere in Burlington, would be at the medical center. But it was not until I read an article that Harvard was closing their doors for the remainder of the spring semester that I recognized there would be a new normal for the foreseeable future.

From the outside, I seem like a healthy and fit 28 year-old man. Relatively low risk for complications due to this virus and subsequent disease. I am, however, an asthmatic. I take multiple medications a day to help maintain a healthy respiratory system and this is the first time in my life I have felt vulnerable. I racked my brain on what I should do once the program officially went remote.

My communal off-campus student housing apartment was feeling less safe every day. Especially given the lack of information regarding virus transmission. I felt like I should not go home to my parents in Connecticut, as they each are also in high risk categories with underlying asthma and other pre-existing conditions.  

So, I upgraded my Verizon hotspot plan, stocked up and headed to an off-grid family cabin far removed from powerlines and public spaces. I took with me my valuables, all the essential learning materials I would need and began thinking through how I could manage completing this accelerated MBA program, preparing for my remote capstone project this summer and contemplating a job search in what is going to probably be the worst job market since the Great Depression. Not exactly the most rejuvenating of spring breaks.

What resulted have been lessons I hope to carry with me through my life. Lessons around long-term sustainable and biodynamic living, around balancing what I want and what I need and keeping myself connected to a low-impact lifestyle. And again, lessons in the human capacity to adapt. All of which, I believe, lend insight for my personal and professional life.

Lessons in resiliency and sustainability learned through the first few months of the COVID crisis should begin with a walk through of a day in the life at the cabin:

Most mornings I wake up to the chill of the Vermont spring air and have to get the woodstove fired up. Not a particularly difficult task, and one that has created a familiar and comforting rhythm. Some mornings I am confronted with the decision of either brewing a much-needed hot cup of coffee, getting the fire started or doing some last-minute reading before online classes begin, all of which seem essential. I’ve spent plenty of time camping, and am familiar with spending time outdoors, but this experience has placed a new appreciation on accessibility to heat and insulated shelter as an important element of energy equity and justice. Sitting in on lectures discussing the energy accessibility inequities at the Base of the Pyramid in both our Driving Innovation and Energy Policy and Sustainable Technology courses would not have been nearly as visceral had it not been for those mornings spent breaking sticks and stoking the woodstove.

Fortunately, the cabin has an entirely self-sufficient energy system. The solar panels and partnered battery storage allow for a few lights, small refrigerator, running water and charges for my laptop and cell phone. With a live display of kw being generated at any given time, as well as feedback on current draw and remaining levels of the battery, fun games have emerged gambling with myself on whether or not it is worthwhile to run the electric tea-kettle when I know that my laptop will probably require a few more charges to survive all the Zoom lectures before the sun pokes through the rain clouds. Inevitably, I open the fridge less and do not run the water excessively while doing the dishes. Both are simple behavior changes which have not detracted from my quality of life. I am now simply remembering the contents of the fridge and realizing that this serves the same purpose that staring hopefully into the depths that my favorite snack will somehow emerge from thin air. Watching the battery levels drop and rise with each action or inaction has helped to ground my understanding of my impact in same way a Prius owner plays games with gas efficiency from the dashboard display. If only this impact of consumption could be better distilled, displayed and understood by the greater population of individuals and businesses – simplicity here is undoubtedly the key.

Having the space for an herb garden and my own compost pile has been another activity stemming from the cabin lifestyle. Granted, this would not have been possible had the curriculum been forced to go virtual. But this virtual world may be here to stay for many in the professional landscape. Some companies are realizing they can still accomplish just as much from home as they can from having and office and have been able to navigate this transition. In forcing many professionals to adopt this platform, I hope there will be greater flexibility for younger professionals to adopt lifestyles that are more in line with their personal values.

But it is not my hope that next year’s cohort will be forced to begin the year virtually, because so many unique elements of the program simply will not be the same. In recognizing this possibility, however, it is important for potential and committed SI-MBA students to embrace the unknown and remain open to the lessons that being a part of this program and the greater Vermont community helps to facilitate. SI-MBA has proven itself adaptable and resilient in the face of this uncertainty, embodying essential elements of sustainability. I had no idea I would be learning these lessons in sustainable living, but by remaining positive and adaptable I have been able to cope with the COVID crisis and find invaluable lessons for future personal and business leadership, all of which have been framed and encouraged by SI-MBA’s core values and curriculum. I am optimistic that future leaders will continue to emerge from our nimble and disruptive program.

Life as an MBA Student During COVID-19

This post was written by Prakriti Timsina ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Each month we have had Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) Meetups where we, the current cohort, get to network and catch up with the SI-MBA alumni and professors. It was during one of the events where we often got asked how our cohort was handling the current COVID-19 situation. That prompted me to write this blog to share my educational experience during this unprecedented time.

Before I start off, I want to say that I understand that for many people, this has been a tough few months and that people are going through a lot. Often, when I listen to the news, it is heartbreaking to see everything going on in the world. Despite that, I try to be appreciative of the positive things in my life that keep me going. I am grateful and fortunate that the problems I am about to describe are minuscule and I’m happy to be safe and healthy and able to continue my master’s program without any major obstacles.

When the stay at home order first started, I was amazed that the SI-MBA faculty and staff were able swiftly to transition to online classes in a short amount of time, all while updating our cohort on what’s going on. Initially, we were using multiple platforms for our meetings and calendars—Microsoft teams for some classes and Zoom for others. For our class calendar, we were using both the Outlook Calendar and Google Calendar, which were sometimes out of sync with each other. Although that caused some confusion in the beginning, our class leaders were able to talk to the SI-MBA program directors and decided to use Zoom and Google Calendar, given the ease of use, familiarity, and performance.

Two of the challenges were figuring out how to work together remotely and trying to figure out how to present as a group. We went from having one group in module one to having four different groups in module four, and coordinating various groups was a challenge on its own. Given the complexity and our busy schedules, most of the time we tried to plan our school schedule in advance. If there was a conflict of schedule, we tried to be accommodating and understanding of our classmate’s situation. To get ready for our presentations, we met a few times via Zoom to complete the presentation and practice. During the practice session, we decided on who would share their screen and when to switch slides.

It’s hard to be productive when you are stuck in your home. I found that having a set routine to follow was really helpful. I also created a task list of things I had to accomplish each day. This may not be the case for everyone, but personally, it helped to get dressed for the day as if I was heading into Kalkin Hall. I know it’s extremely tempting to do your work from the coziness of your warm bed; however, I noticed I wasn’t as productive as I could be from it. I set up multiple workstations in my place that I could use during school hours. During this time, it’s easy to have our days blur in one, but It helped to switch rooms every so often. When the weather was warm and sunny, I attended my class outside.

Apart from my classes, there were a few activities I did to stay sane during this time. Every day, I made an effort to be active in some way, whether it was working out or joining in on online dance classes. We have had a few game nights and movie nights to de-stress, catch up, and see each other outside of the online class setting. A few times a week, I would check in with my friends to see how they were holding up.

Throughout this whole process, I admire SI-MBA’s willingness to continually adapt based on our feedback. Every week, we have zoom SI-MBA check-ins where program directors can share any relevant information, get market, and medical updates. This is also the time where we get to share any concerns and provide feedback on how to make this program better in this uncertain time. I want to thank the professors for their understanding and adaptability. It feels amazing to be part of a community where we have so much say and have the opportunity to have our voices heard.

Geography and the Environment to the World of Business

This post was written by Dana Stewart ’20

Jaws dropped to the floor when I first told my friends and family that I was going to business school. Apart from my complete and utter lack of business attire, everyone was just really shocked and thought I was drastically pivoting. When I told them about the sustainability theme of the MBA their doubts softened, but still they were struggling to identify the connections between my undergraduate degree and the business degree I was about to pursue. I had no such struggles. 

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

I double majored in environmental studies and geography at Villanova University. The first two years of my education were heavily science based and focused on the challenges and opportunities we face as a result of world trends, environmental shifts and anthropogenic forces. I was taking classes like Environmental Chemistry, Global Changes in Local Places, Geo-techniques, Natural Resources, and Environmental Justice. I can pinpoint connections to the coursework of this MBA and those first two science-heavy years at Villanova even though, to the untrained eye, the two may be totally separate worlds. The environmental and business connections continued to grow through the second half of undergrad and are even clearer as I look back on the courses I took in my junior and senior years.

One of my favorite classes was Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is all about capturing, analyzing, storing, managing, and presenting all kinds of data and layers on top of geographic locations. GIS actually has really strong ties to the world of business and economics. We did projects that examined elements that make certain areas more appealing for commerce. We would even calculate the actual amounts and fluctuation of attention a business could expect to attract depending on what direction it’s storefront faced and the foot-traffic and other characteristics associated with an area. We also looked at degrees of economic success against all kinds of variables in order to draw out possible conclusions or connections.

Although there are huge differences between my undergraduate degree and this MBA, I’m finding more and more ways to thread them together. I hope in years to come this kind of “pivot” will become less dramatic. It is my hope that it even becomes commonplace for people from my academic background or any background that seemingly contrasts to slide into the business realm and begin a paradigm shift. If you are passionate and  determined to cultivate a connection from where you are coming from to this program, you can make this MBA work for you.

Embedding: Co-Creating the Future

This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

I am interested in the ethical issues around climate change mitigation strategies. I found similar themes in our class examples of base-of-pyramid (BoP) settings – underserved communities around the globe have disproportionately greater vulnerability to a changing environment. This was memorably illustrated by the Tamil fisher Ezhil, who lamented that local fishing knowledge passed down from his antecedents didn’t seem to be much use anymore; shifting migration patterns and ranges of fish species, as well as the vagaries of a changing climate, threatened poor fishing communities that didn’t have the economic resilience to bear the shock. Ezhil’s story also highlighted the intersection of many sources of disadvantage found in BoP communities. In his case, Ezhil’s low level of education, coupled with his geographically-marginalised position as a coastal dweller, surely contributed to the hopelessness and pathos in his words. It’s also hard to imagine that caste did not play a role in his marginalization and the limited roles easily available to him and his descendants.

Photo by Rajesh Ram on Unsplash

A frequent theme across the readings was the necessity of ecosystem thinking; communities lower on the socioeconomic ladder each have a unique context that present considerable challenges to business creation. I think Simanis’ discussion of market creation was the first time I really considered that the free market’s failure to provide opportunities at the BoP was damning, because, if the market didn’t make it happen, no-one else would do it. I was less enthused with his three-step prescription to follow to develop new BoP markets. If such market creation is as complex as Simanis, Vishwanathan and others say, any sweeping solution is unlikely to be successful in every BoP context. For example, Simanis recommends growing a BoP business by expanding upon a base of personally-vested customers. Would this step happen in exactly this way in a more individualistic society, or one with different geographic challenges, or a different economic context?            

Rather than only consider successful ventures such as Essilor’s low-cost glasses or Padman’s sanitary pads, I think it would be useful to consider promising BoP ventures that failed. The obvious failures that couldn’t bring all stakeholders in to the creative process or fully consider the local context are less interesting than those where all the stars seemed to align but tangible results failed to materialize.

An Industry in Shake-Out Mode

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

All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

From Carhart’s landmark 1997 study on mutual funds that found evidence of lack of skills across fund managers[1], to the 2008 Global Great Recession that rattled people’s pockets around the globe, driving historical levels of mistrust in institutions, (particularly government and financial services!), add on the clear signs of the times of the retail investments business: extreme pricing pressures, oversupply, commoditization, and overall industry consolidation, and what we have is — an industry at a crossroads, an industry in shake-out mode! The Active Retail Investments Business is at a turning point! I’d be remiss not to fully disclose that the recent Franklin Templeton acquisition of Legg Mason Asset Management sparked my motivation to free flow some industry thoughts, provided I spent most of the past decade bringing myself up in the business from inside those walls.

In describing the signs of the times, future business history textbooks will reference Larry Fink’s letter to CEOs, A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance [2], as a demarcation point toward a twisty-turny long-winded path toward Sustainable Capitalism. The letter promotes the ideas of long-term value creation and sense of purpose: climate risk as investment risk; the importance of transparency and accountability; and, improved disclosures for shareholders. That “awareness is rapidly changing, and […] we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”[2]

Ubiquitous in nature, in the same way that sustainable investing has emerged as a major trend in the investments space, renewable energies will continue to increase their share of the energy mix [4] as electric vehicles will increasingly make their way on roads [5], and healthier foods will increasingly take share of dinner plates[6]—all interconnected developments that are a part of a wave of consciousness: A Great Awakening. Albeit nature works slowly, demographics, globalization and technology have seemingly spurred an emphatic spark in humanity [3].

“Sustainability,” (in the broadest sense of the word) is a thread that binds the retail investments business with the whole of humanity: a truth best channeled as unlocked blue ocean opportunities for long-term, multi-dimensional value creation. An idea to stimulate the inherent social purpose for corporations. Like concepts such as money and capitalism, it all starts with an idea, like that which says that we are inextricably interconnected to each other and this one planet we all call home. In this spirit, and in tribute to Black History Month, I’ll conclude with words from Martin Luther King Jr.: Commencement address to Oberlin College in June 1965

“All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.T his is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Works Cited

[1] Carhart, Mark. On Persistance in Mutual Fund Performance. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1540-6261.1997.tb03808.x (1997)

[2] Fink, Larry. A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance. https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter (2020)

[3] Rifkin, Jeremy. The Emphatic Civilization. https://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_the_empathic_civilization (2010)

[4] Nyquist, Scott; Manyika, James. Renewable Energy: Evolution, not revolution. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/oil-and-gas/our-insights/renewable-energy-evolution-not-revolution (2016)

[5] DiChristopher Tom. Electric Vehicles will grow from 3M to 125M by 2030, International Energy Agency Forecasts. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/electric-vehicles-will-grow-from-3-million-to-125-million-by-2030-iea.html (2018)

[6] Renner, Barb; Ringquist, Jack. Capitalizing on the shifting consumer value equation. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/us-food-industry-consumer-trends-report.html (2015)

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.

Regenerative Agriculture: A Case for Glocalization Agriculture Practices

This post was written by Bavin Balakrishnan ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

It is common knowledge that carbon emissions is a major contributor to the climate impact crisis. It is even more common to hear about the reduction of carbon emissions to mitigate the impact.

Photo by Roman Synkevych on Unsplash

What about the carbon already in the atmosphere? A common solution to develop carbon sinks is to plant trees, which is a great start to replace the deforested area. However, as the population grows and more land is converted into cities, we need to re-assess the previously suggested solution.

During our first semester in the SI-MBA program we were introduced to the following equation regarding human impact to frame what factors affect this developed by Commoner, Ehrlich, Holdren[1]:

As established earlier, the population is expected to continue rising with estimates of world population reaching 8.5 billion by 2030.[2] Similarly, affluence (or consumption) of people will continue to increase as developing countries are increasing their GDPs, which is commonly used as a proxy to judge consumption. Finally, technology represents the resources required to produce the units of consumption, thus increases with affluence.

So, what’s the solution? Simple algebra can reframe this equation to our benefit and reduce the human impact:

This equation represents that using our resources efficiently can significantly deter our impact. A resource that we are currently failing to make more efficient is the soil. Carbon naturally belongs in the ground and is the prime factor that creates an efficient ecosystem within the soil.

https://www.thegreendirectory.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/RegenerativeAgrictulture-1024x818.jpg
Source: Graphic produced by General Mills, 2018

The image identifies fundamental concepts behind regenerative agriculture, however, these holistic practices are not currently applied by majority of farmers as they believe it is not financially feasible. A common misconception in the farming community, especially within developing countries, is that monoculture farming will generating the highest revenues. Though this may have been true in the early days, with strong soil health and support from large enterprises such as Monsanto, those practices have depleted the soil of its natural benefits.[3]

Contrary to the misconception, those farmers who implemented regenerative agriculture practices have rejuvenated their land, which paid dividends through higher crop yields and greater soil health for future generations.

A caveat in this solution, it needs to be applied at a local level. On the other hand, the food industry is a globalized market with customer demands for exotic foods continuously increasing.[4] In order to deal with this supply short, the solution is glocalize the food supply chain, which refers to the production of native crops at a local level to meet the demands of global scale. This requires co-ordination between farmers so that an individual doesn’t face the burden / risks associated with monoculture production.

This is my case to create a platform for farmers in their respective countries to the power of agriculture back in their hands and regenerate their land, reduce the human impact, and provide hope for future generations.


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.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

This post was written by Allison Baxter ’20. Connect with Allison on LinkedIn.

The term ‘impostor syndrome’ has been tossed around a bit since we started this program a little over five months ago. In a program that is as committed to sustainability and making the world a better place as The Sustainable Innovation MBA, it is natural to wonder if one is ‘green-enough’ or has the right type of professional experience to merit being in such a lauded, innovative program.

Class of ’20 planting trees during orientation.

I am speaking here from personal experience. I came to this program after five years of working in the energy industry – and not the renewable kind, mind you. An internship recommended by my accounting professor senior year of college brought me to the energy industry and, though I knew it was not something I was passionate about, great bosses, lovely coworkers, and personal success in what I was doing got me stuck in a rut I could not figure out how to get out of. Also, though I have always been passionate about sustainability, I was never sure how to contribute in a meaningful way professionally. When I came across the SI-MBA program, I viewed it as an opportunity to point me in a new direction and help me combine my personal and professional goals and passions.

Coming into this program, after reading the bios of my fellow classmates and meeting them during orientation week, I was extremely intimidated by the 29 people I was surrounded by. I was in awe of their numerous, amazing accomplishments and how many of their backgrounds reflected a strong commitment to sustainability. It felt as though they were so much more deserving than I of being in a program that integrates innovation and sustainability into every facet of its curriculum.

But the problem of sustainability is too big to be solved by any one person. The more people joining the conversation, taking action, and looking to solve the problem the better. Impostor syndrome does not serve anyone in the sustainability space. Regardless of what is on your resume, no one is too inadequate or undeserving to contribute to the cause. Every person here matters. 

Therefore, while I am indeed in remarkable company, I have come to accept that I do deserve my place here. Making the choice to be part of this truly special program was the first step on the path of many towards using my professional toolkit to ensure a more sustainable future. I bring my own unique perspective to this group, which is something I have come to find so valuable in this program. Each of us 30 individuals have wildly different backgrounds and experiences, which enriches our joint learning experience immensely. In a program like this – one that is preparing us to address the most pressing problems of today in sustainable and innovative ways – it is the bringing together of people with diverse voices, backgrounds, and perspectives that we need most.