This post was written by Kate Barry ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
How do you stay competitive in a job market that is becoming increasingly more automated? This is a question on many people’s minds in all areas of the workforce today. Tiger Tyagarjan attempts to answer this daunting question in his article from the Harvard Business Review, “To Prepare for Automation, Stay Curious and Don’t Stop Learning.” Tyagarajan cites a number of possibilities for workers to stay ahead of the curve when faced with an increasing automated workforce, a concept we have talked about in depth in our Sustainable Brand Marketing class this module.
When first faced with the
uncertainty of job security in the future, one may have a knee-jerk reaction to
fight against the development of artificial intelligence, or maybe try to out-smart
it, by developing more highly-technical skills. Both of these options, I
believe, will eventually be losing battles as technological advancement will
roar on whether or not we are fully ready for it. Perhaps, as Tyagarjan
suggests in his piece, instead of fighting the advancement of artificial intelligence,
humans can differentiate themselves by embracing their “humanness” through the
development of soft skills.
Soft skills are the tools someone
uses to interact with others in an effective manner, a concept entirely
dependent on self-awareness. They include one’s emotional intelligence, their
level of empathy, ability to work in a team, etc. These are the skills that
will differentiate humans from artificial intelligence in the workforce moving
Thus far in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, there has been a large emphasis on the development of soft-skills between our Teamwork for Sustained Innovation class, The Leadership Seminar, and copious amounts of group work. Some of the hesitation in regard to entering into a non-traditional MBA is the larger mix of skills learned beyond the traditional aspects of a business education. While I have gained a great deal of value and personal development through our work so far, it’s hard to know what the business world is looking for when hiring. It is reassuring to see that the business community values the importance of soft skills, and their many applications in the workplace.
So, how do you stay competitive in a job market that is constantly becoming more automated? Lean into your humanness, strengthen your self and other-awareness, and in the words of Joe Fusco, “have a love affair with the truth.”
We found this story of a beekeeper and his wonderful attitude toward turning a big problem into an innovation — and a business advantage — just delightful. How can you think differently about problems, and opportunities, as foundations of innovation?
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of Orientation Week, the Class of 2020 visited iconic, mission-driven companies here in Vermont for conversations about sustainability, innovation, and Business 2.0 with executives. We asked Albert Kittell ’20 about his take-away from a visit to Ben & Jerry’s headquarters.
“After visiting Ben & Jerry’s South Burlington offices it became very clear to me, a native Burlingtonian, that the scope of the company’s influence was much greater than I realized. Ben & Jerry’s, since middle of the 1980s, have put in place innovative and lasting initiatives that often were the first, or among the first, in the world. These included “Shared Prosperity,” social, and economic equality, and environmental issues. If an ice cream company can do all of that, then any business headed by similar type thinkers can help strike change in industry.”
have begun to understand the necessity of embedding sustainability into their
core strategy and competencies it has become apparent that holistic management of
operations must be done in an intentional and transparent way. It’s
increasingly clear that all aspects of an organization – from product design, operations,
marketing, HR & more – must collaborate transparently to effectively manage
a sustainable enterprise and realize ROI from their initiatives. Companies can
promote growth, reduce risk and increase returns though processes that provide
clear, concise and trusted information across all departments.
There is no doubt that a robust technological management system is the backbone for implementing a holistic sustainability management program – a system which allows for transparency and trust across all departments. Many organizations are positioned to take advantage of cutting-edge technological systems to give them a sustainable competitive advantage – as long as there is a strong aligned company culture.
Enter Blockchain. Often when Blockchain is mentioned a reaction is one of eyes glazing over, a chuckle and some skepticism due to the mysterious, undoubtably complex connotations that surround this technology. This is understandable. Yet, the reality is that the concept of blockchain is relatively simple. Instead of a central authority verifying a transaction or data set, the verification is distributed and decentralized across a network. The verifications are on a ledger (think accounting), where changes and additions are append only – you can’t go back and change it. Therefore, the transactions become transparent, immutable and tamper proof. Implemented correctly, the potential applications spanning public and private sectors are almost categorically endless.
Has this created a hype bubble around blockchain? Undoubtably, yes. However, as the technology progresses and use cases and applications evolve, the hype around blockchain seems to be looking less like a bubble and more like a paradigm shift. With the possibility to make blockchains customizable – private, permissioned or public – companies can choose from an ever-growing panacea of platforms that can meet their needs. Additionally, companies must approach blockchain by first understanding the problem – then assessing why blockchain could be an effective solution. Just like any technology, blockchain is not a silver bullet solution. It must be asked – “Can this be solved by a traditional database, and does the need for transparency, decentralization, trust and immutability warrant a blockchain solution?”
While blockchain can incentivize effective management through transparency of operations, it is also essential that it be complimented by continuing to invest in human capital – the culture – of the company. Transparency can create accountability, competition and innovation – but the technology itself must not be the crutch. The culture and the affective commitment of the people in the organization will always be at the heart of a profitable, sustainable organization. While technology can be a powerful tool to implement solutions, the investment in human capital cannot be lost.
hold vast potential to disrupt and improve business and society – but without a
mutually inclusive investment in culture any initiative will not reach its
potential or may even cause inverse, negative externalities. When culture and
values are complemented with decentralized, transparent technologies such blockchain,
the future of managing successful sustainable enterprises holds immense
It is May 8 — the last day of classes, and just like every three weeks or so, we have a speaker come to our class and talk to us for the whole morning. This time it is the one and only Professor Stuart Hart, and by now we should know him and his teachings pretty well.
For the ones who do not know, Dr. Hart is the backbone of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. His research, in conjunction with other experts in the field, such as C.K. Prahalad, and Dean Sanjay Sharma, provide much of the material we study in our classes.
As we know Dr. Hart quite well by now, he decided to base his lecture on where we are now as a society, and where we are headed in the future, as well as some of his current research. After some 500 years of history, he explained the many phases of the most important economic systems the world has been going through— feudalism, mercantilism, industrial capitalism, institutional capitalism, financial capitalism. He finally mentioned the next phase that we are transitioning to— what he called the new sustainable capitalism. Each of phases have been going through a cycle of power and economic distribution that repeats itself, were we keep making the same mistakes, falling on the same bumps, and ending up in the same place, which is not exactly a good one.
We are now in a moment in history haunted by a severe climate crisis, as well as a social one, where inequality is hitting major milestones that are getting close to the point of no return. It is a point where the Milton Freedman’s “increase of shareholder value” corporate objectives, as well as the concept of tying the payment of chief executives and senior leaders to performance, are to be reviewed and thought over.
It not only has led to multinational corporations practicing stock buyback and cut R&D spending as well as operational spending including employee pay, among other strategies to raise the prices of their own stocks, but also focus on quarterly earnings reports and quick fixes to their unsustainable models. The pressure of investors, analysts, and high frequency traders has let these companies forget about the long-term strategies required to sustain their operations, as well as promote the wellbeing of their stakeholders. Shareholder primacy, as noted in the past, is not a legal obligation, but the system as of now is fixed for this purpose.
One of the objectives of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is to create the new generation of businessmen and businesswomen determined to go about their decision making process taking not only financial, but also environmental and social aspects into account. As a student of this program, and part of this community, I would also like to act as a sustainability enabler, by attempting to contribute to corporate transformation from the inside out. Many of these public multinational corporations need to recognize their identity, strengths, and reason of existence, and use it as a tool to transform and modernize their operations and value propositions to ones that contribute to the wellbeing of the environment and society. By doing so, they secure their long term operations for the future.
Now that we have finished the lecture portion of this program, I am a step closer to become part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA alumni community, the one that is building the business leaders that the world needs. I recommend this experience to anyone that is trying to make an impact, and be part of the transformation we are going through.
Author’s Note: In our Sustainable Innovation MBA program, we talk a lot about sustainability! But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus the discussion on the “innovation” side of things. After all, in frontier market contexts where the opportunity to “leapfrog” technology exists, sustainability and innovation really do go hand in hand.
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of representing The University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2019 Blockchain Conference in NYC. In attendance were founders of blockchain startup companies, software developers, institutional investors, regulatory agencies, blockchain journalists, and academics from around the world. The topics covered by keynote speakers, panelists, and facilitators of hands-on workshops were vast, and I could not help from allowing the imaginative techno-futurist within me dream of the type of social good that could come from a decentralized “Web 3.0.”
Before I lose my audience with
heady predictions of a decentralized web future, I suppose I should first share
why I attended this 3-day conference in NYC to begin with – that is, to expand
my network within the blockchain development community and learn from industry
leaders about how this new technology, blockchain (or “distributed ledger
technology”), can be used in business to address the social and environmental
challenges that exist today, particularly in frontier market contexts. And for
what it’s worth, I’ll share with you what I see in my crystal ball later.
Wait Wait, Slow Down…What is Blockchain?
Put simply, blockchain, or “distributed ledger technology”, is a type of distributed database stored on a continuous ledger. Participants in a blockchain network can securely store their data on the continuous ledger such that no central authority or administrator can tamper with that data, adding the qualities of both transparency and immutability. This is where blockchain differs from a traditional database. At the end of the day, the real value that blockchain technology offers is trust.
Applied Learnings from Consensus to Practicum
This summer, I will be working with
classmates Esteban Echeverria and Henry Vogt on a practicum project with local
consulting firm Resonance Global. With a global presence in over 60+ countries,
Resonance assists clients in deploying market-based solutions to unlock
opportunity in frontier markets. My practicum team’s task for the summer is to develop
a proprietary analytical framework for assisting Resonance’s clients to make
better decisions about when and how to use blockchain technology in areas
relevant to their work, and then expanding that framework to identify greater
client opportunities for Resonance. As such, my attention during Consensus was primarily
focused on seeking practical business use cases for blockchain technology as
they might apply to solving problems in developing economies around the world.
The vibe of Consensus 2019 differed from last year in that there were “more suits and fewer costumes” among attendees (more on that here). Blockchain consultants from Deloitte, IBM, Tata, and Microsoft all had exhibit booths and lounges showcasing the practical applications of blockchain technology for industry. This year’s Consensus Magazine was titled “From ‘Crypto Winter’ to #DeFi: A Year of Loss, BUIDLing, and Opportunity”. While the ICO boom of 2017-2018 brought a lot of enthusiasm and startup capital into the blockchain and cryptocurrency space, it was clear that 2019 was to be the year of fundamental development, where applications for real business use cases will be piloted and scaled. As things turn out, this was great for me, one of the “suits” in attendance with an academic badge seeking to cut through the hype and learn!
I picked up a signed copy of “Blockchain for Business: Discover How Blockchain Networks Are Transforming Companies, Driving Growth, and Creating New Business Models” from Jerry Cuomo, IBM Fellow and VP Blockchain Technologies, where he penned “Matt – It’s a Team Sport!” I watched a luncheon video by Accenture showcasing its Tech4Good program, featuring its work with Grameen Foundation in economically empowering women at the BoP, among many other technology-driven projects for social good. I learned how ChainLink’s blockchain middleware application solves the smart contract connectivity problem by securely entering real world events onto the blockchain for seamless payments processing. I listened to Deloitte’s approach to advising clients on deploying blockchain projects from ideation to fundraising, structuring, building, and operating. I built my own simulated blockchain network on Amazon Web Services hosting platform in a 2-hour workshop session. Most importantly, I connected with several knowledgeable blockchain industry players with whom I can contact over the summer as my practicum team seeks the expertise needed to develop our blockchain framework for Resonance.
Crystal Ball Time: Blockchain and “Web 3.0”
Let’s take a brief walk through internet history. Remember when Al Gore invented the internet? Me too…(just kidding). Today, we can now look back on the internet era of the search engine, originally used for the sharing and distribution of academic papers, as “Web 1.0”: the Googles, Microsofts, and Apples of the world. Then came Mark Zuckerburg with “the Facebook” – insert “Web 2.0”, an internet driven by user-generated content, data collection, and digital marketing targeted towards an ever-more differentiated consumer who relinquishes data privacy in exchange for the service of algorithms directing her to exactly the right product or service in an increasingly mass-customization-driven market.
In a captivating panel discussion, futurist, economist, and writer George Gilder identified two key crises that represent an existential threat to continued prosperity: the collapse of internet security, and “the scandal of money” (I would personally argue for the climate change crisis to take precedent, but for the sake of carrying this conversation forward, we’ll keep the focus on “innovation” here). He epitomizes these two crises with the examples of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal that undermined the power of democratic institutions in 2016, and the 2008 financial crisis where central banks intervened with monetary policy measures that arguably prevented a world economic collapse and maintained the status quo of power politics, respectively. All of a sudden, we realize the need for a new, decentralized digital architecture for the secure transfer and ownership of assets. Enter the “decentralized web”.
Bitcoin has captured the world’s
imagination over the last 10 years in that it has made many of us rethink the
very idea of money. While Bitcoin itself does not adequately meet any of the
three requirements for money – a store of value, medium of exchange, and unit
of account – it offers a new platform for value transfer in an increasingly
digitized world. As Ethereum co-founder and founder of ConsenSys Joseph Lubin
points out, the currency of the future is likely to be reduced to two things:
data, and human attention. Lubin believes through this understanding that “we
are going to change the nature of value”. The innovation that could bring this
new conceptualization of currency into reality? Tokenization. Lubin points out
that unlike Web 2.0, Web 3.0 will likely consist of several interacting,
decentralized protocols on top of which more agile application layers will
So, what does the future hold? Is
this whole cryptocurrency and tokenization thing just a fad? Can we digitize
real world assets to fundamentally change how we perceive peer-to-peer value
transfer? Will Bitcoin ever return to its 2017 high of $19,665? The heck if I
know the answers to any of these questions, but after attending Consensus 2019,
I am well convinced that blockchain technology will likely play a pivotal role
in the evolution of technology towards a more secure and decentralized future,
and the implications for social good to come of that future would be boundless.
This post was written by Alyssa Stankiewicz ’19, and co-written by Andrew Mallory ’19
EDITOR’S NOTE: A team of five students from The Sustainable Innovation MBA program recently took first place in the Wharton-sponsored Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, beating a field of finalists from Yale, Columbia, Fordham, and Boston University. Read more here.
When I came to this program in August 2018, I had never even heard the term “impact investing.” I planned to focus my learnings on innovations in social justice and sustainable agriculture. I dreamed of founding a self-sustaining weaving center that provided support and reflection to folks through art therapy. While this is still an eventual dream of mine (stay tuned!), I realized that what really motivated me about this dream was the opportunity to help people.
The mission of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is using business as a force for good in the world, also described as “doing well by doing good.” Through the mentorship and encouragement I received from Dr. Chuck Schnitzlein, I began to realize that not only does the world of Finance provide this same opportunity, but I possess a natural knack for the work involved. He presented us with two extracurricular opportunities to test and demonstrate our skills and studies. The first project revolved around developing an impact strategy for the UVM Endowment (for more on that, see this article), and the second was a Wharton-sponsored impact investing competition called the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge.
The competition was stacked, to say the least. 26 teams from 19 business schools including Yale, Columbia, Booth (Chicago), and Wharton (Penn) entered the competition, and with this being just the 5th cohort of our Sustainable Innovation MBA program, our team was ecstatic to find out in March that we’d been selected as Finalists. We had spent months taking extra classes with Dr. Schnitzlein in Portfolio Management and Evaluation, researching the companies who achieved “best in class” accolades, and developing our investment philosophy and strategy in our copious free time (“copious” might be an exaggeration). When they announced we won at the live competition in Philadelphia on May 1, we were completely over the moon.
We like to think that we
had a competitive advantage because each of our professors integrates
sustainability holistically into every single course. We learned about
Entrepreneurial Business Design, Systems Thinking, and Cost Models from a
sustainability perspective, so we were more fully prepared to incorporate
sustainability into every piece of our portfolio.
The Total Impact
Portfolio Challenge provided us with two fictitious investor profiles from
which to choose, and our team selected a Family Office who wanted to achieve
multi-generational wealth and sustainable impact in line with five themes,
which we matched to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our team took
a unique and bold approach: we successfully invested the entire portfolio in
companies and funds that are going beyond minimizing the bad; instead, each of
our investments contributes to developing solutions for the greater good. We
highlighted the innovations of Mary Powell at Green Mountain Power and the
Reinvestment Fund’s success in the City Mission Project. We developed methods
for measuring impact and adapted our findings to the unique characteristics of
the various asset classes. Peter Seltzer even coined the SI-MBA Score, which
goes beyond traditional ESG scoring systems to incorporate materiality. This is
because, as we learned in our Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility course
(and which was affirmed in this study written by Khan, Serafeim, & Yoon),
companies that focus on the sustainability issues that are most material to
their business actually see improved financial performance over the long term.
Where do we go from here?
I personally want to find
ways to help accredited and non-accredited investors deploy their finances in
ways that are more meaningful to them. I have a passion for efforts to
democratize investment opportunities, and I’m working on an idea that
incorporates my Linguistics background with my Finance interests to create a
more effective system for financial literacy education. I look forward to
exploring opportunities in place-based investing and community funding models
as avenues to strengthen the resilience of local economies. Find me on LinkedIn!
Emily came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program passionate about opening up venture capital investment to women and other underrepresented founders. Through projects studying everything from community capital initiatives to equity crowdfunding policy to this challenge on integrating materiality into ESG scores, she sees increasing opportunities to promote a more sustainable form of capitalism for investors and entrepreneurs. After the program, she is seeking a career in impact investing and hopes her involvement can promote responsible investment opportunities in the industry.
For Andrew, this challenge was a perfect blend of his two professional passions: finance and sustainability. Coming from a traditional finance background, he sees how important it is for impact investing and ESG integration to continue to evolve and grow, and he is encouraged by how many financial institutions are now incorporating ESG into their strategies. After graduation, Andrew is interested in pursuing public and private equity research, specifically analyzing companies who are embedding sustainability initiatives into their core operations to see how impact alpha can mitigate risk and provide long-term growth.
Peter came to the program as a CPA with ten years of experience. Throughout his career, he has gravitated towards opportunities to support social causes, including serving on the boards of two non-profits and working for three years at The Food Trust, a Philadelphia based non-profit. While here, he discovered a passion for the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and began a certificate program in the fundamentals of sustainable accounting. The group utilized his research in developing the SI-MBA Score, which was a differentiating factor in our presentation. After graduation, he is pursuing opportunities where he can incorporate his SASB knowledge to help investors generate greater impact with their investments.
Maura, coming from the client services and business
development side of the investment industry, saw the demand for responsible
investment solutions from young investors and European clients. She hopes to
use the skills developed during her SI-MBA experience and her involvement in
the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge to re-enter the field and meet the needs
and wants of the industry demand. Planting roots in Vermont, she looks forward
to growing the responsible investing industry presence in the state.
We had great support from all of our classmates, but special acknowledgement (in no particular order) goes out to Andrew Oliveri, Alyssa Schuetz, Ryan Forman, Elissa Eggers, Caitlyn Kenney, Esteban Echeverría Fernández, Alexa Steiner, Emily Foster, Jeffrey Lue, Matt Iacobucci, and Keil Corey. In the spirit of The Sustainable Innovation MBA, this was truly a collaborative effort, and I believe that’s what ultimately gave us the competitive advantage. I’m personally looking forward to seeing where we go from here, and I wish good luck to next year’s cohort!
Row upon row of solar panels reflect the Zambian sky while
they silently and cleanly produce enough electricity to power over fifty
thousand homes. Walking the solar plant that covers almost 50 hectares in the
special economic zone outside the capital city, I am exhausted but filled with
hope. Renewable energy is no longer a niche technology that “serious” business
people don’t even consider but the preferred source of electrical energy for most
I am at the Bangweulu Solar plant where I have been contracted as the commissioning engineer to ensure that the project can be handed over to the client and be ready to be brought online at an inauguration ceremony that will be attended by the president, US ambassador and other dignitaries.
This is grueling work, and the timeline is stressful, I only had four hours of sleep after flying in from Vermont before I had to be onsite for a planning meeting and hit the ground running. However, I know that this project marks a significant time for me and the company I am working worth. This project is about more than handing over yet another installation successfully to our client, it’s about capacity building and developing skills to make Zambia’s energy infrastructure more sustainable. The Bangweulu project was made possible by a financing structure that brought development partners and private business together.
This belief in the idea that value can be created at the confluence of social development and business enterprise is what brought me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM.