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.

Embracing Plastic(ity)

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

Plastic.

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

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Twilight of Winter

This post was written by Lauren Bass ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

During my lunch hour recently, I skied Goat, one of Mt. Mansfield’s famed Front Four trails.  For a few precious moments before making my descent, I gazed across Stowe Mountain Resort (where I am very proudly employed) to admire stunning Spruce Peak.  In the distance, she glistened a triumphant, sparkling white thanks to a fresh coat of snow.  Sadly, there is strong evidence that this vista will become increasingly rare in the future.

Photo by Lauren Bass ’20

The snow sports industry in New England may have just hit middle age.  That’s according to reports that predict only four out of 14 major ski destinations in New England will be viable by 2100 due to warmer, shorter winters. 

Stowe Mountain Resort, the historically rich and iconic “Ski Capital of the East,” will need to rely heavily on snowmaking if it’s going to survive.  Stowe (as the resort is colloquially known and not to be confused with the town where it’s located) is comprised of Vermont’s tallest summit, Mt. Mansfield, and it’s neighboring little sister, Spruce Peak.  Having just celebrated its 87th year in operation, Stowe may have about as many years left before climate change profoundly impacts one of America’s most storied ski destinations.

Stowe has nurtured and inspired some of the greatest achievements and economic developments in the ski and snowboard industry.  Its first trails were cut on Mt. Mansfield by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933.  A year later, the Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol was founded, the precursor of what we now know as the National Ski Patrol.  And by 1940, Sepp Ruschp, the legendary Austrian ski instructor who also coached UVM’s and Norwich University’s ski teams, established the Mt. Mansfield Ski School at Stowe, which is still one of the most highly regarded training programs in the country.  For those who enjoy snowboarding, the late Jake Burton Carpenter took turns on Mansfield and will be remembered as one of the Town of Stowe’s most notable and beloved residents with his wife and business partner, Donna.  Today, Burton Snowboards is one of Vermont’s most celebrated brands with a global presence spanning across the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

Meanwhile, Stowe Mountain Resort, which was recently acquired by Vail Resorts, attracts ski and snowboard enthusiasts from around the world and supports the livelihoods of thousands of Vermonters both on and off the property.  The town’s picturesque village of independently owned boutiques, restaurants, inns, and myriad sports shops owe much of their success to the mountain.  Builders, architects, lawyers, and property managers are sustained by Stowe’s robust real estate market that is largely driven by out-of-towners seeking vacation homes.   To put it in perspective, a whopping 17% of Vermont properties are second homes, which are often owned by outdoor enthusiasts, skiers, and snowboarders.  Stowe School District is one of the best in the state, thanks to high home values bringing in substantial property taxes that have enriched the town and its public education system.

Beyond the business world, Mt. Mansfield is also home to some of Vermont’s last remaining acres of Arctic-Alpine Tundra.  This fragile ecosystem supports countless flora and fauna that are unique to the area.  As the length of winters recede, so will the delicate balance of life existing high above the rest of Vermont.

All of this could melt away right before our eyes, drastically changing the future of Vermont, both economically and ecologically.  As more greenhouse gases are released into the environment, we will likely be confronted with the loss of one of Vermont’s greatest assets: its long, cold, snowy winters…including the $900 million in direct winter spending generated by the state’s ski and snowboard destinations and related businesses. 

In response to looming profit losses, business closures, and dwindling resort locations, industry advocates, such as Protect Our Winters (POW) and the National Ski Areas Association, are lobbying federal, state, and local governments to enact environmental policies to slow or reverse the progression of average rising temperatures.  Meanwhile, the International Ski Federation has also signed on to the UN Climate Change Initiative.  Vail, which is by far the largest ski resort operator worldwide, has initiated its “Commitment to Zero” via its Epic Promise Foundation.  By 2030, it has pledged that all of its properties will operate using zero-waste and carbon-neutral technologies.  Burton Snowboards, which was recently designated as a B-Corporation and is actively accounting for its sustainability goals, has partnered with the Epic Promise Foundation when it hosts the annual U.S. Open Snowboard Championships at Vail.  Since 2017 it has operated the event carbon-neutral with limited waste.

The fact remains, however, that we’re facing an uphill battle.  2019 witnessed the highest level of carbon emissions to date.  The past decade has also been our warmest in recorded history, with the most elevated global temperatures occurring over the past five years.  Furthermore, enacting pro-environmental policies continues to be a battle.  The withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord and the rise of climate change skeptics in leadership positions across governments and corporations have hindered or even eliminated environmental and climate protections worldwide.

Meanwhile, right here in Vermont, our ski and snowboard industry is at a precipice.

After taking in the glory of Spruce Peak, I edged my tips over Goat and made the first of many turns down the fall line to the base of Mt. Mansfield.  Along the way, I thought of the pioneers, entrepreneurs, and the incredible businesses and value they created.  Could they have even imagined what our winters are facing?  And are we truly equipped to conquer the fragile, uncertain, and ungroomed trail that lays ahead? 

References

Allen, Anne Wallace. “Study: Vermont Is No. 2 Nationwide for Second Home Ownership.” VTDigger, 6 Aug. 2019, vtdigger.org/2019/08/05/study-vermont-is-no-2-nationwide-for-second-home-ownership/.

Brandon, Heather. “Most Ski Resorts in Warmer New England May Disappear By 2100.” Connecticut Public Radio, 7 Feb. 2014, www.wnpr.org/post/most-ski-resorts-warmer-new-england-may-disappear-2100.

Freedman, Andrew. “The 2010s Will Go down in History as Earth’s Warmest.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Dec. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/12/05/current-decade-will-go-down-history-earths-warmest/.

Imster, Eleanor, and Deborah Byrd. “Atmospheric CO2 Hits Record High in May 2019.” EarthSky, EarthSky.org, 17 June 2019, earthsky.org/earth/atmospheric-co2-record-high-may-2019.

“Vermont Ski Industry Rebounds to Nearly 4 Million Visits.” Vermont Business Magazine, Vermont Business Magazine, 15 June 2017, vermontbiz.com/news/june/vermont-ski-industry-rebounds-nearly-4-million-visits.

Wobus, Cameron, et al. “Projected Climate Change Impacts on Skiing and Snowmobiling: A Case Study of the United States.” Global Environmental Change, Pergamon, 3 May 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378016305556.

A New Kind of Museum

This post was written by Matthew Licata ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

While home over winter break my family and I wanted to spend a day in New York City so we thought a museum would be a great option. We ended up going to Arcadia Earth in downtown Manhattan which is a pop-up museum dedicated to sustainability. It was amazing.

Photo by Matthew Licata ’20

There are 15 different interactive rooms to go through, each with a unique design and message. In every exhibit there are boards with statistics and information telling the reader about a specific issue related to the displays. Each art piece helps contextualize the scope of an issue in an incredibly creative and visually appealing way. The topics they discussed ranged from plastic use, polluted oceans and resources used for cattle farming.

All the messages were given in an easily digestible way for people to grasp as well as understand the scale in which some of these issues are at. Examples of “how much plastic we consume?,” or ”How old are the apples in the supermarkets?” are some of the information that keeps people interested since if affects their daily life. Also as you walk through the rooms, you use the app that utilizes Augmented Reality to increase interaction as well as offers more information for participants to understand the topic. The AR shows schools of fish swimming next to piles of trash and many other visuals. My favorite room was the plastic bag cave created out of 44,000 upcycled plastic bags. It was visually stunning to see the sheer number of bags and the use of mirrors and lights made the cave seem never ending.

It was really interesting to go with my family to see how people react to this way of vocalizing some of our worlds issues since I have been involved in sustainability since I was a sophomore in high school and the rest of my family has an average understanding. I have heard a lot of the information that was given in the museum but I know my parents haven’t so I was watching their reactions as they read the data. It was amazing to see how disturbed they from what they read and how the exhibits were able to help them visualize the issue. I am sure that many other visitors were also mind blown by the data they were reading and will be able to bring that home with them to help improve their habits.

With so much information coming at us in present day, it was great to see people putting their complete focus into the museum and really internalizing the data. This museum is a great way to leave a lasting impression on people with its stunning visuals, interactiveness and simple message.

Arcade Earth is located at 718 Broadway in New York City.

Sustainability and the Craft Brewing Industry

This post was written by Dan Versace ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Since the craft beer boom of 2012 started, many brewers across the country have found it hard to differentiate themselves from their competitors.  Many have tried to create new and inventive brews and invest in a tap room where customers can come to the brewery and learn more about how the process is done while sampling the products.

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

But, in recent years the focus has shifted from inventive and innovative products and experiences to differentiation through the process by which the beers are made, with many breweries investing in the sustainability of their product and manufacturing lines. They can do this in a multitude of ways as complex as installing a device called an anaerobic digester to recycle wastewater that the brewery produces, or as simple as working with local farms to use their spent grain as food for a variety of livestock. Some breweries in the UK have even experimented with using stale bread from local bakers as a starter for their beers, limiting the amount of barley or hops that is needed.

With that being said, there is still room for innovation when it comes to the energy used in the brewing process along with the distribution and supply chains linked with the operation of the brewery. Many large scale consultancies such as SustainaBrew are working to refine a sustainability plan that works with the nuances that are inherent with brewing and selling beer, as laws and regulations differ from state to state,  limiting the amount of barley or hops that is needed.

Environmental sustainability isn’t everything though; social responsibility has seen large growth in the brewing sector as well. Take Switchback Brewing for example. They recently shifted from a single ownership model to being 100% employee owned, allowing every single one of their employees to have a meaningful say in how the business operates and what decisions are made on a day to day basis. This has led to a company that operates like a family where everyone is vales and each person employed by the brewery is committed to seeing it succeed.

While it may seem like a no brainer to some, many others are still very wary of implementing these strategies for sustainability as they do run quite a high upfront cost, and can take a lot of resources and time to implement, with no guaranteed pay off.  However,  in a recent study produced by NPR it was shown that consumer’s willingness to pay increases when the breweries they are purchasing from are utilizing sustainable practices, something that is not necessarily true for other products in the marketplace. What is it about the brewing business that lends itself to this outcome? I believe that it is the client base and the values that they hold. The craft brewing industry has grown through, and is held up by the purchasing power of the millennial generation, a young consumer base that has sustainability at its heart and chooses to make purchasing decisions based on their values.

The proof is in the pudding (or perhaps beer in this case). Sustainability efforts in the brewing industry has positive effects on the world, the people who buy the product and work in companies, and, finally, the bottom line. There is only more to come in the future.

A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex

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

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

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

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

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

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

People:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Sustainably While in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Program

This post was written by Laura Berguer ’20. Connect with Laura on LinkedIn

Living as a graduate student in Burlington, Vt. has many benefits that, if you’re not from the region, you wouldn’t know about until you’ve spent some time here. As sustainably minded students of this program, we understand the power of consumer choice and voting with your wallet. However, living sustainably can seem like a daunting lifestyle choice.

Photo by Gautam Krishnan on Unsplash

Well, here is your guide to sustainable living in Burlington with some of my favorite places that won’t make your wallet beg for mercy. Support local businesses and do some good while saving some green! First and foremost, get comfy walking shoes and a bicycle (see below) ’cause this place is great for walking and biking!

Clothing & Outdoor Gear

  • Old Gold – Funky spot right of Church Street is great for clothing and Halloween costumes (the good kind, not the plastic ones). You can purchase as well as sell your clothing and costumes. You’ll find cowboy boots galore, 60s inspired coats to make undergrad fashionistas jealous, and much more of the Burlington 90s-meets-the-60s style. 151 Cherry Street, Burlington M-Sat 10am-6pm
  • Style Encore – In need of a new business suit? How about a stylish bag for your upcoming interview? This place has high-quality and designer consignments clothing and accessories for women that are at a fraction of traditional retail prices! Grab a ride on your local bus route or carpool to Williston for this gem! 31 Tafts Corners Shopping Center, Williston M-Sun 10am-8pm
  • Outdoor Gear Exchange – head to downstairs to get to the consignment section and be prepared for many great finds on clothing and gear! Check out their website if you’re looking to sell and make some extra $ for snacks at the Harv (the Harvest Cafe, see below — Ed.). This local business is your one-stop shop for all things outdoors. Stop in at the beginning of the school year for great deals on new bikes and at the end of the year for students selling their used ones. 37 Church Street, Burlington M-Th 10am-7pm, Fr-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm
Continue reading “Living Sustainably While in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Program”

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