The Social Impact Trek to San Francisco in January offered me an introduction to several organizations that define business impact beyond profit. This particular trek intrigued me, as I am a mission-driven student hoping to leverage my MBA to design human-centered solutions to complex challenges that affect our society and world. For some of the employer visits, including LinkedIn, Box, and Meltwater, the social impact trek team joined staff and students from two other areas – entrepreneurship and technology. For the rest, my team and I focused on organizations whose main focus is social impact, including Human Rights Watch, IDEO.org, and Kiva.
The Social Impact Trek has been a highlight of my first year at Carey. My previous career in philanthropy and community development affirmed this passion, while my MBA/MA in Design Leadership has enhanced my skills to center the end user or beneficiary in the products, services, and programs I design. The trek also offered an opportunity to collaborate with other full-time students across Carey. Ruby Lee, MS in Marketing, led our trek consisting of students in the MS Finance, MBA/MA in Design Leadership, MS Marketing, and Global MBA degree programs. We began meeting in November, conducting primary and secondary research to build out the employer visits, connect with alumni, and share a comprehensive understanding of each organization’s mission and operating model.
Human Rights Watch, our first employer visit, set the tone for the incredibly inspiring three days. We learned first-hand from Jen Haile, City Director at HRW, how the integrity of the organization allows them to conduct honest investigations, advocacy, and policy work to protect from abuse the most vulnerable all over the world. Human Rights Watch doesn’t receive government or corporate funding in order to hold abusers accountable and bring justice to victims. This integrity provides a deep business constraint, but as a designer, I know that constraints often lead to inspiration and innovation that are beyond box solutions.
The visit to IDEO.org was of particular interest due to my dual-degree MBA/MA in Design Leadership. Ideo.org is the non-profit arm of IDEO, a renowned design company, both of which deploy design to create positive outcomes. We found ourselves in love with their office, the creative displays of their work, the prototyping space, and overall engagement with all employees.
“We’re designers looking to have as much impact as possible on the lives of the poor. We believe getting to know the people we’re designing for; without them, we would not know what to design, how it should work, or why it matters,” said Courtney Chang, an MBA/MPH alumna and a design lead at IDEO.org.
Following this trip, I read The Ten-Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley, an IDEO executive, in which he mentions that having a creative office is much like a well-designed stage that allows for collaborative projects that celebrate the individual. He also speaks about how every employee has the opportunity to provide tours of their space, and each tour is unique because each guide and group is unique. As we lined up to take a photo on their roof with the sun in our faces and the Bay behind us, I felt rejuvenated and excited about the possibilities that a city like San Francisco offers.
We closed our trek at Kiva, a global micro-loaning non-profit that facilitates hundreds of loans to global entrepreneurs, the majority of them women, to build sustainable businesses. My first introduction to Kiva was through the Carey Net Impact Chapter’s training on becoming a “crowd-vetter,” a special opportunity to learn due diligence skills by putting your business education into practice to benefit social enterprises.
The social impact trek focused on organizations that are creatively approaching social impact, but in the weeks following the trip, three highlights have stuck with me: the significant employment opportunities for Carey students; the young executive leadership of these organizations; and the fast-paced and vast changes happening in the Bay area. As the Bay Area develops rapidly with an immense influx of wealth from high-wage earners, I have three hopes:
- Residents who need employment have access to obtain these opportunities.
- Young residents who are creative, entrepreneurial, and coming from low-income areas and families have access to the capital, mentorship, and business skills to propel their ideas forward.
- The city protects the most vulnerable as the landscape continues to rapidly change.
As IDEO states, those most affected and facing complex problems like wealth disparities and gentrification hold the key to solving these challenges. As a designer, I hope to propel platforms for resilient people to have their experiences, work, needs, and desires to decide how cities and institutions change in the future.