How 5 UVA Darden Alumni Are Transforming Societies by Pursuing Their Purpose to Deliver Inclusive Growth

By Jay Hodgkins


“Inclusive growth” — the wide diffusion of the benefits of an expanding economy in terms of opportunity, income, economic security and quality of life — is a hot topic for today’s MBA students at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, who are increasingly driven by a purpose to make business a force of good for society.

That much was clear in a classroom packed for a recent alumni panel on inclusive growth and inclusive societies hosted by Professors Veronica Cacdac Warnock and Frank Warnock and Darden’s Net Impact club. Five Darden alumni spoke to how their organizations are working toward inclusion — particularly in education, training, employment and investment.

“Inclusive growth is turning the current vicious cycle of stagnation and high inequality into a virtuous one in which greater economic opportunities and stronger and more sustainable growth feed each other. There are many ways we can move the needle when it comes to inclusion,” Cacdac Warnock said to start the session. “This is not an ‘on the side’ thing. You can promote inclusive growth from wherever you are. That’s the challenge we take on in our ‘Transforming Societies’ course.”

To her point, the five alumni kicked off the session explaining how they and their organizations were effecting inclusive growth and societies. Andrea Barrios (MBA ’16), portfolio manager at the Rockefeller Foundation, said her organization coined the term impact investing more than a decade ago and has been a leading force in coalescing the private, public and government sectors around a narrative that they all need each other to solve the world’s biggest problems.

“The cost of solving the world’s most critical problems runs into the trillions of dollars,” Barrios said. “Collaborative, catalytic investment is essential to fill the development-financing gap and help address pressing global challenges.” The Rockefeller Foundation’s new Impact Investment Management platform, the first investment from which is a $60 million partnership that Barrios manages, directs capital towards high-impact solutions.

Annie Medaglia (MBA ’15), co-founder of DreamWakers and a consultant with Bain & Co., said the nonprofit she founded as an MBA student with help from the i.Lab at UVA is addressing a lack of equal opportunities for students based on geographic and economic disadvantages, as well as the disconnect between the classroom and establishing a career. DreamWakers has used digital technologies to connect more than 16,000 students with high-level leaders across industries, who demonstrate to children the full range of career possibilities ahead of them and why their education matters.

Generation, where Katherine O’Neil Kelley (MBA/M. Ed ’15) works as the global director of learner engagement, picks up where DreamWakers stops. Generation trains youth disconnected from the workforce for in-demand jobs while providing employers with the talent they need. The organization has graduated over 34,000 learners and works with around 2,500 employers in 13 countries and over 100 cities.

Chinesom Ejiasa (MBA ’09), founder and principal of Human Cap 1 PCC, and Jerry Nemorin (MBA ’08), founder and CEO of former i.Lab Incubator company LendStreet, both left more mainstream financial careers to pursue an entrepreneurial path, driven by their family’s international roots and the lack of opportunities in their parents’ homelands.

Ejiasa’s parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, and now Ejiasa’s new venture will use a for-profit model to invest in education across sub-Saharan Africa. He says the holding company will employ a distinct asset allocation strategy that strikes an equitable balance of profits for his investors with the improvement of access to and the quality of sub Saharan Africa’s educational system. Specific investments will be made in real estate to improve school buildings, investment in privately operated schools similar to the U.S. charter school model to expand access to quality education and “venture capital-like” investments in teacher development programs that could deliver significant developmental and commercial returns.

Nemorin left Wall Street and founded LendStreet in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, after he saw the devastation in his family’s native Haiti following a 2010 earthquake. The firm offers credit to individuals with low or no credit and existing distressed debt. With a data focus on by eschewing the predatory lending practices that often cripple lower-credit homes, LendStreet has defied expectations with a roughly 2 percent default rate on its loans, compared to an 8 percent industry average for distressed debt.

In each of their professions, the panelists said they still run into resistance that “doing good” and “doing well” in terms of profits are not compatible.

“It’s embedded in the capitalist mindset, and we know that it’s wrong,” Nemorin said. “When you’re fighting the ‘doing good versus doing well’ narrative, I think the critics are your best tool. They’re your best advisers. When you’re thinking through your business structure, take every criticism and think of it as an opportunity to strengthen your business.”

Paving a Path to Positive Societal Impact

 Students at the panel were keen to glean insights from the alumni on how they paved their path into positions making a major positive impact on society. The unanimous response: Stay patient, hone your skills and wait until the time is right.

“I often tell Second Years not to go into entrepreneurship out of Darden. There’s so much learning in these classrooms and you’ll see it when you go out into the world in the actual workforce. To be able to put it into practice is critical,” Nemorin said. “You want to go into an organization that has the infrastructure, systems and processes where there is a lot of learning to do.”

He added: “It’s all about skill set. Having the skill set to pursue your passion is critical.”

Kelley said timing is everything. Career goals may shift in order to achieve balance with desires around relationships, family and lifestyle. For her first two years out of Darden, her focus was “on learning and mastering the job.” Then, when she felt she had met that goal, she reassessed: “What am I solving for now? Am I fulfilled at work and in my personal life?”

As she considers her own career path, Medaglia said she keeps a close “kitchen cabinet” of friends and advisers whom she can trust to help her make well-reasoned, intentional decisions.

Ejiasa advised that using your own intuition and introspection is also key. “We all know ourselves the best. The best way to check yourself is to check in with yourself. Trust your own data set because it’s a much vaster data set than anyone has.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

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