Exploring Careers of Purpose and Social Impact at UVA Darden Net Impact Week
By Dave Hendrick
There’s no one way to pursue a purpose-driven career after graduating from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. At an alumni career panel during Net Impact Week, Darden alumni discussed making a social impact in fields ranging from beer brewing to educational technology, as well as their often atypical recruiting paths at the School.
Alex Fife (MBA ’14), senior associate at investing firm SEI Ventures, recalled being at Darden and realizing that all the positions he was attracted to involved some sort of mission-focus. He wasn’t exclusively interested in that kind of work, Fife said, but they appeared to present the most intellectually stimulating possibilities.
Fife said he found himself drawn to the startup ecosystem at Darden and in Charlottesville, and after interning with a clean energy company in Colorado, he took a post-Darden position as director of finance and operations with Village Capital, a mission-driven venture firm led by UVA alumnus Ross Baird, which had just received a substantial grant to help its launch.
“It fell into my lap, and I had to make the opportunity work,” said Fife. “In some ways, I was both intentional in following my instincts but also stumbled into it. There’s a lot of that when it comes to nontraditional paths.”
Fife’s current company, SEI Ventures, has an inclination toward investments in the education space with a focus on economic mobility.
Lydia Hackert (MBA ’18), who currently serves as an internal consultant for the U.S. Secret Service, came to Darden after stints working for USAID and the U.S. State Department. She interned and worked for a tech incubator, and saw developing her tech skills as the most useful path toward making an impact in the federal government.
“I found my way back to what I was passionate about, which was the public sector,” said Hackert.
Similarly, Elizabeth Tual (MBA ‘15), corporate social responsibility (CSR) manager at Devils Backbone Brewing Company, said those interested in the social impact space typically have a strong sense of the sort of work they want to be doing, and that often means carving one’s own recruiting path.
“If you’re interested in CSR, the positions are not always there in front of you,” Tual said. “You have to seek them out.”
Christine Davies (MBA ’09), who worked at Microsoft and the Asia Society after Darden, said she ultimately decided to start the kind of company she wanted to work for. Her startup Poligage seeks to connect public-policy experts with the organizations that could benefit from their insights.
Just as there’s no one path to positions of great impact, there is not one type of company with a monopoly on social impact, panelists said.
Fife advised MBA students considering their next steps to go where they can learn and develop the knowledge of an industry or a skillset that is going to “help you do the things that you think you want to do.”
If that means interning with a large consulting or financial services firm, don’t hesitate to explore that avenue, Fife said.
“You could go to an impact company and maybe you wouldn’t get the knowledge or skills or network that would be best for you,” Fife said. “Sometimes, we over-index about brand names and don’t think enough about questions like: Who am I going to be working with? What will I learn?”
As more large companies expand their notions of success and begin to take a stakeholder-centric mindset, Davies said she saw increasing opportunities for Darden alumni to make a social impact at companies of all sectors and sizes.
In addition to the alumni career panel, the week included sessions with Darden faculty; panel discussions focused on topics including plant-based diets, philanthropy and incorporating sustainability at home; a primer on Resilience Education with Tierney Fairchild (MBA ’94); and a Net Impact cold call and clothing swap.
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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