7 Questions with the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation

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The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation is the destination for people committed to tackling complex social and environmental problems. Through programs and events in social innovation and social enterprise, the Rustandy Center equips the Booth community with the knowledge and tools to positively impact humanity. We sat down with Rustandy Center to learn a bit more about Booth’s social impact hub.

How can students interact with the Rustandy Center, whether or not they want a career in the social sector?

There are so many ways to engage with the Rustandy Center! At the beginning of the new school year, we encourage students to stop by our Harper Center offices, send us an email, or attend one of our open house events. The reality is that there are many ways to leverage an MBA to make an impact; we can help students strategize about their social impact path at Booth and beyond. Whether it’s getting involved with our Perspectives in Sustainability series, participating in the Board Fellows program, or taking social impact lab classes, students can use their time at Booth to develop the skills and network to make an impact on the issue they care about.

What is the Social New Venture Challenge? Any notable past winners?

The John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) is a launch competition for startups with a social mission at their core. As the social impact track of the nationally ranked Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), the SNVC has helped launch more than 180 social enterprises that have gone on to raise more than $21 million. One past winner is LuminAID, a company whose solar-powered lanterns were featured twice on Shark Tank and garnered investment from Mark Cuban. The product was originally designed to assist with Haiti’s post-earthquake relief efforts and the dangerous conditions in tent cities, and is now used in more than 100 countries. Other notable winners include online voter guide, BallotReady; autism therapy startup, AIM Clinics; and Nigeria-based tractor leasing company, Hello Tractor, which just announced a new partnership with John Deere.

How can I explore impact investing at Booth and the Rustandy Center?

Impact investing is definitely an area of interest for many Booth students, as well as for alumni and our broader network. Booth offered a full-credit course in impact investing for the first time during the 2019 Spring Quarter. We also support a number of impact investing competitions for students, including MIINT, Invest for Impact, the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, and the Kellogg-Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge. We are excited to send a team to the MIINT Finals at Wharton in April, as well as a team to the Morgan Stanley Finals in Hong Kong the same weekend!

Last but not least, we have a fantastic resource in our impact investor in residence, Priya Parrish, ’09. Priya is a managing partner at Impact Engine here in Chicago, and offers office hours for students, as well as an annual workshop series, Perspectives in Impact Investment. In this growing field, we are constantly exploring new ideas to ensure that the Rustandy Center and Chicago Booth are well-situated to provide programs and opportunities for students who want to build or invest in the next great social enterprise.

Is there any social impact-focused research coming out of Booth? Is the Rustandy Center involved with that?

From the center’s inception, we’ve been really intentional about striving for a balance between research and practice. We often talk about our belief that “doing good is worth doing well,” and what we mean is that the problems facing our world require evidence-based practices plus our best efforts. Being at Booth means we have access to some of the top minds in areas like economics, operations, and behavioral science. When you pair that research power with the school’s network of alumni and sector leaders, there’s huge potential to learn things that can move the sector forward.

A great example of this is a new study from Booth professor Marianne Bertrand. Professor Bertrand is working with Mary Chandler, ’11, who is the executive director of corporate responsibility for Cummins, a multinational manufacturing firm. Mary’s support, as well as that of the leadership team at Cummins, has been crucial to getting this project off the ground. Through this partnership, we will have the opportunity to better understand the influence of corporate  social responsibility activities, in particular employee engagement programs, on metrics like employee retention and performance.

How can Booth grads continue to engage with the Rustandy Center?

There are so many different avenues to working on social and environmental problems. The Rustandy Center works closely with Booth students and alumni to help them utilize their business skills and experience to make an impact. Students and alumni may choose to pursue a social impact career by working in impact investing, leading a nonprofit, and so on. Or, they may strive to serve as civic-minded leaders within their companies, bringing a focus to issues like racial equity or sustainability in their work. Others may choose to serve on the boards of directors for nonprofits. One of our biggest events is the On Board conference on nonprofit board service, which we have hosted in Chicago, Hong Kong, New York, and San Francisco. The conference brings together alumni and nonprofit leaders to learn about nonprofit governance and strategy. It is a wonderful event for alumni to engage with others in the Booth community who are committed to serving effectively on nonprofit boards.

What are some of the more notable alumni endeavors that have come through the Rustandy Center in the last five years?

It’s so exciting to see what students do after Booth. We’ve watched students enter the school with a passion for impact investing and then take jobs at firms like Advantage Capital, RedF, or the Charter School Growth Fund. And we’ve seen students go into consulting or finance after Booth and make a tremendous difference serving on the boards of organizations that are doing amazing work. Some want to be entrepreneurs and work full time on their social enterprises after graduation, which is a route the Rustandy Center helps support through its Tarrson Social Venture Fellowship. Still others pursue careers in the private sector and then pivot to working for nonprofits later in their careers. There are so many options.

Any new developments on the horizon that you’re able to share?

This spring, the Rustandy Center will facilitate two new social impact lab courses: Impact Investing and the Corporate Responsibility Social Impact Practicum.

Impact Investing will provide students with an opportunity to apply frameworks from corporate finance, microeconomics, and strategy to an interesting and rapidly evolving sector. Students will work in teams on a client project for an asset manager or fund. Projects include developing new strategies for allocating impact dollars from local institutional investors.

The Corporate Responsibility Practicum will enable students to consider the role of the firm with respect to its employees and, in turn, the impact and value of a diverse workforce on the firm. Both classes are going to be great social impact complements to the Booth curriculum, so we are really excited.

 

More information about the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation.