How I Found My Career in Social Impact: Q&A with Haven Leeming, MBA '18, MPP '18

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At Chicago Booth, a number of students each year show an interest in pursuing careers in social impact. As Booth’s hub for people tackling complex social and environmental problems, the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation is working to help these Booth students positively impact humanity and our planet. Together with Career Services, the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation helps students explore careers in the social sector.

The Rustandy Center reached out to Haven Leeming, MBA ’18, MPP ’18, a program officer at Walton Personal Philanthropy Group, to learn about her Booth experience and some of the programs and resources that helped her pursue a career in social impact.

Why did you decide to come to Booth to pursue a career in social impact?

I looked for an MBA program that was strong both in managerial decision making and in how the firm operates in society. As a professional in philanthropy, I think about how—or if—business can advance social change. Sure, many people will argue that corporations only report to their shareholders, but I thrive at the intersection between policy and business. I knew Booth would provide me with both a background on the market and a strong curriculum on the non-market environment, and a joint degree from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy would provide me with a background on policy. It also helped that in both campuses I could tailor-create my curriculum to focus on classes that would augment my career in philanthropy.

From the first day I stepped into Booth’s Harper Center, as soon as I mentioned that I was interested in social impact, everyone from second years to professors to staff to fellow first years suggested I spend time at the Rustandy Center. It was terrific advice!

What is your career background and were you always interested in the social impact space?

When I was little, I would say that I wanted to change the world. That ambition may be a bit naïve, but because of it I’ve spent my career in philanthropy. I am committed to bettering our communities to ensure that everyone can reach their full human potential. Prior to graduate school, I worked at the IDP Foundation, Inc., a small family foundation, and The Chicago Community Trust, the region’s community foundation.

Are there any experiences that stick out to you as especially important while at Booth?

During my first quarter, before accounting class one morning a fellow student asked me if I was planning to apply for the Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP) course for that winter. Not knowing what GSIP was, I quickly looked up the course and immediately fell in love. I applied and was accepted, and that experience truly shaped my Booth trajectory. Caroline Grossman, an adjunct assistant professor of strategy and director of programs at the Rustandy Center, who taught the Booth social impact lab course, tailored the class to give students on-the-ground research experience and encourage collaboration between policy and practical business skills. I learned more about building a business model and projected income statements from my fellow Boothies in that course than through my traditional courses. The work we did in that lab course best prepared me for what I’m doing now.

We're willing to bet there's another experience that stood out while at Booth. Any other notable moments?

Yes, during my final quarter, I knew I had to end my Booth experience with another social impact lab course supported by the Rustandy Center, and I took the Scaling Social Innovation Search Lab taught by Christina Hachikian, adjunct associate professor of strategy and also executive director of the center. In the course, student groups identify a policy-related issue in Chicago, scan the landscape for an innovative nonprofit, and then propose how to scale that nonprofit to Chicago.

It felt like I was back at work, which I say as the highest compliment: through the class I was able to practice and flex my business skills in an environment that made me feel like a philanthropist.

How did your time here help you reach your short- and long-term career goals?

I wanted to leave graduate school and work as a program officer at a foundation, collaborating with thought leaders and donors to build and/or catalyze programs to benefit Chicago’s neighborhoods. I do that now—I am helping an individual build his new foundation, focusing on food access and environmental awareness. Every day in my job I combine what I learned at Booth and Harris, whether it’s performing due diligence for a potential PRI in a food distribution enterprise or advising a nonprofit grantee how to increase their earned revenue while also staying true to its mission. Just the other day, I brainstormed with a partner how he could best scale his nonprofit to another market!

What aspect of Booth culture do you appreciate most?

The social impact community at Booth is strong and proud—and I was so grateful for my fellow classmates who were committed to this space. The sense of camaraderie fueled me while recruiting; I always knew I could talk to my fellow Net Impact members and get advice on potential networking opportunities or helpful events to attend. I also had productive meetings with Madeline (King) Hannigan, ’17, who was a social impact Career Advisor, a peer-to-peer career guidance program offered by Booth’s Career Services.

People often asked “why do you want an MBA to work in philanthropy?” I think the nonprofit landscape is just as complex as the corporate landscape, and I’m grateful that Booth set me up with the critical thinking skills to allow me to most positively affect my nonprofit partners. 

 

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Haven Leeming, MBA ’18, MPP ’18, is currently a program officer at Walton Personal Philanthropy Group. While enrolled in Booth’s Full-Time MBA Program, Leeming served as co-chair of both the Net Impact student group and Nonprofit Board Fellows Program, and she interned at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She also earned a degree from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.