Archive for the ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ Category

Doing Well by Doing Good, Part 2 of an Occasional Series

Saturday, June 20th, 2009
Not My Heroes

Not My Heroes

After reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about professionals undertaking nonprofit work to make career changes, either voluntarily or involuntarily in this economy, I thought it might be helpful to share my own story. My business represents the marriage of my corporate career with my parallel work in the nonprofit sector. As I described in an earlier blog entry, I began my career as a research associate at the Harvard Business School, during which time I developed a business plan to provide homecare services for frail senior citizens. I moved to New York and was soon working as an investment banker in the financial institutions group of Goldman Sachs. My clients were insurance companies, which helped build expertise that would prove critical when I would start my own business.  While at Goldman, I volunteered my annual vacation allowances, four weeks at a time, to charitable projects. In one year, I traveled to Stavropol, Russia to work on a project sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Stavropol is located about 600 miles east of Moscow and is the location of Avtovaz, the manufacturer of the famous Russian car, the Lada.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Avtovaz lost its principal export market as Eastern European countries began to deal with some of the environmental issues that were the legacy of communist rule. At the same time, they lost their domestic market to more fuel-efficient Volkswagens. Unemployment in the region soared to 40%. Avtovaz Bank, the financing arm of the car manufacturer, sought to convert the company’s financials into U.S GAAP to make them comprehensible to foreign investors. At that time, Avtovaz was in discussions with both Fiat and General Motors. (This was more than one decade ago.) My responsibility was to teach classes on bank accounting and risk management for 40 hours a week for several weeks to an association of Russian bankers. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. This photograph, by the way, was taken in Stalin’s bunker. It had been sealed since World War II and had only recently been accidentally discovered by school children playing. In the photograph I am flanked by the Mayor and by one of my escorts. The photographs of the “three heroes” (Lenin, Marx and Engels) were placed on the wall to inspire Stalin.

Doing Well By Doing Good, Part 1 of an Occasional Series

Friday, June 19th, 2009
Governor Weld, Rep. Bradford and Yours Truly

Governor Weld, Rep. Bradford and Yours Truly

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece “Jobless Professionals Yearn to Do Good: Nonprofits See a Flood of Applications With Business and Legal Know-How” showcasing the stories of professionals contributing their time and expertise to non-profit organizations. Some of them lost their jobs through layoffs, while others are attempting mid-career changes. In my case, the genesis of my first business was the marriage of my traditional corporate career with my parallel track of service in the non-profit sector. This story was told in a chapter of More Than 85 Broads: Women Making Career Choices, Taking Risks and Defining Success – On Their Own Terms. (85 Broads is a network association of investment banking alumnae of Goldman Sachs. Goldman’s headquarters are at 85 Broad Street.) Because of its relevance to the decisions many people are making right now, I’d like to summarize it for you.  I am pleased with my choices and as I read the WSJ article, I am glad for having made them. It is much, much easier to build a new business or make a career change proactively when the market is strong than to have to react to circumstances beyond your control.

I began my career as a research associate at the Harvard Business School where I was responsible for writing the case studies used to teach the financial institutions course for MBA students. It was an impressive opportunity to learn about the insurance and banking industries. At the same time, I began what would be a life-long pattern of volunteering my free time to contribute my business skills to important social projects. While working full-time at HBS, I was selected as one of fifteen winners of the Better Government Competition of the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy. At that time, Massachusetts was in a fiscal crisis with a substantial budget deficit and the penultimate of state bond ratings, a situation that is depressingly familiar to California residents today. Pioneer sought “armchair governors” who could develop ideas to deliver higher-quality government services at lower costs. Fifteen finalists were selected on the basis of their ideas and invited to develop complete business plans for implementation with access to government officials for research support. Governor William Weld promised to review each one to implement the plan wherever feasible. Together with Representative William Bradford, the ranking minority member of the State Legislature, I developed a business plan to provide homecare services to the elderly at no incremental cost to the taxpayer.

This was a significant contribution because as homecare services are discretionary, they were cut in the early stages of the Massachusetts budget crisis. This gave the frail elderly who needed these services to live independently the incentive to spend down to a level of impoverishment to qualify for Medicaid, an entitlement program. Medicaid would pay nursing home care for indigent seniors at much higher cost to the taxpayer and much lower quality of life for the seniors, who would presumably prefer not to be institutionalized. Imagine the opportunities that exist now for creative solutions to state government problems!