In this episode of Social Impact Design for Business, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks of Michigan Ross’ +Impact Studio interviews Justin Woods, Founder of EQuity Social Venture. Justin encourages people to get reflective and don’t be afraid of making mistakes in the process of addressing racism in the world, the community, and in businesses or organizations.
Maab Ibrahim (MBA/MPP ’16) is the Inclusion grantmaking lead at Google.org, a data-driven, human-focused philanthropy powered by Google. Through a unique blend of funding, products, and technical expertise from Google volunteers, she is currently accelerating the progress of nonprofits that use data science and innovative new approaches to advance social justice.
Describe the path you have taken to your current role as Portfolio Manager at Google.org.
As the Inclusion Grants Lead at Google.org, I work to provide resources to nonprofits that are challenging bias and exclusion to transform systems of inequity in America. The work is deeply personal to me, as the child of first-generation immigrants and as a black woman in America. It’s informed by my experiences growing up in Richmond, Virginia, a city of beautiful communities pushing to thrive against a pained history of slavery, Confederacy, segregation, and mass incarceration. While in college, I was drawn to social policy to better understand these challenges. I began to study the data and develop the language to contextualize my experiences and those of my loved ones — words like structural inequity, gentrification, economic exclusion, gender-based violence, and school-to-prison pipeline. The more I understood these issues and their intersections, the more I was driven to work on solutions.
How have you leveraged your Ross and Ford school experience in your career?
A career in social impact is equal parts subject-matter expertise to define the challenge and business savvy to make the case for solutions. I often speak of Ford as a place for me to sharpen the “what” and Ross as a place to perfect the “how.” At Ford, I could spend a morning debating social welfare structures with Luke Shaefer or contextualizing social movements with Yazier Henry. I would then cross the street to Ross to learn methods for building successful teams and influencing within institutions.
I have always believed in the power of technology, but there was something about being at Michigan right after the Arab Spring and during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement that gave my studies new urgency. Organizers were bringing the fight for justice to the center of public imagination and taking advantage of the internet as a space for organizing and democratizing access to information. They were, and they continue to be, disrupting social paradigms. This sparked my interest in technology as a tool for advancing social progress and encouraged me to find communities that embraced disruptive solutions, like The Social Venture Fund.
How is Google.org impacting people’s lives? How does the Google.org model and portfolio advance social justice?
At Google.org, we aim to bring the best of Google to solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges — combining funding, innovation, and technical expertise to support underserved communities and expand access to opportunity. We join forces with nonprofit innovators and commit Google volunteers, technology, and over $200 million in grants every year to help scale their impact.
Can you share more about the work you lead to advance racial justice?
Google.org’s racial justice portfolio is focused on reducing disparate racial outcomes and affirming the flourishing of Black lives. Our company and its employees are passionate about criminal justice reform and that has led us to direct over $44 million and 15,000 pro bono volunteering hours to organizations fighting mass incarceration. As a tech philanthropist, many of the grants I make use data science to identify and analyze bias in the criminal justice system. For example, Google.org grantee Center for Policing Equity measures bias in police behavior, and Vera Institute of Justice develops real-time data to model how many people are currently in jail. Our portfolio is balanced with intentional support to movement leaders who are most proximate to impacted communities, such as the Movement for Black Lives and Essie Justice Group.
As the lead on racial justice grants, I source and support these projects, while also spending considerable time brainstorming ways to advance justice through our people, products, and philanthropy. For example, Google.org partnered with Google product teams to prohibit from our platforms ads from bail bonds services, which have shown to generate revenue from communities of color when they’re at their most vulnerable. We’ve collaborated with marketing teams to digitize Equal Justice Initiative’s Lynching in America project.
What do you want to see business schools do to prepare students for careers with impact?
I would love to see business schools be intentional in hiring underrepresented faculty and building inclusive classrooms. Black, Latinx, and Native American people continue to be the most socially marginalized and economically excluded communities in America, driving a severe underrepresentation of their voices in corporate leadership. The data shows us that the social impact sector is not exempt from these inequities, and that Black, Latinx, and Native American nonprofit directors and social entrepreneurs receive disportionately less philanthropic and venture capital investment despite their proximity to the communities they serve. Business schools that are serious about social impact should invest in leaders that are committed to bridging across company and community. Programs like The Consortium and Management Leadership for Tomorrow are first steps in breaking down barriers.
What advice would you give to students pursuing an impact career?
There’s a perception that social impact jobs are less demanding than traditional business, but I have found that shared accountability to company, nonprofit leaders, and marginalized communities sets a high bar for personal and professional success. When you are working to deconstruct systems, it can feel like the work is never over. And it’s especially hard to take a pause when your identity and community is represented in the work. The failures feel more personal, and successes feel like they’re just scratching the surface. Find as much balance as possible, because we’ll need your skills, talent, and focus for the long run. Energize by being in community and celebrating incremental successes. Remember that the best answers often come from those closest to the problem. Center the dignity of the most marginalized people in society in all that you do.
In this episode of Social Impact Design for Business, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks of Michigan Ross’ +Impact Studio interviews Mikey Adams-Staber, VP of Commercial Lending at Level One Bank. Embedded in the local business ecosystem, Mikey shares some of her perspectives on what organizations have been going through and ways in which they have had to innovate in order to make it through this time of Covid-19.
In this episode of the Design Thinking for Business podcast, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks of Michigan Ross’ +Impact Studio interviews Tabitha Mason, Managing Partner of Zingerman’s Cornman Farms, an event venue, a culinary destination and a working farm in Dexter, MI. Tabitha is looking for ways to continue their work in light of coronavirus, and consideration for branching out into new areas, using creative thinking.
When COVID-19 reached Michigan, Ross School of Business Lecturer Chris Mueller was supervising several student teams enrolled in Capstone MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Projects). He immediately saw the impact the pandemic had on local small businesses in Southeast Michigan — and on students.
“Students were losing their summer internships, and local businesses needed help thinking through a new set of problems they could not possibly have considered,” Mueller said. “It looked like an opportunity to me.”
With support from Michigan Ross, the University of Michigan’s Center on Finance, Law & Policy’s Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project (DNEP), the Ford School of Public Policy — and grant funding from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation — +Impact Studio for Local Business (+ISLB) was born. Its mission: to help businesses in Detroit and Southeast Michigan respond and adapt to challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns.
The Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project (DNEP) connects small businesses in Detroit with experienced University of Michigan faculty and students, providing unprecedented access to free business, legal and/or design consulting that can help grow their venture. As part of DNEP, the Free Accounting Fridays program is seeking a business student to act as a Student Coordinator for the 2020-2021 academic year. In this position, the student will work closely with entrepreneurs and small business owners (virtually) in Detroit, providing assistance
June 12, 2020 – The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) has announced that the Michigan Ross Give-A-Day Fund has received a Circle of Excellence Award for its work in funding impact interns. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education is the global non-profit association dedicated to educational advancement—alumni relations, communications, development, marketing, and advancement services—who share the goal of championing education to transform lives and society.
The CASE judges praised and felt the hallmark of this entry was its innovation. While a giving day itself is rather common in the sector, they felt that the Michigan Ross students took the idea to a new level. The judges felt the concept of asking higher-paid interns giving a day of salary to classmates interning with an impact organization providing little to no salary was a one-of-a-kind initiative. They felt the ROI was commendable and liked how the concept likely results in larger gifts and sets precedent for students following graduation in relation to giving.
Launched in 2012, the Give-A-Day Fund at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is a first-of-its-kind initiative among U.S. business schools. The Give-A-Day Fund engages Ross MBAs with the social impact community by providing financial assistance to students interning with impact organizations, which often provide interns with little to no salary. As its name implies, higher-paid MBA students are asked to donate a day of their summer internship salary to make this support to their peers possible.
Business+Impact stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the Ross School of Business BBSA. With Business+Impact we aim to build a better world through powerful ideas and solutions to address the global challenges of our time. We are committed to the work of dismantling the structures of systemic racism, advancing racial justice in America, and building an equitable and sustainable future. We recognize that we must examine how we live our values each day, and seek to continually educate ourselves and others in the fight for justice and equity. Below we’ve compiled a set of resources for action, education, and transformation.
Racial Justice Resources:
United Way of Washtenaw County Equity Challenge: A Self-guided learning journey that examines the history and impacts of racism and how it shapes people’s lived experience in Washtenaw County
NEW Champions for Change leadership program builds the capacity for racial equity leadership in Washtenaw County
The Detroit Justice Center is a non-profit law firm working alongside communities to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and just cities
How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Funds for Black Owned Businesses, Compiled by Black Lives Matter
5 Ineffective Ways Organizations Respond to Racial Trauma, by Justin Woods, +Impact Studio Design Fellow
Racial Justice News Items
May 6, 2020 – B+I’s Jerry Davis explores parallels between the Great Recession of ’08 and the COVID-19 pandemic, and how entrepreneurial trends could be catalysts for significant change on the other side of the current crisis. This article is reprinted from UM’s Michigan News.
Jerry Davis is a professor at the Ross School of Business, where he also serves as associate dean for Business + Impact. He has studied the effect of crises on business for years, and the ways in which commerce has fallen into but fought its way out of crushing events like the Great Recession.
He sees parallels between that crisis and the one caused by COVID-19. In the following discussion, he explores some of them, as well as how entrepreneurial and technological trends that bubbled up in the intervening years could be catalysts for significant change on the other side of the latest economic upheaval. In other words, are we headed for an era of “Uber-ization”?
You wrote about the Great Recession in your 2009 book, “Managed by the Markets.” It detailed how tied to financial markets society had become. I realize the crisis today has different causes but what parallels can you draw?
I started writing that book in 2006, before the financial crisis, and I had been monitoring how finance and financial transactions were pervading all of society. All these crazy things were being turned into financial instruments that could be traded on markets, including the payoffs of life insurance policies on the elderly and terminally ill. The financial logic behind it made perfect sense: Any one life insurance policy’s payoff is hard to predict, but if you buy 1,000 of them the yields become much more regular. Why not pool them together and turn them into a bond? This kind of thing was happening all over the economy.
I thought financialization—relying on financial markets to channel capital—was a peculiar, one-time shift that had happened to our economy. But financialization is actually an information technology problem. It became possible on a grand scale because it got much cheaper to turn things into financial instruments and trade them on markets, such as bundles of mortgages. Information and communication technologies enabled finance to metastasize in the way that it did.
But it’s not just finance—now this is happening to labor markets. Think of this as “Uber-ization.” That’s information technology applied to labor markets: Instead of hiring someone for a job, you pay them for a specific task. That is a pretty big shift. That is the labor market version of financialization.
The financial crisis showed us the limits of financial markets: Where can things go wrong? The current crisis is showing what happens when people can’t show up in a common place to do their work together. We’ve created this technology that allows us to pay people by the task to work remotely. That is the essence of Uber: Drivers never set foot in the Uber office. They don’t have an Uber boss—they just connect to an app and complete their tasks. We’re now stress-testing the idea that people can work from remote locations and still get things done. It’s almost like a trial run for rampant Uber-ization.
If the pandemic shows that there’s an awful lot of business that can get done by people working in dispersed locations, managed by software, it is not much of a next step to say, “Why do they need to be employees? Why not just hire them as contractors?” This is going to prove which jobs can be done by folks wherever they happen to be, and which really need to be done on-site. It also provides in a sense proof of concept that you can have companies with almost no actual employees. Instead, you can basically “Uberize” the whole labor force.
Think of the Instant Pot. You can cook a rock-solid frozen chicken breast into edible food in 20 minutes. It’s also very inexpensive and a very well-made appliance. Here’s what’s amazing about the Instant Pot: The guy that created the company was a Ph.D. in computer science. He wanted to start his own business after the financial crisis. He thought, “What the world needs now is a quick way to make healthy food.” So he devised a pressure cooker with computer technology built into it.
He used $350,000 of his own money to start the company. After perfecting the design and finding a vendor to produce it, he listed the Instant Pot on Amazon and used the “Fulfillment by Amazon” service for storage and distribution. He read all the customer reviews on Amazon for his product research to improve the design. His marketing was that he sent 200 Instant Pots to influential food bloggers and cookbook writers. He used a vendor in China to manufacture it. It became a $300 million a year product category with just 50 employees in Ontario, which is insane. He’s created an entirely new category of indispensable appliance that dominates its industry. He didn’t need to go to Wall Street to fund it. He didn’t build any factories. He didn’t have to build a distribution channel or warehouse. He just hired Amazon.
That to me is proof of concept that you can have styles of business that look a lot more like a pop-up. That also in some sense feels like the apotheosis of our current situation—I think what the virus is doing is demonstrating in a fairly dramatic way that an awful lot of what we needed to show up to the office to do can be done remotely. If you don’t need an office, why not just rely on all contractors all the time like an Instant Pot?
Just to be clear, I’m not saying this is a good thing. It’s likely to be a disaster for labor, at least in the U.S., where people get health insurance and pension savings from their employer. But in some cases, it is likely to be the cheaper thing. In capitalism, cheap usually wins.
Speaking of test runs, auto and apparel makers, who have retooled their lines to make personal protective equipment, could similarly evaluate new lines of business or manufacturing approaches after the pandemic passes.
You could visualize “reshoring”—bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.—but there’s another trend that’s really interesting: Capital equipment has gotten really cheap and really flexible. It can be programmed to do lots of different stuff. It used to be the advantage of China was cheap labor. Because capital equipment has gotten so good and so cheap, you can replicate that ability in the U.S. Next door to every Amazon warehouse you could build a universal manufacturing facility.
I think about Ford Motor Co., where both my grandfathers were welders. Could Ford be a universal manufacturer? It’s consistent with their heritage—the idea of converting to wartime production as part of the Arsenal of Democracy. Shifting to producing ventilators is the same kind of transformation. These days designs are often fungible—it can be done in a dispersed, online way, like Wikipedia, or crowd-sourced designs for ventilators. Design globally, manufacture locally.
We’re hearing about big companies being called out or shamed into returning public money that was intended for small business. Is the pandemic lens distorting or enhancing the behavior? Are most businesses doing right amid the pandemic?
We’re at one of those moments where leaders in business are being told that what you do now is what is going to end up in your obituary. Do I lay a bunch of people off or do I find some way to maintain them and repurpose them? This is one of those moments that is going to define people and their legacy. I think a lot of folks are feeling that.
This is a situation where you don’t want to be the one who says, “Shareholders first.” It feels like that pressure, that scrutiny is out there—because of social media, one wrong step and it will go viral instantly. There’s a lot more at stake in making a morally defensible choice. From what I’ve seen, it feels that a lot of businesses are stepping up the best way they can.
This has also enabled workers in an interesting way. For example, GE workers at an idled aviation factory organized this protest and said, “This factory could be making ventilators. We’ve got the equipment to do that. Why is this factory idled?” That was genius. They weren’t protesting about hours or conditions, exactly. They were saying, “We can do some good here.” The companies that enable their workforce to identify those opportunities—it feels like they are going to win coming out of this. You’d rather work for a place where those values get built into the culture. Repurposing a manufacturing line to make ventilators and save lives is a story that will be told years from now.
What else is important to know or ponder about the culture of business as we emerge from the pandemic?
Where we end up on the other side of this is going to be a political choice and not purely an economic or business decision. I tweeted the other day: “How about we shift to a 30-hour workweek, where people show up in staggered shifts. That could give us more leisure, a little less income, less unemployment and a safer workplace. Thirty million unemployed in the last month is a lot. Can we return to work in a way that accomplishes some sort of social goals that would make us all better off?”
During the Second World War, in the darkest period in the United Kingdom, they formed the Beveridge Committee. The committee essentially asked, “What can we do when the war is over to make these sacrifices worth it? What kind of vision can we provide about the world we’re fighting for that will get us to the other end of this?” They came up with this set of ideas: A universal health care system, which became the NHS, universal education, pensions for the elderly. They came up with a set of core values and welfare policies for a civilized society. This is kind of our reward at the end of all this trauma.
What can we offer as a vision for the future at the other end of this that would make people say that was horrible but now we’re better off? I don’t know what that would look like, but it’s intriguing to think about.
Each summer, Business+Impact awards competitive grants for summer internships to MBAs and BBA juniors in the Ross School of Business as well as MPP students in the Ford School of Public Policy. MBA funding comes from the Give-A-Day Fund, a Ross MBA pay-it-forward fund.
This year, although interns will be asked to work from home, these students are still making an impact around the world. Below is a list of recipients and who they will be working with this summer.
Claire Haase, Waterworks, Detroit, MI
Ryan Kellett, Positive Business Rapid Assessment Tool, Birmingham, MI
Yousef Kobeissi, US House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.
Reena Mathews, Sierra Club, Lansing, MI
Jonae Maxey, Maxey Real Estate Investments LLC, Detroit, MI
Neha Paragi, Troy Digital Consulting Initiative, Troy, MI
Sara Sotirov, Total Impact Capital, Bethesda, MD
Claire Babilonia, Ashoka, Arlington, VA
Sara Bemporad, Blavity Inc., San Francisco, CA
Kelsey Casey, The Global Good Fund Columbia, MD
Robert Chen, Bcurrent Impact Investment, Taiwan
Suman Gidwani, VoteTripling.org, Los Angeles, CA
Andrey Higashi, Fleming Medicina, Porto Alegre Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Dustin Huibregtse, Quorum: The Twin Cities GLBTA Chamber of Commerce, Minneapolis, MN
J’Taime Lyons, East Durham Children’s Initiative, Durham, NC
Avani Sharma, Teach for India, New Delhi, India
Stephanie Simpson, NextStep, Ann Arbor, MI
Alexandra Taikowski, Henry Health, Washington, D.C.
Allison Winstel, Enterprise Community Partners, Washington, DC
Nicki Yochim, Spoiler Alert, Boston, MA
Paul Capp, Asia Society Policy Institute, New York, NY
Kellen Data, City of Hamtramck Community and Economic Development, Hamtramck, MI
Eli Gold, Soulardarity, Highland Park, MI
Vivian Kalumbi, CARE, Merrifield, VA
Emma Kern, Hawaii Appleseed, Honolulu, HI
Christopher LeFlore, Office of Detroit City Council Member Janee’ Ayers, Detroit, MI
Tanya Omolo, Mary Turner Center for Advocacy, Detroit, MI
Daniel Park, Movement Advancement Project, Boulder, CO
Victor Rateng, MIT GOV/LAB, Cambridge, MA
Orlando Sanchez, Monterrey County Free Libraries, Marina, CA
Kalena Thomhave, Institute for Policy Studies, Boston, MA
2019 Intern Photo Album
We probably won’t have exciting photos to share this year, so why not check out photos from last year. See where impact summer interns Aaron Ngo, Sneha Yarlagadda, Sheetal Singh, Mingming Zhao, and Emily Blackmer found themselves in 2019!