Every year, we award one student with the Skip and Carrie Gordon Scholarship. This recognizes the current student who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to solving complex social challenges by leveraging their learning. This year’s recipient is Karen Yocky (MPP/MBA ’18). In addition to training fellow students and serving in a leadership role with Net Impact at Ross, she has participated in our Student Advisory Board and the Social Impact Challenge. We interviewed Karen recently to see what she thought about opportunities for involvement and training in mission-driven work through U-M.
What has your involvement in social impact been thus far?
Most of my professional career to date has focused on the nonprofit sector, aiming to find roles where I felt I could impact a large number of individuals. Serving in AmeriCorps showed me the challenges of creating impact at scale. As the sole health educator in the school where I was placed, I did not have the time or resources to fully support each individual student in the ways needed to help drive behavior change. The experiences that followed continued to teach me about the many challenges facing nonprofit organizations. Continuously constrained by funding cycles and struggling to measure their impact, I found that nonprofits were often reticent to innovate, inhibited by a fear of failure or a need to please funders, rather than do what might best serve their target populations. This was my impetus to return to graduate school, hoping to develop the skills and strategies necessary to help organizations overcome these barriers. Since joining the Michigan community, my involvement with Business Impact and Net Impact at Ross has exposed me to the many avenues through which change can occur, and introduced me to a community of other passionate individuals also hoping to drive change.
How will the Skip & Carrie Gordon Scholarship support you in becoming a social impact leader?
This scholarship enables me to better focus on building a career in social impact while pursuing a dual degree in Business Administration and Public Policy, alleviating some of the financial barriers to achieving my career goals. It provides additional flexibility to take advantage of every opportunity at Michigan, so I can build a strong and diverse skill set to be a future leader in social impact. I am so grateful to be chosen for this award and happy to know that this support will continue to benefit future students as they pursue careers of leadership in social impact.
What is the most important realization or experience you’ve had in graduate school thus far in the area of social impact?
Last fall, through an elective at Ross and my experiences on the Student Advisory Board for Business Impact, I realized the many different ways in which for-profit business can be a powerful tool for achieving social change. Many of strategies and business models utilized in the private sector are applicable to addressing social sector challenges, and when used effectively, can help deliver practical solutions that maximize results. This realization has also led to my interest in facilitating better collaboration between the public, private and social sectors, as I believe this is instrumental to driving long-term sustainable impact.
What has most impressed you about the social impact community at U-M?
I have been impressed and inspired by the large community I have found at Michigan, and the commitment from both students and alumni in ensuring that social impact remains a priority at Michigan for years to come. I have also been impressed by the number of social impact opportunities available, and am always wishing that I had more time! By serving on the student board for Center for Social Impact, I learned about many different ways that one can make a positive impact, whether it be through sitting on a nonprofit board or developing a new social enterprise. As the Director of Academic Affairs in Net Impact, I have learned about the challenges of integrating impact and sustainable business into a curriculum. I have also been motivated to continue pursuing these goals by the discussions I have had with faculty and administration. Through prior experiences with the social impact community and through many more to come during the next year and a half, I believe that I will build a network of individuals passionate about social impact, enhance my knowledge and understanding of the many ways to facilitate change, and hopefully continue to expose more students to the ways that they can integrate social impact into their own future careers.
Where would you like to see graduate school training in social impact go in the next five years?
In an increasingly global world, it is important that all students are aware of how business influences society–whether or not they are interested specifically in social impact. In line with one of Ross’ core pillars to create positive business leaders, I believe that it is important that every student know and understand the context in which a given business operates. This is why I joined Net Impact as the Director of Academic Affairs this past fall. While my future goals include helping organizations strategize around how to create long-term sustainable impact, I also hope to help ensure that all students at Ross have the knowledge and skills to integrate impact into their own future careers. In the next 5 years, I hope the core curriculum incorporates more exploration of how challenges such as climate change and poverty affect the future of business and equips students with the resources and leadership skills needed to address these challenges in their future careers.