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Annual Celebration Honors Stanford GSB Social Impact Student Leaders

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“As I’ve said before, making money is the easy part—it’s making the world a better place that is the hard part.” They are the words of Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) Dean Emeritus Arjay Miller, 101, spoken last week as part of a ceremony honoring GSB students for their commitment to social change. “I wanted to encourage students to find unique ways to overcome social challenges, and I’m thrilled with the change these programs have inspired over the past few years,” he continued.

Indeed, thanks in part to the community of social innovation Miller helped found at Stanford GSB while dean from 1969 to 1976, one current student is at the forefront of an international movement to divest from fossil fuel–dependent investments and reinvest in new economy solutions. Another seeks to bring the convenience of digital wallets to Africa’s one billion—and growing—citizens. And a third student is working on a mobile app that will enable illiterate adults in his home country of Pakistan to obtain employment that will help set their children on the path to literacy and greater prosperity.

Miller may never have imagined that social innovation would come to touch at least a quarter of all Stanford GSB students when he first agreed to serve as dean. While president of Ford Motor Company, he himself hadn’t given much thought to social issues, according to Stanford’s website. “I was a businessman,” he said. “I was pragmatic.” But just a few years later, when asked to serve as the GSB’s fourth dean, he agreed only on the condition that he be able to create a new program that would ultimately form the centerpiece of social innovation at Stanford.

During his 10-year tenure he did precisely that—launching the school’s Urban Management Program to help train leaders who would promote collaboration between public and private sectors for the benefit of society. That program, the first of its kind, would grow into the present-day Public Management Program (PMP). Then, in 2001, Stanford launched the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) to further expand the efforts of the PMP and help develop the field of social innovation.

On May 23rd, Miller returned to campus for the annual event that draws together Stanford’s strong, tight-knit core of students, faculty, and alumni who share Miller’s steadfast commitment to social innovation. At this year’s event, 12 Stanford students—from the MBA and Master of Science for experience professionals degree (MSx) programs—were collectively awarded the Miller Social Change Leadership Award, the Frances and Arjay Miller Prize in Social Innovation, and the Social Innovation Fellowship.

Stanford GSB social impact
Bernadette Clavier, director of Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation

“This annual celebration draws together all the students who are involved with our programs to celebrate the year and each other,” says Bernadette Clavier, director of the CSI. “We really are like a family, so it’s a bittersweet moment combining celebration and recognition with impending goodbyes.” Knowing that the students will continue to support each other in their careers helps sweeten the bitter considerably though, she says.

Miller Lends His Name to Two Prestigious Awards
The first two awards were created by Dean Emeritus Miller. The Frances and Arjay Miller Prize in Social Innovation was designed to recognize students who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to public good and plan to focus on social or environmental impact upon graduation. This year’s winners—MSx student Ali Goldsworthy and MBA student Benjamin Fernandes—will each receive a $20,000 stipend to help smooth their transition into social sector work.

To be eligible for these awards, interested students go through an application process in which they are asked to talk about their commitment to social innovation broadly, how they see themselves contributing in the future, and what their plans are for the near-term. “We are trying to evaluate two things,” explains Clavier. “The first is how thoughtful they about their own personal impact and how ambitious and realistic their planned contributions are,” she says. There is also a consideration of financial need, she adds. “We want through this award to enable people to make a transition and commitment to social change that might not be easy or even feasible otherwise. The stipend is intended to make it smoother for them.”

stanford GSB social impact
Benjamin Fernandez, MBA 17

MBA student Fernandez, a native of Tanzania, plans to put the stipend money toward building out a project he is working on with a co-founder to bring digital financial services to people in East Africa. They will launch initially in Tanzania, where 80 percent of the population does not use banks. “Our goal is to allow people to pay for goods and services through convenient payment processes using a digital wallet,” he says. “It’s kind of like a Venmo, but focused on merchants.” Fernandez says he is very grateful for the stipend, especially because he has found it very difficult as a foreign national to raise funds in the Bay Area.

MSx student Goldsworthy, the other Miller Prize recipient, will use her stipend to help put insights she gained in her career in politics in the United Kingdom prior to Stanford to good use in the nonprofit sector.

Peer Nominations Critical to Miller Social Change Leadership Awards
The second honor bearing Miller’s name is the Miller Social Change Leadership Award. Recipients of this award are selected based both on their focus on social innovation through classroom and practical applications and on their leadership and contributions to the GSB social change community. Fernandez and Goldsworthy each also were recognized with this award along with MBA students Shruthi Baskaran, Eli Bildner, Emma Chastain, Benjamin Fernandes, Kate Kraft, Jenna Nicholas, Mark Moeremans, Tom Petit, Karen Warner, and Charles Zhu.

These awards are given based on two main criteria, explains Clavier. The first is the commitment students have shown to learning social innovation–related concepts, either through coursework or experiential learning. And the second is their contribution to the Stanford GSB social impact community. Student and faculty nominations play a key role. “Anyone in the community can say, ‘That person was completely instrumental to my learning’—fellow students, faculty members who observe students regularly coming with that social innovation perspective and lending that additional lens to discussion,” Clavier says. The CSI uses a complicated algorithm that balances academics and community nominations to arrive at the winners each year—historically there have been between six and 11 recipients in any given year.

Social Innovation Fellowship Winners
The third and final honors bestowed last week were ones we’ve covered here at Clear Admit before—the prestigious Social Innovation Fellowships (SIFs). Awarded to one or two exemplary students each year, the SIF provides recipients with a $110,000 stipend as well as ongoing mentorship from Stanford faculty that helps support them as they start a nonprofit venture addressing a pressing social or environmental need in their first year after graduating.

This year’s recipients are in different programs, from different parts of the world, and focused on addressing different social challenges. But together, they have benefited from the strong social innovation community at Stanford and now will have a tremendous opportunity to advance their ideas thanks to the year-long fellowships.

stanford GSB social impact
2017 Social Innovation Fellows Muhammad Mustafa (MSx ’17) and Jenna Nicholas (MBA ’17)

London native Jenna Nicholas, MBA ’17, is one of this year’s Social Innovation Fellows. After completing undergrad at Stanford, she knew without question it was where she wanted to return for business school because of the focus on and community within social innovation. She has spent her life working on social impact projects, from Congo to India. “I always knew I wanted to do something in the social impact space,” she says. Between college and business school, among other things, she started an impact investing consultancy where she worked on Divest-Invest philanthropy, helping foundations to divest from fossil fuels and invest instead in new economy solutions. “The foundations would often talk about how disconnected they were from the communities—especially those dependent on fossil fuels,” she recalls.