For our 11th Social Entrepreneurship class, I had a conversation with Anne Wintroub. While ostensibly focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR), we ended up covering a lot more ground. I’ve known Anne for a while and through my work with Substantial had the opportunity to participate in the Accelerator that Anne launched under the auspices of the AT&T Foundation. (Sidenote, this accelerator has taken on a fresh new life under the guidance of Sandro Oliveira and Amy Mandrier through Project FoundED and is worth checking out, especially if you are an edtech founder or funder…)
Anne described her journey for the students, a career, as she put it, that she “didn’t even know existed” when she was an undergraduate. I particularly appreciated Anne’s perspective on how the space has changed dramatically during her time working in it, mirroring much of the change in the larger social entrepreneurship space that we have been discussing as a class. When, for example, she began working on developing the accelerator, the opportunities all looked a lot like Y Combinator. Anne’s perspective that start-up for-profits and nonprofits had more in common than not, and that the resources and support of a corporate entity like AT&T, when designed to be flexible and risk-tolerant, meant that they were able to develop something that reached changemakers who were being overlooked by those other early accelerator models. Since then new models have been developed – she mentioned Fast Forward and Camelback Ventures – recognizing as Camelback puts it that “Genius is equally distributed. Opportunity is not.”
In response to a student’s question about how corporations choose their areas of social investment, Anne described the maturation of the space – an evolution from focusing more broadly on good works to a process of identifying social impacts directly relevant to a corporation’s outputs, including an awareness of sustainability, building responsible supply chains and employee engagement. In this way, she described, CSR has become more integral to business outcomes and as a result, core to business outcomes and thus more valued.
I’ve noted that this year’s students are particularly interested in the intersection of for-profit business and social change, and I think they appreciated Anne’s very direct acknowledgement of the compromises involved in CSR. Starting her career in public libraries and public broadcasting and then shifting to CSR afforded Anne a deep appreciation for the privilege of investing in others’ work, balanced by a commitment to being radically transparent. For Anne this has meant talking honestly with her teams when decisions or actions were taken that she might not agree with and, when her vision of the work no longer aligned with the larger corporate vision, deciding to move on.
More recently, Anne’s work has led her to lululemon where she has been involved with standing up their new Center for Social Impact, working to disrupt inequities in wellbeing globally. Anne’s description of working with this global team – 29,000 employees distributed around the world - conveyed a complex organizational structure designed to ensure a high degree of decentralized decision-making respecting local knowledge and the importance of distributed leadership.
One final topic that we discussed, and that I wanted to call out, was that in introducing herself Anne noted that she is the Board Chair for 826National. I asked her to tell the students a bit about the organization and her board experience, and I noted to both her and the students the significance of her referencing this leadership role as a key part of her identity. It made me wonder how often board members actually do that, and when they do it, and why. I suspect that some of my students may indeed end up serving on boards and I hope that as a result of having taken this class they might approach board service as something that they would incorporate more intentionally into their identity.
After Anne spoke, we briefly discussed the UC Students' strike (class attendance was at about half), and the students broke into their new groups to talk about assessing their classmates' pitches for the final. We will be pivoting slightly for the final couple of weeks - offering class virtually and moving the finals process online - because the strike continues and there have been some other scheduling challenges.
This week we will be joined by Dr. Sanjeev Arora and the readings include: “Social Enterprise is the Best Medicine for Global Health Challenges” Kielburger, Craig and Marc, HuffPo
Project ECHO: Rising to the Challenges of Covid-19, MacArthur Foundation
“How Health Care Systems Can Reduce Gun Violence, Here’s What Kaiser Permanente is Doing” Lee, Bruce, Forbes
Finally, I wanted to share the note that Melissa sent to the students about her decision to be a part of the strike (and the link to the presentation on the UAW undergrad teach-in 2022):
I am writing to you to let you know that I am choosing to join the UC Academic Workers’ historic unfair labor practice strike which begins today. This was not an easy decision for me to make. I care deeply about supporting your learning in my role as your Graduate Student Reader, AND also recognize that taking steps like striking are crucial in creating the systemic change that is needed for UC Academic Workers to receive equitable compensation.
The purpose of the strike is to be disruptive. Student workers are not striking to hurt you or abandon their job responsibilities. Rather, striking is meant to send a message to the University of how quickly it will collapse as an institution when it fails to center the needs of the very workers it relies upon so heavily to function.
What is the magnitude of the issue?
Nearly 48,000 UC Academic Student Employees (including GSIs/GSRs), Academic Researchers, Postdocs and Student Researchers across California's 10 UC schools are going on strike starting today in response to the UC's ongoing unlawful bargaining behavior. This is the largest student worker strike in our country's history.
Where can I learn more?
For more information on the strike and the reasons behind it, read through this deck. To sign a letter of solidarity to support the strike, click here.
How does this impact me?
I will not be physically in class at least for the first week of the strike - I plan to review my decision of continuing to strike if it continues beyond the first week. I will also be withholding grades for assignments you submit. Jill has been informed of my decision to join the strike, and will manage class accordingly.
Striking is a sacrifice for everyone. The hope is that the coming days and weeks of disruption will be a short-term pain point in comparison to the fair, equitable contracts that we can win for tens of thousands of student workers both now and for years to come. An unprecedented moment like this may not come again in our educational careers. Let's be amongst those who can look back and say we helped uplift the cause for student workers' rights in this country rather than be those who remained on the sidelines.
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