CASE: In the business of bettering the world

For fifteen years, the program has prepared business leaders who want to make a social impact.
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October 31, 2017

Jonathan Woodward’s passion to change educational opportunities for minorities is taking shape at Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, better known as TROSA, a comprehensive program in Durham that helps people recover from addiction.

Woodward is observing a lesson in how to turn former addicts into productive, recovering individuals. “Their system is interesting,” he says. “They bring folks who struggle with addiction and put them to work so they can heal and create a new life for themselves…. Much of TROSA’s revenue comes from businesses they started. They have a thrift store and a moving company, where people can learn vocational skills and earn money.”

The trip to TROSA is part of Day in Durham, an annual pilgrimage for firstyear M.B.A. students like Woodward who come to the Fuqua School of Business. It’s when students begin to understand how their business skills can be used for social, environmental, and economic impact.

Woodward, a former English and history teacher from South Central Los Angeles, is one of several recipients of Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to individuals with social-sector backgrounds who are looking to acquire business skills for use in their pursuit of social impact.

This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of CASE, an award-winning research and education center based at Fuqua. It was founded by the father of social entrepreneurship education, Greg Dees, and Beth Anderson, a former student of Dees and currently the executive director of the Hill Center, an educational nonprofit that serves students who struggle academically. “CASE has been one of the crown jewels in the business school,” says Fuqua dean Bill Boulding.

Boulding reflected that Greg Dees had a strong belief that businesses that were trying to create a positive social impact could also adhere to the same market standards of excellence. “You don’t need a totally different playbook for social impact. You need a commitment to making a difference in lives through your company,” Boulding says.

“At Fuqua, we strongly believe business can be a force for good and solve tough challenges in society in ways that government or other entities can’t,” says Boulding. “It’s possible to reasonably sustain a business by making it profitable while improving lives. Nonprofits and other social sector organizations can use business principles to achieve greater impact as well.”

Dees, who died in December 2013, knew that people suffering from various ills and conditions in the world needed solutions right away. And he believed that a center like CASE had the power to accelerate the pace of change.

Erin Worsham, CASE’s executive director, says that CASE does just that. The center trains hundreds of students each year through classes and extracurricular activities. And CASE’s work doesn’t stop in the halls of Fuqua. The goal is to make the entire social impact field better.

“We think of ourselves as a hub for research, teaching, and practitioner engagement in social impact,” Worsham says. “Over the years we have educated thousands of students and have also worked with thousands of nonprofits, for-profits, government agencies, funders, impact investors, and researchers to develop and share best practices and tools. We want to empower leaders and organizations to change the world and to do so faster, better, and at greater scale.”

Social entrepreneurs have noticed.

“I don’t think there’s been a more important academic institution for social entrepreneurship than CASE,” says Sally Osberg, president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, which invests in and connects social entrepreneurs and innovators to help them solve the world’s most pressing problems.

“It’s the one people turn to. It’s the one that was actually launched by Greg Dees. And it’s no accident that it’s now coming up on fifteen years, that even when its founder is no longer, sadly, very sadly, here to guide it, that the people he put in place, the people he inspired, the academics who have really flocked to CASE should be ensuring that it’s poised for its next fifteen years, too.

“So, in terms of research, in terms of contributing to this field, in terms of offering both practical and really smart counsel to students, CASE is really the institution that sets the agenda and sets the pace for us all.”

For Loree Lipstein M.B.A. ’15, CASE and Fuqua are interwoven. Lipstein is the founder and principal of Thread Strategies, a fundraising consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., that helps nonprofits and social enterprises raise the funds needed to advance their missions. She assists them with their fundraising, their organizing, and ways to measure their impact to prove to funders their programs work. Their causes include supporting literacy, solving clean-water issues, assisting adults with disabilities, and mentoring children through college.

Lipstein says she was attracted to the general business foundation Fuqua provided, coupled with CASE’s attention to the social sector. CASE’s programs made her keenly aware of the nuances of the social sector. The hands-on learning and start-up support offered through CASE gave her the opportunity to refine and implement her business venture.

“I came from a purely nonprofit background,” Lipstein says. “And I started a for-fee business that works with nonprofits. I am now able to come at it using a business lens. I’m able to use business constructs and strategies to help my clients.”

Over the years, CASE has continued to innovate and expand its work to stay at the cutting edge of social impact. One way CASE has changed is the addition of impact investment— the practice of investing for social and environmental impact as well as financial return—as one of the center’s focus areas. Established in 2011, CASE founded the globally recognized Initiative on Impact Investing (CASE i3), which includes a two-year student fellowship program, research partnerships, and innovative tools such as CASE Smart Impact Capital, an online toolkit for entrepreneurs seeking impact investment.

CASE has also led efforts such as the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD), a global-health scaling accelerator, funded by USAID. The ventures raised more than $56 million and improved health outcomes for more than 30 million beneficiaries during their time in the SEAD program.

After his Day in Durham visit, M.B.A. student Woodward wonders out loud about running a high-quality teacher- placement service that would match school districts with the right teacher for their environment. Or maybe bring in master teachers to train new hires.

Before enrolling at Fuqua, he worked in various positions in education from program management for a national teacher policy-advocacy group (Teach Plus) to talent acquisition at the largest charter-school network in Los Angeles (Alliance College-Ready Public Schools). He wants to help organizations in the urban- education sector create more sustainable business models and talent-management practices.

“I want to make changes so that students have access to high-quality education,” he says. Woodward says that education nonprofits depend heavily on state grants and wealthy contributors. “I like the idea of creating an organization that can sustain itself, like TROSA.”

He’s just at the start of his CASE journey, but he’s sure his coursework and experiential-learning opportunities with CASE will guide him in implementing best practices.

“The thing I know above anything else is I want to make a social impact,” says Woodward.