Celebrating 10 years of the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation

Celebrating 10 years of the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation

Armaan Bhatia, Admissions Fellow at Chicago Booth had the opportunity to interview Caroline Grossman, Executive Director and Adjunct Associate Professor of Strategy, at Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation

What has been the vision of the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation?

The vision of the Rustandy Center has been focused on two areas – 1) develop, educate, and support Booth students and alumni interested in social sector impact and 2) support and nurture social impact research by Booth and other faculty. Both goals were critical to the vision. Supporting students in their social impact journey was important but it was also important to have research and discussions around social impact issues and to engage with local communities. Along with supporting students, alumni, and faculty, we also have programs that are community-facing, such as the IGNITE program through the Golub Capital Social Impact Lab

How has this vision evolved over the last 10 years?

Over the last 10 years, the Rustandy Center has been an integral part of the University of Chicago Booth’s social impact and entrepreneurship ecosystem. 10 years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine how deeply it would be embedded within the Chicago Booth DNA. It has evolved into a social sector innovation hub, connecting students, faculty, alumni, and the community as they explore different ways to find solutions to some very complex problems. The center started by supporting social entrepreneurship, nonprofit board service, and research and has now grown to include resources related to impact investing/ESG, civic impact, corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, sustainability, and much more. We have stayed true to being practical and collaborative. We invite business leaders to Chicago Booth to talk about best practices in social impact. For example, we recently had the CEO of Kraft Heinz, Miguel Patricio talk to students about the opportunities and challenges of sustainability at Kraft Heinz. We had three CEOs – Discover’s Roger Hochschild, ComEd’s Gil Quiniones, and Illinois Tool Works’ E. Scott Santi – on a panel to talk about being anchor institutions in economically underprivileged communities. 

What are the key milestones that you think it has achieved and could you please elaborate on them?

  • The John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC): The SNVC awards more than $150,000 annually and has helped launch 150+ startups and nonprofits that have raised $165M+ since 2011. Notable alumni include BallotReady, LuminAid, and JusticeText.
  • Supporting social impact scholarship programs: We continue to engage with students and the community through our Chicago Booth’s Civic Scholars Program and UChicago Obama Scholars program. These programs allow us to invest in some of the brightest, most innovative, passionate young people at the University who are dedicated to positive social change.
  • Introducing new initiatives: We introduced the Golub Capital Social Impact Lab’s unique IGNITE program for leadership teams of nonprofit organizations serving the Black community in Chicago. We also launched the ‘Innovating for Social Equity’ and ‘Unpacking ESG’ series which help us understand complex issues better and spark conversations and ideas. In 2020, we also partnered with Harvard Business School and Wharton to build the Impact Finance Database, the world’s most comprehensive database on impact investing. Through this partnership, we aim to continue our academic research on impact investing based on rigorously designed surveys, and thorough analysis of the documents provided by the funds (including financial statements, term sheets, impact reports, etc.).

What does the 10th year anniversary mean for the center? Where does the Rustandy Center see itself in the future?

Celebrating our 10th anniversary at the same time that Chicago Booth celebrates its 125th anniversary is magical. We have seen growth in the number of students who want to engage with us, reflecting the growing attention given to social and environmental issues. Compared to a decade ago, ESG issues are on every CEO’s radar, reflecting an enormous shift in how these issues were perceived. Not everyone who graduates from Booth will work directly in social impact, but they will have opportunities to influence this ecosystem. We hope that we have raised awareness of issues that are critical to communities worldwide, and sparked ideas on how any business can support social impact.

How has the interaction between students, staff members at the Rustandy Center, and professors enhanced the impact on the community? What impact has the Rustandy Center had on UChicago and the Chicago community?

The Rustandy Center truly is a social impact hub. We are issue agnostic which provides tremendous flexibility to meet the evolving social impact interests of students and faculty. We work to create programming that helps students use their MBA toolkit to have an impact on the issues that they are passionate about. Today, students are interested in a broad range of social impact-related areas such as impact finance, civic engagement, sustainability, and more. Chicago Booth’s social impact community is growing, and we think that is in part because of the role we play as a hub for this broad umbrella.

When you look at several of our flagship programs, you see the impact on the community – our Alumni Board Connect program has placed 200+ Chicago Booth alumni on local nonprofit boards. The Net Impact Board Fellows program has served 150+ nonprofits. The launch of our Civic Chicago programming came from a desire for students to learn how to be good community partners and how to learn from and within the neighboring communities.

 It is also worth highlighting how important the Chicago community is to us – from partner organizations for research and programming to speakers at our events, course sponsors, and more. If you think about community as the wider society that we live in, our approach emphasizes real-world experience. In the classroom, we complement the MBA curriculum by bringing in social impact issues. For example, in my class, the Corporate Social Responsibility Social Impact Practicum, the students always work with an external firm on a strategic question of corporate responsibility. Students have worked with Mondelez, Vanguard, and AB InBev in recent classes. Professor Rob Gertner, faculty director at the Rustandy Center, teaches a Perspectives on Capitalism class, which brings in a variety of guest speakers and leads to thoughtful discussions on the role of business in society.

What are the various ways in which current students can engage with the Rustandy Center at Booth?

Students have numerous opportunities to engage with us. Academically, we have social impact courses for students to gain hands-on experience. There are opportunities for students to pursue social entrepreneurship via the University of Chicago Obama Foundation Scholars Program, the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge, and the Tarrson Social Impact Fellowship. We have had students play an active role as impact investors and nonprofit board members via the Steven Tarrson Impact Investment Fund and the Net Impact Board Fellows Program. We provide Civic Scholars scholarships to incoming students committed to social impact after graduating. With career services and the Polsky Center, we support internship opportunities via the Community Catalyst Fund, Entrepreneurial Internship Program, and Venture Capital Fund. We support students at competitions in areas such as impact investing and the energy sector. We also support the work of several student groups including Net Impact, Booth Impact Investing, Business & Sustainability, Booth Social Impact, Booth Ed, and Giving Something Back. Lastly, staying true to our academic roots, the center offers social impact thought leadership – we host events globally, offering insights from leading experts, including our recent series on Innovating for Social Equity, Unpacking ESG, and Perspectives on Sustainability. These are great opportunities for students to hear directly from leaders in business, government, academia, nonprofits, and more.

Student spotlight – Carlos Calderon, Co-Chair of the Net Impact Club

One of the main reasons I chose to attend Booth was due to the social impact resources offered by the Rustandy Center, and it surpassed my expectations. From day one, I had the pleasure of interacting with various members of the Rustandy Center, including Wai-Sinn, Chris, Ali, Caroline, and Will, who shared valuable insights into the social impact space and the different ways in which students could get involved through the university. As a co-chair of the Net Impact Club at the university, I had the opportunity to work with the Rustandy Center on several activities, including the Board Fellows program. This program allows students to act as non-voting members of a non-profit board and to develop a consulting project to address one of the non-profit’s biggest challenges.

Looking back on the Rustandy Center’s 10-year journey, I am truly amazed by the impact it has had on students, the university, and the Chicago community. The Rustandy Center has helped to foster a culture of social responsibility among students and has given a space at Booth for professionals with an interest in impact investing, impact consulting, social entrepreneurship, and non-profits management, and I can’t wait to see what impact it will generate in the next 10 years. Congratulations to the Rustandy Center on this incredible milestone!