Alumna Takes Over Pioneering Social Entrepreneurship Class

By John Crawford

Because Babson alumni have far-reaching experience in social entrepreneurship, the College has been tapping them to teach classes.

Jim Poss, MBA ’03, teaches Environmental Entrepreneurship. He is the founder, CEO, and president of BigBelly Solar, which sells solar-powered trash compacters.

Jay Friedlander, MBA ’97, teaches 21st Century Entrepreneurship. He is the former vice president and COO of O’Naturals Inc., a natural and organic fast-food restaurant chain, and is the Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business at College of the Atlantic.

Asheen Phansey, MBA ’08, teaches Sustainable Entrepreneurship Inspired by Nature, which examines nature to draw inspiration for solving human problems. He is the president of Quaking Aspen LLC, which provides sustainable innovation consulting services.

Mark Donohue ’88 is the College’s Clean Technology Entrepreneur in Residence. He is the founder and chairman emeritus of Expansion Capital Partners LLC, which specializes in venture capital investment in clean technology businesses.

Add to this list Julie Zack, MBA ’03. She is stepping into the big shoes of Professor Emeritus Natalie Taylor, a woman Associate Professor Heidi Neck describes as the “founding mother of social entrepreneurship.” More than a decade ago, Taylor developed and taught the College’s first social entrepreneurship course.

As Taylor was preparing to retire, she asked Zack if she was interested in teaching the groundbreaking class. The two of them taught Social Entrepreneurship together last summer, and in the fall, Zack took it over by herself. “I was honored she would think of me,” Zack says. “She was a big mentor for me.”

When not teaching, Zack is the associate director and a senior consultant with Root Cause. The Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit assists social venture innovators and investors so that they, in turn, can have an impact on societal problems. Root Cause provides business planning and implementation, develops leaders, and creates networks uniting the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.

“I have always been drawn to working with people and addressing issues,” Zack says. Early in her career, she dealt directly with people in need on the ground level. In Washington, D.C., as an undergraduate, she tutored and taught underserved children. In St. Louis, she helped start a health and social service program for adolescents with HIV. In Boston, she was director of an after-school program that served some 40 to 50 public school children.

That last experience taught her about the challenges of managing and sustaining a program. “I was very young,” Zack says. Her staff was as well, and they had a lot of responsibility. “Unfortunately, the executive leadership of our organization changed several times,” she says. “There were competing priorities and no financial sustainability strategy in place. When the grant money ran out, we had to shut down the program, even though we were growing and having a positive impact.”

Frustrated and disappointed, Zack remembers wondering, “There has to be a better way to do this.” Her thoughts turned to earning an MBA, something she had been contemplating for a while. The social worker wanted to understand how the business world operates, to gain a different perspective and a big-picture view of her work.

So she came to Babson, where she enjoyed the entrepreneurial spirit of her fellow students. They were confident and optimistic. They dreamed up ideas and weren’t afraid to take a shot at making them reality. “It was great to be in that atmosphere,” Zack says.

Now she’s back at Babson, this time as a lecturer of a course she once took herself. In the classroom, Zack’s mission is to look at how entrepreneurial thinking can address social issues. She makes her students think concretely and strategically about problems and how to solve them. Spend time in her class, and you can see students asking questions, reasoning, and pondering what can be.