Nicole Ballin, MBA 10
Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer of UpEnergy
“My choice to be involved in social impact was less about choosing a career path and more about being true to who I am as a person and the things that I am most passionate about.”
My role in fighting global poverty:
As the co-founder and COO of UpEnergy, I’m responsible for day-to-day operations of the business, as well as project implementation of our flagship carbon cookstove distribution project in Uganda. UpEnergy, a social enterprise based in San Francisco, fights poverty, improves health, and protects forests by making clean energy technologies available to more people in the developing world. UpEnergy provides affordable products such as efficient cookstoves, water purification technologies, and solar lights to impoverished and rural communities in East Africa and Central America. Prior to UpEnergy, I worked in finance focusing on operations and business management roles at UBS and Deutsche Bank before transitioning to Microfinance.
About choosing a finance career with a social enterprise:
I’ve always been a “grass-is-greener” kind of girl – always preoccupied with what I could be doing versus what I’m actually working on. The beauty of doing something that you believe in and enjoy is that your career path starts to feel more like a journey and less like an unreachable, greener destination. At UpEnergy I am challenged every day by the complexity of delivering returns to our investors while delivering affordable and high-quality products to the bottom-of-the-pyramid market. I started my career in finance and, like so many others before me, couldn’t find enough personal meaning in my work. I broke away to attend Haas and I’m so glad that I did. The grass is definitely greener where I am now in my career. While at Haas, I co-founded Refill Revolution, a Facebook app that uses gaming principles to encourage sustainable behavior. That experience got me hooked on the social enterprise sector! Refill Revolution has since been acquired by True2O in 2012 and I now serve on their Board of Advisors. I also volunteer through the Center as an alumni mentor for MBAs hoping to start socially-focused careers.
What role do you think MBAs can play in solving larger social issues?
I believe that markets can provide a powerful incentive to affect change at a large scale. Today’s organizations need stewards that align market success with achieving social and environmental impact. Is that the role of an MBA? Probably not exclusively, but it’s a powerful message when the MBA hired to “crunch the numbers” can demonstrate that doing what’s right for shareholders is also what’s right for the world. As MBAs we like to think there is a formula for being successful: high profile companies + high profile education = success. I say don’t be afraid to take chances with your career. The reality is that opportunity comes knocking in all shapes and sizes. The best thing you can do is be open-minded and prepared to take advantage of each path as it’s revealed to you.