The Surprising Complexity of Doing Good

race togetherEarly in my career, I served as an Admissions Officer at my Alma Mater, Vassar College. I was deeply passionate about my work recruiting and assessing admissions decision for the school. Going to Vassar had changed my life. It was an incredible case of serendipity that got me there – and it created opportunities that were life altering and cycle-breaking for me and my family. My mother had been hesitant to even let me apply because she couldn’t fathom paying for a private school. She did let me apply, though, and through a generous financial aid package, I was able to attend.

As an Admissions Officer, I had a personal mission for doing good and I took this very seriously. I aimed to visit as many schools as I could that had students like me – hard working, smart, poor kids who had no idea that a place like Vassar was within reach.  I was assigned an oddly gerrymandered territory – New York City, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. As a product of NYC public schools, I understood the NYC ecosystem well and knew where to go to find students I hoped to bring to Vassar.

I also felt certain that I understood the best way to fulfill my mission outside of New York. I had studied Native American history in college, and have a little bit of Native American heritage. A few years out of college, I was still seething at the injustices suffered by Native Americans and the long odds they face in achieving economic mobility in the US. My response was to create a Vassar recruiting program for Native American students starting in the Pacific Northwest.

The statistics on educational and economic achievement among Native Americans were (and still are) catastrophic. I was certain that I could be a force for good. I just needed to tell my own story, of how a poor kid who felt Vassar was out of reach, had a world of opportunity opened for him. I shared my plan with my boss, Vassar’s Director of Admissions. He shot it down immediately. Continue reading


Was the Walmart Pay Raise Real Leadership?

Walmart made waves last week announcing  pay increases for their workers. The Wall Street Journal cast this as a pure labor market move – prompted by an increasingly competitive environment for retail workers. Walmart, of course, promoted this as a double-bottom line move that reflects the needs of their workers as well as something they need to do to remain competitive.


So, which was it?.

This shift provides an interesting lens through which to explore what leadership really is, and what meets the test for different types of leadership.

What is effective business leadership when you run one of the largest employers of low wage workers in the world and serve primary segments that are low and moderate income?

What is moral leadership in this context?

Can the two intersect when groups of large shareholders might believe a wage hike to be a violation of managers being fiduciaries? (It’s notable that WMT’s share price took a hit right after this was announced).

I actually believe it was an authentic expression of both effective business leadership and moral leadership. Walmart has taken a beating from the left for years because of the way it treats workers – and rightly so. They have traditionally paid very poorly, and have had a business model with incredibly high attrition rates for workers – signalling that they have a view of their workforce as heavily commodified, perhaps at the expense of being as humane as needed.

To me, the pay increase is a signal of an authentic shift. I believe this for three primary reasons: Continue reading

Eric Abrams joins 826 Valencia’s Board of Directors


eric abrams

Eric Abrams, Directory of Diversity Initiatives at Haas
Board Member, 826 Valencia, San Francisco, CA
Board Member, Making Waves Academy, Richmond, CA

Eric Abrams is a familiar face around Haas, having joined the School in 2012 as the Director of Diversity Initiatives.  Eric interacts comfortably with all of his Haas partners – staff, faculty, and students – and it was in one of these interactions with Amy Chou, MBA ‘16 and Berkeley Board Fellow at 826 Valencia, that led to Eric’s election as Member to 826 Valencia’s Board of Directors in January.

It was a casual hallway conversation; Amy shared with Eric that she was a Berkeley Board Fellow for 826 Valencia.  Eric welcomed an opportunity to get involved with the group, and after Amy made an introduction to the Executive Director, Eric toured the office and observed a board meeting indicating an interest to be on the board.  At the following board meeting, Eric was voted in.  The Haas network at work! Continue reading

Ben Mangan to Lead the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership

Ben Mangan

By Nora Silver, Faculty Director

“We commit to take action.”
That’s the title on the certificate Ben Mangan is holding as he stands beside Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2013 (pictured below).

Ben brings that promise of action to his new role as the 2nd executive director of the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley.  He was chosen from among an exceptionally strong candidate pool. Exciting ideas Ben brings to the Center include:

  • democratizing social entrepreneurship by providing access to Center resources for budding, but still unknown, social entrepreneurs around the globe
  • becoming a regular destination for top talent – inviting visiting fellows from industry to teach and learn with students
  • applying lean launch principles to social start-ups
  • offering groundbreaking social impact convenings and executive education

Continue reading