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Newsletter: The Real Business of Good

Sep 15, 2010 7:52:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

The most effective non-profit organizations are learning to combine mission with business disciplines. [more]

In 2005, for reasons I still am not clear on, I entered the Fisher School of Business at Ohio State to earn a Masters in Business Administration. I had eked out a Political Science B.A. from Ohio State in 1975 so to say the least it was a stretch age-wise and intellectually.

In the first class on my first day, the professor said something I’ll never forget:

“Government, religious groups and non-profits have done the best they can in curing the world’s chronic social problems over the last 50 years and it’s still not getting done. It’s time that business stands up and takes on a more active and collaborative role. If we’re not a part of the solution, we are a part of the problem.”

I enrolled in business school at an advanced age figuring I’d be learning only cold, hard facts. But during my time there, I was taught ethics and leadership and social responsibility in addition to accounting and finance and economics.

Close to graduation, I told Director Carol Newcomb and Academic Dean Leslie Fine that some money may be coming into our foundation and I’d like to provide something to the school in thanks for opening my eyes to such a thing as “social business.”

They didn’t hesitate. They immediately said, “We’ve always wanted to have a non-profit scholarship. That is, bring a non-profit executive who would gain their MBA free and then use that knowledge to sustain and expand the work of their mission. We also believe that scholar would make an impression on the for-profit students in their cohort.”

And so we formed The Business of Good Scholarship.

One purpose of this article is to ask you to help us recruit this year’s scholar. Our first two scholars have been from Central Ohio; we would be pleased if this year’s scholar could be recruited from Northeast Ohio. To date, we have no Cleveland area applicants and time is running out. The deadline to apply is September 20th.

The other purpose of this article is to tell you about our first TBOG scholar, Ellen Williams, who graduated this past June. She is an ideal example of accomplishing the mission Carol and Leslie envisioned. She also represents what I’d call the real business of good.

Ellen is the Director of Youth and Family Services for Godman Guild Association, a non-profit in Columbus, Ohio,. www.godmanguild.org.

The Guild is a 112 year old community-based organization located in the Weinland Park neighborhood of Columbus, near the university. Five of ten families in Weinland Park live below the poverty line, six of ten children do. By the end of 2008, one of four houses had been foreclosed on and now more than 20% of the neighborhood’s homes are vacant.

The BMWs heading home on N. 4th Street out of downtown don’t slow down as they go through Weinland Park. However, each day Ellen drives into the heart of Weinland Park ready for another day of offering life changing opportunities to youth and adults not only from Weinland Park, but also from all over Central Ohio.

One part of the Guild takes on the never-ending task of helping unemployed neighbors get jobs through assisting in GED preparation, job training, and employer contacts. Ellen’s area targets their children to help increase their basic skills in reading and math, develop social skills and the self-discipline to avoid repeating the poverty cycle of their parents and grandparents.

And that’s where the rubber meets the road.

See, Ellen is an optimist but by no means a wide-eyed bleeding heart.

She’s been there/done that herself.

She raised her kids - mostly as a single mom while taking many years to complete the undergraduate degree that got her the job at the Guild. Years later, she heard of the opportunity to get an MBA. She applied and was selected from over 50 applicants.

Early on, I asked her “why business?” She said, “I’m open to anything that might help us break the cycle. We have to figure out a better way to sustain programs and services that are in such high demand by the community.”.

In her first months, she’d move silently in and out of her Fisher classes worried that a non-profit person would never survive among the business “quant jocks.”

Quickly, her attitude changed as she learned to enjoy and compete in her team.

Then she was sending me business plans that she developed with her MBA colleagues to present to Godman Guild’s leadership. By graduation, Professor Fine tells me, she was one of the class’s most respected members.

The moral of the story is that a woman who fights poverty on the front lines every day now has an MBA. Ellen’s proud of that and so are we.

Alice and I have visited with her Mom a few times, who happens to be one of the first women of color to integrate the Columbus City School system back in the 1950’s. We learned in those chats where Ellen got her spunk.

Among many programs Godman Guild does is a teen summer work program. This year, they got hundreds of kids off the street and into local businesses for the summer.

My son’s company participated and after attending their awards ceremony last week he told me, “It was an inspiration to see our operators sitting with kids that may have thought they didn’t have a chance.” That’s a nice collaboration:

Newly minted MBA Ellen finds them and takes them off the street.

Good businesses like Raising Cane’s gives them a chance.

These young people take advantage of the opportunity.

If you can help us find 2011-2012 scholar applicants from Northeast Ohio, please contact Mara McKee at 614-688-5840 or at mckee_136@fisher.osu.edu. She has all the info and would be delighted to fill you (or your candidate) in.

Tags: Newsletter, Social Business, Discipline

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

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