Capitalizing on their shared passion for making a difference, the students in the first cohort of the USC Marshall School of Business' Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship program—the first of its kind at a U.S. business school—are primed to exert more effective efforts against a variety of social issues, including poverty, equal access to education, affordable health care, to name just a few.
Based in the USC Marshall School of Business' Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab, led by founding director Adlai Wertman, professor of clinical entrepreneurship, the MSSE offers students a solid business foundation to create lasting social change, with a curriculum that includes an exploration of the field of social enterprise and practice in feasibility analysis, impact investing, cause-related marketing, environmental sustainability and global social impact.
As the spring semester begins, meet a few of the program’s extraordinary cohort:
Inspiring and Transforming Communities
Alfonso Trujillo believes in the power of hope—and that solid business fundamentals can best drive the organizations that help people reach it. “I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things if they are given the opportunity,” Trujillo said. “And that opportunity presents itself through the people you encounter and the relationships you develop thereafter.”
Trujillo is director of property management in the housing and economic development division for the Cesar Chavez Foundation. His parents' work ethic fueled his drive to make a better life for himself, he said. He paid his own way through college, earning a bachelor of science in business administration at Cal Poly Pomona.
“A senior real estate leader saw potential in me. He became a great mentor for my professional and personal life, and guided me in the right direction toward post-secondary education and career success,” Trujillo said. “My goal is to instill this determination in others.”
The MSSE degree is the next step in Trujillo's quest to inspire and transform underserved communities. “A degree in social entrepreneurship will help me continue to understand the societal impact of my work while enriching my overall business skills.”
“There is a misconception in the nonprofit world that everything is a hand-out, but that’s not true,” said Trujillo. “Nonprofits need to operate like a for-profit business in order to be successful and sustainable and financially viable for years to come. This mindset is one that I had to work hard to successfully change in my staff's work philosophy.”
“I look forward to learning more about the development and management of effective social enterprises in the MSSE program,” Trujillo said, “because I believe generating supportable profit is essential in continuing and expanding Cesar Chavez's legacy.”
Ex-Wall Streeter Learns Social Enterprise Skills
With an MBA from the University of Texas and years of experience on Wall Street, Libby Jacobson felt at home with analytics, forecasting and PowerPoint decks. But her new role as a stay-at-home mom and volunteer, proved to be unfamiliar territory.
“So many of the charitable things people try to do just aren’t going to work,” she said. “There is a lot of inefficiency.”
When her husband, a USC Marshall alumnus, shared news of an innovative new degree program, the Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship, Jacobson was inspired, and a conversation with Adlai Wertman sealed her path.
“I was dead sure I wanted to do this,” she said.
One semester in and she is already applying knowledge from her classes to her ongoing work at the Emily Shane Foundation in Malibu, which pairs learning-impaired middle-school kids with college-age mentors.
“Right now we’re trying to deal with our growth before we expand any more,” she said. “I have begun to think about the organization in a different way: We can’t get bigger until we know it’s sustainable.”
Ultimately, Jacobson is not sure where her MSSE degree will take her, but she is sure those directions will be fulfilling. “I think it will be wherever I see need,” she said. “I’ll go where I can help.”
Meanwhile, she is savoring her return to school and her interactions with her cohort. “While we have an incredible curriculum and outstanding professors, I have learned the most from my classmates," she said.
She has selected the part-time, two-year option and enjoys running into her son, a junior at USC Marshall. “I want to take a mindful approach, digest it all and think it through. I’m doing this for the journey.”
Improving Early Mental Health Detection for Kids
Danielle Ballard, assistant director of the Master of Public Health program at Keck School of Medicine of USC, has a big idea.
“I hope to develop an organization focused on improving the mental health delivery system in early education in Los Angeles which, if successful, will be reproduced throughout California and, more widely, throughout the United States,” she said.
Although the goal is ambitious, Ballard, who grew up in a family touched by the mental illness of some members, is not deterred.
“While my education in public health gave me the tools necessary to understand how to help others from a health perspective, I believe that an MSSE will give me the tools to effectively build viable organizations aimed at helping people on a larger scale,” she said.
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University, Long Beach, as well as a Master of Public Health degree from Keck, Ballard said she was looking forward to learning business fundamentals such as management and accounting principles. Courses such as Cases in New Venture Management and Investing in Impact Ventures round out her public health expertise.
But there is more to the MSSE than just coursework, as Ballard—both a USC alumna and a staff member—well knows. Access to the 340,000 alumni that make up the extended Trojan Family means she will not be alone on her quest to create change in the mental health delivery system.
“The mentors I have had access to at USC, both as a public health graduate student in the Keck School of Medicine and as a MSSE student in the Marshall School of Business, have demonstrated great influence in my professional life and inspire me to be greater each and every day.”
Former Dancer Wants to Build Sustainable Arts Organizations
Maggie McEldowney likes to innovate from within. A classically trained ballerina who holds a BFA from the New School University in New York City, she discovered wider artistic opportunities within contemporary ballet, and didn’t look back.
“The MSSE program attracted me because I am interested in becoming a social intrapreneur—helping existing nonprofit organizations to become more sustainable through business,” McEldowney said. “My initial goals are focused on improving arts education initiatives within existing nonprofits.”
McEldowney worked in educational outreach for six years at the American Ballet Theatre, and worked to introduce students in underserved communities to ballet. “I toured with and mentored ABT's Studio Company, managed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and summer intensives,” she said. She later relocated to Los Angeles, and now works at the Colburn School, a performing arts school in downtown Los Angeles.
Although as a dancer she is accustomed to criticism and hard work, McEldowney said the concept of learning hard business skills, such as accounting, tested her confidence. ”My past education and experience has not provided me with a strong grasp of accounting principles,” she said. But she knows that art cannot thrive without a strong business foundation. So she has approached the numbers challenge as she would any complicated choreography: One step at a time.
McEldowney knows that the MSSE program will reveal new opportunities, but her heart is definitely in education. “Providing new and exciting opportunities for youngsters and watching them thrive has always been the best part of my work,” she said.