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Most Wanted Order at Taco Bell? Social Impact

Most Wanted Order at Taco Bell? Social Impact

Russell Agustin '24 is helping the fast-food behemoth build community engagement one big idea at a time.

Most Wanted Order at Taco Bell? Social Impact
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Russell Agustin’s go-to Taco Bell order includes the buzzy Mexican pizza, two tacos and an order of Nachos BellGrande—all washed down with a Mountain Dew Baja Blast. But lately it’s the inspiring social leadership role the fast-food giant is taking on—and not the deliciously greasy fast-food—that keeps him coming back for more.

Social impact is a defining part of Agustin’s makeup. As a kid, he dreamed of being President of the United States. Five years ago, he started Sole2Soul, a nonprofit geared at repurposing shoes for populations in need. Over time, his work connected him with Ashoka through its Tilt program, and later its youth fellowship program.

Agustin, who is a junior at USC Sol Price School of Policy, is part of USC social impact space Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab (BSEL). He is a participant in two of BSEL’s mentorship and leadership programs: Warren Bennis Scholars and BSEL Undergraduate Social Impact Scholars, and is minoring in social entrepreneurship at USC Marshall School of Business, through BSEL.

“I’ve always looked at my roles and opportunities as skills I can apply elsewhere,” he said.

Taco Bell saw his experience in the same way. Last year, he connected with the fast-food corporation to support its new social impact initiatives: Taco Bell Ambition Accelerator and Taco Bell Internal Incubator. “The ambition accelerator is dedicated to supporting people like me – young entrepreneurs starting their own ventures,” he said. Ambition Accelerator submissions included ideas that touched on mental health, technology, healthcare, youth education and racial equity. Five of the top teams even had the chance to pitch at the Summit this November for a chance to win the grand prize of $25,000, Agustin said.

Meanwhile, the internal incubator focuses inward, asking for the feedback and ideas from Taco Bell employees to amplify the company’s impact on their well-being, Agustin said. “They are revolutionizing how Taco Bell conducts itself internally.”

“I have a lot of experience as an entrepreneur, but I also want to be an intrapreneur. I want to start fires from within companies and change how they do things. Social innovation is the future of business.”

Russell Agustin '24

Revolutionary ideas were surely on display this fall, when Agustin sat among peer changemakers, including Tiana Day—who led the Black Lives Matter protest across the Golden Gate Bridge and is a sophomore at USC Iovine and Young Academy—and Gary Hamel—a leading business strategist—on a panel of judges for Taco Bell’s Internal Incubator. Teams were tasked with developing and presenting ideas that would broadly help the organization improve work satisfaction and standards, while benefiting Taco Bell employees through education and other empowerment and support initiatives.

Over 70 teams submitted ideas. The team of judges, which also included Tess Melody Taylor, Fernando Claussen, Tim Bergevin and Mike Grams, reviewed the final four ideas and selected a winning proposal, which Agustin said will be implemented in the next fiscal year. He will be part of a steering committee tasked with supporting the team to come up with an official plan and strategy for how to execute their idea.

Agustin hopes to continue building off of his own mentorship experiences to galvanize change in different spaces. “From the guidance of the Warren Bennis Scholars Program and BSEL Undergraduate Social Impact Scholars—it’s all contributed to my own emphasis on solidifying roles that enact change,” Agustin said. “This is how I see my work with Taco Bell. It is an industry behemoth. We can’t change inequity caused in the past, but we can change what they do in the future.

Despite early visions that he had to start new organizations to create change, over time Agustin learned there are myriad ways to impact the future of our society. One of these ways is through the world of business. Working with organizations like Taco Bell or T-Mobile, he has explored partnership with traditional organizations searching for new directions—a path he wants to continue into the foreseeable future.

“I have a lot of experience as an entrepreneur, but I also want to be an intrapreneur. I want to start fires from within companies and change how they do things,” he said. “Social innovation is the future of business.”