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Ten Years of Social Good for Marshall Master’s Program

Ten Years of Social Good for Marshall Master’s Program

The MSSE Gala celebrates tenth anniversary of the program and honors impact of its alumni entrepreneurs.

Laura Hertz speaking at the MSSE Gala

Laura Hertz accepts the MSSE Impact of the Decade Award.

[USC Photo]

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Marshall students, alumni, faculty, and staff gathered in downtown Los Angeles this past May to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Marshall’s Master of Science in Social Entrepreneurship (MSSE) program.

Opening the gala, Dr. Jill Kickul, former academic director of the MSSE program, said, “Social entrepreneurship is not always about starting and launching. It is so much about that mindset: resilience, courage, innovation, and creativity. It’s about how we launch and how we contribute to existing organizations regarding how they make and effect change in the world.”

The MSSE program was launched in 2014, following the 2008 founding of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab. It was the first of its kind to address social entrepreneurship and social impact from within a business school, emphasizing the juxtaposition of concrete business skills with global impact.

The gala debuted the MSSE Impact of the Decade Award. Alumni organizations were vetted based on commitment to ethics, creativity, measurable impact, and the ability to show resilience against challenges. This year’s award was presented by Libby Jacobson, a graduate of MSSE’s first cohort and board member for Downtown Women’s Center and Swipe Out Hunger. The 2024 recipients were Laura Hertz, MSSE ’16 and co-founder of Gifts for Good, and Alejandra Revueltas, MSSE ’17, a senior portfolio officer at impact investing firm Deetken Impact.

Hertz said the early stages of Gifts for Good were developed during her Marshall coursework. The concept — a corporate gifting company that could reduce waste and enhance global impact through gift-giving — was originally presented as part of a class project for Associate Professor of Clinical Management and Organization Christine El Haddad’s course on business strategy. Products sold on Gifts for Good’s website support the work of 80 nonprofits and social enterprises in 50 states and 72 countries around the globe.

“Every single thing that [Gifts for Good] do is a result of this program,” Hertz said. “Professors taught me what it means to create impact across the world. You learn so much from your classmates.”

Every single thing that [Gifts for Good] do is a result of this program.

— Laura Hertz

MSSE ’16 / Co-Founder, Gifts for Good

In just over a decade, the MSSE program has produced dozens of successful social enterprises and catapulted students into high-impact leadership roles at existing firms. New initiatives such as the MSSE Legacy Mentorship program, launched by the MSSE Student Association this past spring, have also provided students with access to career professionals to help refine business ideas and plan their post-graduate trajectories.

Kickul called founder Adlai Wertman “a visionary leader who saw this as an opportunity to consider how we use business acumen to influence communities around the world and how we drive social change for all the persistent problems we face in this world.”

Several alumni-founded organizations were honored at the gala, including Beamlink, a tech infrastructure organization aimed at equalizing internet access; FlexTogether, a telehealth practice aimed at increasing access to pulmonary rehabilitation; and Rebundle, a company that uses plant-based, high-quality materials as alternatives to synthetic hair.

Students are doing their part too. MSSE Student Association President for 2023–24 Raymiro Gomez-Galiano said, “Our students have been addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during and following the program. Each product created by their companies have helped promote achievement of at least one SDG.”

The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all UN members detailing 17 key areas to impact by 2030. MSSE alumni have designed products and services to address food insecurity, healthcare access, sustainability, mental health, education, and more.

This summer launched the eleventh MSSE cohort, a group that has demonstrated an increasingly global focus on social impact through for-profit business endeavors.

Kickul reminded the audience that the future of entrepreneurship lies in collaboration.

“How do we work alongside communities? How can we incorporate communities to understand what the problems are and give them the tools and empower them to create changes in ways that are meaningful and lasting?” Kickul said.