RockCreek Founder Afsaneh Beschloss on the long-term value of impact investing

photo of Afseneh Beschloss
Afsaneh Beschloss

In a recent Dean’s Speaker Series talk, RockCreek founder and CEO Afsaneh Beschloss weighed in on the long-term goals of ESG and impact investing and how her firm allocates capital to diverse asset managers and underrepresented founders.

Global investment firm RockCreek holds $15 billion in assets to invest in a diverse portfolio that  integrates sustainability and inclusivity. “I like to call (our investment strategy) air, land, and water, because a lot of what we have all worked on traditionally is energy on land and food and agriculture,” she said during a fireside chat with Dean Ann Harrison. “But there’s also a lot going on with aviation fuels and, as we speak, we’re doing some early investments on alternatives to aviation fuels.”

Before starting RockCreek in 2003, Beschloss worked in economic development at the World Bank, where she rose to become treasurer and Chief Investment Officer. (Along the way, she met Michele de Nevers, the executive director of Sustainability Programs at Haas. Dean Harrison also worked as an economist at the World Bank.)

During her early career, Beschloss shifted focus from health to the energy sector, leveraging private sector investment as her group worked on projects to move countries away from coal to natural gas. As solar and wind technology started to develop, the World Bank began pioneering investing in these areas. “We got special grants from the Nordic countries to work on this in a number of countries that were well-suited for doing solar and wind,” she said. “And it was really quite spectacular to be investing in Latin America, in Africa, and in Asia in these cleaner forms of energy in the early days and doing environmental studies.”

Watch the video to learn how Beschloss’ early impact investments shape RockCreek’s investment strategy today. The event was co-sponsored by the Sustainable and Impact Finance Initiative at Haas.

Alum Victor Santiago Pineda, director of UC Berkeley’s Inclusive Cities Lab, on making the future accessible

Victor Santiago Pineda
Victor Santiago Pineda (right) at UN headquarters in New York with Cornelia Henriksson, policy officer for the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2019.

For urban development expert Victor Santiago Pineda, BS 03, no other legislation has altered the face of our nation as much as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

With the United Nations estimating that two-thirds of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050, cities like New York, Rio de Janeiro, and Dubai have sought Pineda’s input on how to redesign their physical and digital landscapes.

We spoke with Pineda, who also holds a master’s degree in city planning from UC Berkeley and a PhD in urban planning from UCLA, about the ADA, his lifelong mission to build cities for all, and what the Haas community can do to help. He directs UC Berkeley’s Inclusive Cities Lab and is the founder and president of World Enabled, a global education, communications, a strategic consulting firm.

As a leader in the disability community, how do you view the ADA’s legacy?

I stopped walking when I was seven years old, and by the time the ADA passed, I was using a ventilator to help me breathe. The ADA made sure that I was not “confined” to my wheelchair, but rather empowered by it. Beyond changes to our physical infrastructure, the law ushered in a paradigm shift in attitudes toward people with disabilities. This law also inspired over 180 countries around the world to follow our leadership. Today, we have a generation of leaders who expect the future to be accessible.

For companies, was that realization universal?

There are companies, like Microsoft, Accenture, and Google that recognized early on that the ADA is not something that hampers business, but rather transforms it. Others learned this the hard way. Netflix, for example, took its opposition to closed captions in its programming all the way to the Supreme Court and lost. Then, once they added captions, their sales went through the roof. Their shows became more accessible to more people. It’s a great example of how the ADA, instead of seeing it as a compliance issue, has been a source of innovation and a driver of growth.

Are laws enough to ensure cities are accessible?

To build cities and communities that are equitable, you need more than laws mandating wheelchair ramps. There is a broad spectrum of unmet needs inherent to the human condition, including aging and psycho-social disabilities, that have to be considered. Sixty percent of urban planning experts say that even the most innovative cities are failing persons with disabilities. Consider that 96% of ongoing digital development projects worldwide do not even mention people with disabilities.

How can this be addressed?

I have five criteria for making cities accessible. The first is about laws at every level of government and what they say about building accessibility into city services or the technologies that cities use. The second is about leadership: Are city leaders talking about these issues and using their budgets to identify barriers and remove them?

The third area, which is critical, is about institutional capacity. You need a cross-agency approach. For example, do all 56 agencies in New York City’s government understand what digital accessibility is? My fourth criterion is about participation and representation. Are you only talking to people who use wheelchairs about how to build an accessible smart city, or are you also asking people with dementia?

Finally, we need to change attitudes. We continue to have a divergent set of implicit biases around race, gender, and something called ‘ableism.’ We’ve inherited a public infrastructure that is ableist by design—meaning that, even with the ADA, it still gives preferences to people who can open doors, climb stairs, run around. Now, because of COVID-19, many more people are experiencing how it feels to have barriers and restrictions placed on how they access public spaces and services, so there is a greater appreciation for the challenges persons with disabilities have long experienced.

Your work on urban development is jaw-dropping in its scope. Let’s focus on your most recent initiative, Cities4All. What is it about?

The Cities4All Initiative is hosted at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Urban and Regional Development (IURD). We are building a global Knowledge Hub for Inclusive and Accessible Cities. The Knowledge Hub identifies and scales up best practices for transforming 100 cities worldwide to be more inclusive, accessible, and resilient by 2050. Our plan is to develop new data partnerships to monitor and evaluate inclusion in cities by creating a dashboard to better assess areas for improvement. Thirty cities, including Abu Dhabi, Helsinki, Berlin, Chicago, and Amman, have signed on to the campaign. Now they are asking for support in building capacity for their staff. They want training, tools, and technology, and we are partnering with business leaders from Haas and the World Economic Forum to deliver.

How can the Haas community support this work?

We’re asking the Haas community to question the status quo—to realize that, when it comes to people with disabilities, what we’re doing is not enough.

Alumni can join the Valuable 500 and put disability on their board agendas. They can ensure that disability forms part of their diversity and inclusion efforts.  They can also support a crowdfunding campaign we will launch soon to raise $250,000 to support our Cities4All campaign.

The Defining Leadership Principle of Beyond Yourself reminds us that building more inclusive cities isn’t just about altruism. It’s in everyone’s self-interest, it’s about shaping the future.

As a Berkeley student, you were very active in student government and disability rights issues. What was your undergraduate experience at Haas like?

For me, Haas was an artistic enterprise. It was about the art of the possible and how bringing together engineers, managers, people in finance, strategy, and HR can unlock the capacity of a team to change the world through business.

I have also stayed in close contact with many classmates, including Eric Jones and Jared Dalgamouni, with whom I have had a friendly competition for the last 18 years. It was after we had won the Haas Social Business Plan competition in school and we were sitting in the library near a glass case that features prominent Haas alumni. We bet that whichever one of us gets featured in the glass case first gets a trip anywhere in the world and a glass of beer. Just the other day I told them about this interview and how it might get me one step closer to winning.

A Berkeley Haas startup’s quick pivot to deliver hand sanitizer to the needy

A Dispatch Goods container kit
A Dispatch Goods container kit

Word was getting out last year about Berkeley Haas startup Dispatch Goods.

The startup had landed its first two corporate clients and had 15 deals in the pipeline. They’d signed a partnership with Yelp! and debuted a mobile app and subscription service with membership tiers. By November, the Wall Street Journal had featured Dispatch’s business model— providing reusable stainless steel containers that companies use for restaurant takeout or pickup— in a news article.

But then coronavirus hit. Nearly overnight, business evaporated as restaurant owners shut down and corporate workers started working from home. For CEO Lindsey Hoell and her team it was “a gut punch for the anti-single use movement.”

“COVID was a huge disruption,” said Hoell, EWMBA 21. “We thought to ourselves: What do we have to offer now and how can we help?”

Dispatch Goods & Project Clean team includes (left to right) Lindsey Hoell, EWMBA 21, CEO; Jessica Heiges, UC Berkeley PhD student in environmental science, sustainability leader; Andrew Foster, tech and design director; Peter Altaffer, user experience designer; and Adam Boostrom, EWMBA 21, CFO (front).
Dispatch Goods & Project Clean team includes (l-r) Lindsey Hoell, EWMBA 21, CEO; Jessica Heiges, UC Berkeley PhD student in environmental science, sustainability leader; Andrew Foster, tech and design director; Peter Altaffer, user experience designer; and Adam Boostrom, EWMBA 21, CFO (front).

A quick pivot

Hoell had heard that hand sanitizer was quickly hard to come by after COVID-19 hit. One of the Dispatch team members knew that Tim Obert, CEO of Seven Stills distillery in San Francisco, had a plan to use some of the company’s alcohol to make hand sanitizer. The company connects donors to those in need on its website.

Andrew Foster of Dispatch Goods & Project Clean holds recycled bottles filled with Seven Stills hand sanitizer.
Andrew Foster of Dispatch Goods & Project Clean holds recycled bottles filled with Seven Stills hand sanitizer.

Hoell chatted with Obert and decided to launch a zero waste co-op to provide some of the hand sanitizer in recycled containers. Now, the team is collecting plastic bottles from donors, cleaning the bottles in their commercial dishwasher at their warehouse space in Daly City, and delivering them in the company’s van to Bay Area organizations, including retirement communities and homeless shelters.

Hoell, who is relying on donations to run the co-op, said they’re trying to keep costs down by batching pickups in neighborhoods in San Francisco, South San Francisco, Daly City, Berkeley, and Oakland. (Bottle donors can sign up on their website) She’s not sure if the model is financially sustainable, as the transportation costs are high, but the startup is willing to try to make it work.

“All of us got into this company because of the impact we want to have,” Hoell said. “We didn’t know how we could make money but we knew we could make an impact.”

All of us got into this company because of the impact we want to have.

Sticking to the mission

Pizza pan
Square Guys pizza is delivered in a zero-waste metal pan. Photo: Square Guys

Meanwhile, Dispatch Goods’ founding mission hasn’t been lost.

Adam Boostrom, an evening and weekend MBA student, is working to adapt the business model while Dispatch participates in Berkeley’s SkyDeck accelerator program. During Skydeck’s online sessions, he worked alongside the Dispatch team to develop a pilot which would continue zero waste delivery for businesses. The first plan is to work with Square Pie Guys to deliver pizza on Tuesdays and Thursdays to employees’ homes in a reusable, covered metal alloy pan.

If the pilot works, the startup will approach other companies that want to provide takeout food to their employees who are working at home.

The startup’s goal has always been to change the food delivery model and eliminate the waste—and this is a new approach.

“The mission is still the same: we pick up containers, clean them, and return them to food providers,” said Boostrom. “What’s different is the primary customer.”


Haas feeds growing appetite for the business of sustainable food

(left to right) Will Rosenzweig, who launched the Sustainable Food Initiative at Haas, with Aaron Hall, a PhD student in the Materials Science & Engineering Program, and Jessica Heiges, a PhD candidate in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management.
(left to right) Will Rosenzweig, who launched the Sustainable Food Initiative at Haas, with students who took his Food Innovation Studio course: Aaron Hall, a PhD student in the Materials Science & Engineering Program and Jessica Heiges, a PhD candidate in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management. Photo: Jim Block

After working in the dairy industry in Illinois for six years, John Monaghan, MBA 20, arrived at Berkeley Haas on a mission to dive deeper into the business of food.

He didn’t waste any time. In his first year, Monaghan became co-president of the student-run Food@Haas, was nominated to the student advisory board for the Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business, and snagged a summer internship at Danone in New York, where he’ll be supporting marketing of the Oikos yogurt brand. He even shared lunch with Alice Waters at her restaurant Chez Panisse, after he worked as a graduate student reader during her Edible Education 101 course. “She hosted us as a thank-you for the semester,” he said.

Alice Waters with John Monaghan, MBA 20
Alice Waters with John Monaghan, MBA 20

Like many of the 20 full-time MBA students who have landed coveted internships and jobs this year in the food and beverage industry—at companies ranging from Clif Bar to Kraft— Monaghan is benefiting from the Sustainable Food Initiative at Haas. The umbrella effort, launched in April 2018 by the Center for Responsible Business, combines food-focused courses, cutting-edge research, entrepreneurship training, events with food industry luminaries, and key industry partnerships.

A food-focused tribe

The initiative both reflects and cultivates a growing interest in the food business at Haas and Berkeley. The number of students landing internships and full-time jobs in the food and beverage industry has doubled over the past three years, and the number of food-related startups—from 2019 MBA grad Somiran Gupta’s nearfarms, an online marketplace that connects small, local farmers directly with consumers, to Tannor’s Tea, founded by Samantha Tannor, MBA 20, whose company sells sugar-free matcha concentrate—is increasing every year.

“We’ve attracted a tribe of people who are food-focused,” says Doug Massa, a corporate relationship manager with the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group. “They want to learn about branding and marketing, but they also want to learn about opportunities in the food supply chain, business operations, and the role of venture capital in food.”

Connecting across Berkeley

Will Rosenzweig, faculty co-chair with the Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business (CRB) and a pioneer of the sustainable food movement at Berkeley, is leading the Sustainable Food Initiative. The founder of the Republic of Tea, Rosenzweig taught Haas’ first class on social entrepreneurship 20 years ago—and went on to mentor and invest in successful Haas startups including Revolution Foods, co-founded by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, both MBA 06, to make healthier cafeteria food for kids.

Working with CRB’s program manager Emily Pellisier, Rosenzweig is now figuring out how Haas expertise in entrepreneurship and business aligns with sustainability efforts across the Berkeley campus. They’re reaching out to innovative programs like the Berkeley Food Institute and the Alternative Meat Lab at the UC Berkeley Sutardja Center.

“With the riches we have at Berkeley, one of my jobs is to is to remove some of the boundaries between the disciplines, and Haas has been really supportive of that,” Rosenzweig said. “We’re getting other really smart people involved in solving these sustainability problems.”

Watch an “Edible Education 101” session with chef and cookbook author Samin Nosrat and community organizer Shakirah Simley, discussing diversity and inclusion in the food industry.

At the initiative’s core is “Edible Education 101,” which Rosenzweig teaches with Waters, who co-founded the class with author Michael Pollan in 2011. The undergraduate course brings scientists, CEOs, community activists, and chefs to Haas to talk about the future of food, from seeds to soil health to increasing access to quality food for all. Guests have included chef Samin Nosrat (of the popular Netflix docu-series based on her cookbook, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat), who spoke last semester on diversity and inclusion in the food industry, to Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, who addressed the future of restaurant careers.

Students in Will Rosenzweig's Food Innovation Studio
Students in Will Rosenzweig’s Food Innovation Studio course.

Victoria Williams-Ononye, MBA 19, the graduate student instructor for the “Edible Education” course, said about 20 of her MBA peers attended the classes. “There’s a core group of people who come to Haas knowing they’re passionate about food,” said Williams-Ononye, who has accepted a job working in Breakthrough Innovation at Kraft in Chicago.

Monaghan called the caliber of “Edible Education” guest speakers “a hidden gem of this entire university.”

The sky’s the limit

Meanwhile, the Food Innovation Studio, Rosenzweig’s two-unit course which uses the Lean LaunchPad method to encourage students in food entrepreneurship, dives deeply into topics such as the rise of regenerative agriculture, sustainable alternatives to single-use packaging, the evolution of plant-based proteins, food system sustainability, and disruptive food delivery models.

While the majority of the students enrolled last semester were from the MBA program, the course draws students from across Berkeley, including Aaron Hall, a PhD student in the Materials Science & Engineering Program who is developing a richer-tasting plant-based fat substitute, and Jessica Heiges, a PhD candidate in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management, who co-founded RePeel, a reusable-food-container service for universities.

Beyond classes, the Sustainable Food Initiative serves as an umbrella for new research, including the recent case, “Reversing Climate Change Through Sustainable Food: Patagonia Provisions Attempts to Scale a ‘Big Wall’.” It’s also a home for partnerships with companies like Patagonia Provisions and General Mills’ Natural and Organics Operating Unit, which includes Annie’s Homegrown, EPIC, Cascadian Farm Organic, and Muir Glen brands. Both companies are now on the CRB advisory board, where they often find time to collaborate with each other, as well as Haas, said Robert Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business.

“The sky’s the limit with this initiative,” Strand said. “We want to be a strong partner in the global conversation on food and bring the world to California and our ideas to the world.”

Global Social Venture Competition celebrates 20-year anniversary

Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, both EWMBA 18, started banking services startup Flourish Savings
Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, both EWMBA 18, started banking services startup Flourish Savings.

Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, both EWMBA 18,  built a rewards-based online and mobile savings account designed to appeal to people who underutilize banking services. Their hard work led to the launch of startup Flourish Savings, which has now earned a place at the April 5 Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) finals.

“It takes a lot of expertise, research, and partnerships to tackle wicked problems like helping low-income and immigrant communities learn to trust banks, save money, and build credit,” Moura said. “We’re hoping that the judges will see how our idea has the potential to change the way people handle personal finance.”

The competition, which is celebrating its 20th year, will be held during the Future of Social Ventures Conference at Haas.

Flourish, along with Respira Labs, founded by Dr. Maria Artunduaga, UC Berkeley/UCSF MTM 18, Nerjada Maksutaj, MBA 20, and Nikhil Chacko, MBA/MPH 20, are the two Haas teams competing in the finals—among more than 20 global teams in this year’s competition.

L-R: Nikhil Chacko, MBA/MPH 20, Dr. Maria Artunduaga, UC Berkeley/UCSF MTM 18, and Nerjada Maksutaj, MBA 20. Photo: Yizhe Gu
L-R: Nikhil Chacko, MBA/MPH 20, Dr. Maria Artunduaga, UC Berkeley/UCSF MTM 18, and Nerjada Maksutaj, MBA 20. Photo: Yizhe Gu

A vision of a better world

GSVC has come a long way since its founding in 1999 by five MBA students—Lia Fernald, Alison Lingane, and Denise Yamamoto,  MBA 00, and Nik Dehejia and Sara Olsen, MBA 01. Their idea was to provide social entrepreneurs with mentorship, feedback, and a chance to hone their funding pitches.

Jill Erbland, GSVC’s program director, has watched the program’s number of partners and its international appeal to students grow since she arrived at Haas in 2007. This year, 11 partners hosted 12 regional semi-final events—and the competition had a record-breaking 692 applicants hailing from 67 countries. To date, GSVC has distributed more than $1 million in prize money, and helped more than 7,000 teams move closer to achieving their vision of a better world.

“In 1999, creating viable companies that had social impact was a nascent idea, even for Berkeley Haas,” Erbland said. “Our steady growth has been fueled by other universities prioritizing social impact and entrepreneurship educational programs.”

Following footsteps

The competition has launched a number of Haas student-led social impact ventures, including Indiegogo—co-founded by Danae Ringelmann and Eric Schell, MBA 08—and Revolution Foods—co-founded by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, MBA 06.

Flourish Savings’ co-founders are hoping to follow in their footsteps. Eting, the daughter of immigrants, and Moura, an immigrant himself, met in Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman’s Applied Innovation class. They soon discovered a common interest in helping people build savings habits, reduce reliance on debt, and achieve financial security. A pilot program demonstrated that participants saved an average of $192 in the first four months of using Flourish.

This is Eting’s second GSVC event. About 10 years ago, she was an attendee and guest of her boss, who had judged one of the regional competitions. “I was in awe of the people who were pitching, and I never once imagined it’s something I would be doing,” she said.

Meantime, Respira Labs aims to help people who struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease that obstructs breathing. The team is pitching a wearable lung-function monitor that that uses audio-signal processing and machine learning to alert patients, caregivers, and doctors when inhalers, medication, or medical care is needed. The data collected could be used to predict and prevent flare-ups of COPD, which afflicts 16 million Americans, according to the CDC.

Artunduaga met her Haas colleagues at Berkeley SkyDeck. Maksutaj said her family has been affected by COPD and was quick to embrace the startup’s mission. Chacko came to the team with a passion for solving health crises in low- and middle-income countries, to which the World Health Organization (WHO) attributes 90 percent of global COPD deaths.

“GSVC’s global focus is especially important to us because our long-term ambitions go beyond the U.S.,” Chacko said.

The full conference includes more than the GSVC final presentations and judging. This year’s sessions are organized around the theme “Technology for Good,” and sessions include “The Future of Food: A Design-Thinking Session with IDEO,” “Financial Inclusion and Technology” with speakers from Mastercard and PayPal, and “The Promise and Peril of Emerging Technologies in Social Impact.”

Attendees will also be able to watch presentations from all the finalists and meet GSVC co-founder Sara Olsen, who is serving as a judge this year.

Undergrads tie for win at National Diversity Case Competition

 (L-R) Advisor Mary Balangit with undergraduate students Alec Li, Claudia Diaz, Kiara Taylor, and Frances James.
(L-R) Mary Balingit, undergraduate assistant director of admissions, advised the National Diversity Case Competition winners Alec Li, Claudia Diaz, Kiara Taylor, and Frances James. Photo: Jim Block

A plan to build an inclusive new small-format Target store in Oakland netted a Haas undergraduate team a first-place tie with the host school at The National Diversity Case Competition (NDCC). The 8th annual event was held at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business Jan. 18-19.

The Team: Team captain Claudia Diaz, BS 19, Kiara Taylor, Alec Li, and Frances James, all BS 20. The team’s advisor was Mary Balingit, assistant director of admissions & outreach for the undergraduate programs, and the undergraduate lead for inclusion & diversity. Faculty coaches were Haas Lecturers Steve Etter and Krystal Thomas, along with Erika Walker, assistant dean of the undergraduate program.

The Field: 168 undergraduates from 42 business schools around the country, competing for a total of $20,000 in prize money.

The Challenge: Choose a neighborhood and develop a strategy for the location, design, and merchandising of a new small-format Target store, as well as address ways to help the community integrate Target into their neighborhood. Target asked the students to consider community engagement, marketing, the supply chain, delivery options, finance & logistics, and diversity & inclusion.

The team’s plan: To build a small-format Target in downtown Oakland, called The Town’s Target, with a locally-owned café to be operated by a local food entrepreneur. The cafe would double as an incubator—a residency program that would allow that local entrepreneur to build clientele and develop an exit strategy to launch a business at the end of two years, at which time a new entrepreneur would take over the café. The café would include a mural painted by an Oakland artist collective, and a community space for local social justice organizations to meet. Electronic lockers in the store would house customer’s hot lunches or purchases and be accessible to people with disabilities and farmer’s market produce would be delivered daily, along with locally sourced products, like coffee, chocolate, and apparel.

Presenting their case at Indiana University
Frances James (speaking) and the undergrad team presenting at Indiana University’s Kelley School.

What made them winners: Storytelling, originality, and depth of content. Competition judge Zain Kaj, CFO of GE Global Supply Chain at GE Healthcare, said the team’s ideas were “creative and delivered with passion and a genuine sense of inclusion and celebrated what the weekend was all about.”

The competition provided the perfect platform for the team “to showcase how we’re living our culture out loud,” Walker said. “The Defining Leadership Principles were in full effect and I’m so proud of the team for its authentic approach and positive energy. It’s a well deserved win!”

James opened the team’s 15-minute presentation in a unique way—with spoken words.

The land of culture, the home to change
The Brown Berets carried the torch for Chicano freedom
Black Liberation ignited
The voices of Malcolm X and Angela Davis heard loud and clear—they called for more
Oscar Grant killed, a flawed police force at fault
Black Lives Matter, they yelled, Black Lives Matter!
Tupac preached about changes, America needs change
Said forgive but don’t forget, always keep your head up
All of these voices came to form the Oakland we know
But it has become so much more…

A collage included in the undergrad students' presentation.
Alec Li’s collage included in the student’s presentation was an homage to Oakland’s rich history.

Li designed a stunning visual presentation, with collages representing Oakland’s rich history.  “We hit every emotion,” he said. “We made them laugh, and made them cry.” Taylor had great command and presence in the room, Balingit said.

The secret sauce: Diaz’s slow and steady delivery of her personal story of growing up in a low-income community in South Central Los Angeles—a food desert, she said, where your choices were either “McDonalds or Jack in the Box because there were no fresh strawberries or apples.” A Haas senior and a social justice warrior, Diaz served as team captain, and “the person who had to rally everyone together,” Taylor said.

The Haas Factor: Questioning the status quo. When the students read the case they boiled it down to one word: gentrification. Then they focused on Oakland, and how gentrification has impacted the city. That led them on a tour of Oakland with Balingit, where they drove past shuttered mom and pop stores and discussed the homeless problem and how lower income people were priced out. They decided that every aspect of their case must prioritize inclusion and the needs of the community. The approach was very “Berkeley,” Balingit said, referring to the focus on social justice.

Alec Li, Mary Balingit, Claudia Diaz, Frances James, and Kiara Taylor in Indiana.
Alec Li, Mary Balingit, Claudia Diaz, Frances James, and Kiara Taylor take a break in Indiana.

Most memorable experience from the competition: A standing ovation from the crowd. “We could not get out of that building when we were done,” Taylor said. “We were literally held back.”  At that moment, James said, “we knew we had made an impact.”

The students got to bring their whole authentic selves to the competition, Balingit said. “They brought such a fresh, innovative and risky approach but still won the hearts of everyone there,” she said. And another fun outcome: they all finish each other’s sentences now—and might just be friends for life.

First student-authored Berkeley Haas Sustainability Report debuts

L-R: Shane Puthuparambil, Berklee Welsh, & Tim Tembrink.
L-R: Shane Puthuparambil, Berklee Welsh, & Tim Tembrink of the HBSA Sustainability Committee.

Chou Hall uses about half as much water per square foot as other Haas buildings. All of Cafe Think’s coffee grounds are used as garden compost by UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract Farms. And Haas students print 77,000 pages—or about four tons—of paper annually.

Those are just a few facts unearthed in the first-ever student-authored Berkeley Haas Sustainability Report, published this week by the Haas Business School Association’s (HBSA) Sustainability Committee. The report is a sweeping overview of where the school stands with its sustainability efforts in its buildings, classrooms, and centers.

“This was our way of going beyond ourselves to give back to our business school,” said Tim Tembrink, BS 19 and vice president of sustainability for the HBSA. Tembrink worked on the report with Berklee Welsh, BS 20, and Shane Puthuparambil, BS 22, (environmental science and business.) “Writing the report was a journey from the beginning to the end of the semester,” Tembrink said. “We spoke to every single person we could find and everybody was so interested in the report and interested in helping us.”

Tembrink said he hopes that the 25-page report will be used for internal purposes or for Haas to showcase its sustainability-related initiatives outside of Haas.

Taking a leadership role

Robert Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business, and Prof. Laura Tyson, former Haas dean and the faculty director for the Institute for Business & Social Impact (IBSI), commended the students for their work. “We stand at a critical point in history,” they wrote in a letter published with the report. “The sustainability challenges confronting the world are significant and mounting faster than anticipated. Berkeley Haas is well positioned to assume a leadership role among business schools to address these challenges and leverage the power of business to drive positive change.”

The report includes details of energy, waste diversion, and water use in different campus buildings—including Cheit Hall, the Barbara & Gerson Bakar Student Services Building, and the Faculty Building, with a special focus on Chou Hall, which was just certified as the greenest business school building in the country. Chou Hall recently earned TRUE Zero Waste certification at the highest possible level along with a LEED Platinum certification for its energy efficient design and operation.

The team worked closely with UC Berkeley campus groups to collect data on energy and water use, waste diversion, and supplies usage. UC Berkeley’s Energy Office, for one, has developed an energy dashboard to help monitor energy use anomalies across campus. (Haas is aligned with new campus-wide energy goals, include reducing energy use intensity by 2% annually, adding renewable solar energy, and shifting to 100 percent clean electricity from off-campus sources.)

Gathering the data

Welsh said the most difficult part of the project was compiling information across the U.C. Berkeley campus and beyond.  “From accessing individual water meter data, to interviewing Cafe Think staff, facilities managers, and more, we found that no single individual had access to all of the information we needed,” she said.

Writing the report was of particular interest to Tembrink, who is launching a line of women’s clothing called Foundationals this spring. Foundationals’ first product, a sweater to be sold on the company’s website, aligns with Tembrink’s commitment to the environment. It’s made from 48 percent recycled water bottles and 52 percent recycled cotton. It will also be produced in a LEED-Platinum certified factory in Vietnam. “It’s a dream factory,” he said. “With regards to human rights and labor standards this factory was amazing.”

After Tembrink and his team graduates, they hope that the sustainability report will serve as a benchmark—and that future HBSA students will update the work annually.

“By compiling data in one place, we hope to provide students, staff, and faculty with a clear understanding of where Haas excels, and areas in which we need to improve in order to remain leaders in the fields of sustainability and business,” Welsh said.

From improving safety to installing solar: social impact interns make change

As a social impact fellow, Claudia Luck, MBA 19, worked at Yellowstone National Park.
Claudia Luck, MBA 19, worked to improve visitor safety at Yellowstone National Park last summer.

Last summer Hugh G. Martin, MBA 19, made his inaugural trip to Africa, where he worked to equip off-the-grid homes in Tanzania with solar power.

“A highlight for me was seeing the looks on families’ faces when they used a TV in their homes for the first time,” says Martin, who worked for ZOLA Electric, which aims to bring solar power to one million homes in Africa over the next few years.

Hugh Martin worked for ZOLA Solar in Tanzania as a fellow.
Flanked by ZOLA Electric office managers Ana Uronu (left) and Jane Mercy (right), Hugh G. Martin (middle) brought power to homes in Tanzania.

Martin, who also traveled to Kenya during his internship, was among 13 students, all MBA 19s, who received summer internship stipends from the Haas Social Impact Fund (HSIF). Since launching in 2004, the fund has helped students interested in the social-impact sector close the gap between what they could have made at a corporate internship versus what they would make at a social-impact internship. Each applicant received $500 to $7,000 that could be used to pay salary, living expenses, or travel expenses.

Each spring the HSIF holds a fundraiser asking peers to donate one day of pay that they’d expect at a corporate internship, according to Kevin Phan, MBA 19 and the MBA Association’s vice president of community. Students raised about $25,000 this past spring.

Claudia Luck, MBA 19, spent her summer at Yellowstone National Park as a consultant, analyzing the impact an increasing number of guests are having on visitors’ safety within the park. Her project required the use of four park databases and interviews with dozens of stakeholders to help the park determine how to best organize the 100-plus members of its Visitor Resource Protection division.

Luck, who worked at Adobe as a client training manager before coming to Haas, said she interviewed rangers, emergency medical technicians, justice center specialists, detention center workers, and entrance station attendants to understand how an increase in visitors would impact the park workers’ time and resources.

“I just loved the idea of spending three months way outside of my box—pursuing my passion for hiking, seeing Yellowstone, and working for the government,” Luck says.

Hannah Levinson (third from left) with part of her Third Plateau team.
Hannah Levinson (third from left) with members of Third Plateau, which worked to refresh the SF Unified School District’s arts education curriculum.

For Hannah Levinson, MBA 19, an internship kept her closer to Berkeley. She worked for consulting firm Third Plateau on a mission to refresh the San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Education Master Plan. For part of her work, she held focus groups with underrepresented minority students in the Bayview and Mission districts to better understand their arts education needs.

Levinson said she took away a lot about how to conduct unbiased interviews and construct questions through her Third Plateau consulting experiences. “For example, asking a leading question gets a biased response,” she says. “I made a point of getting feedback after every interview, and it helped me to shape my questioning.”


More HSIF student internship stories are available on ImpactMBA, the Center for Social Sector Leadership’s Medium channel.

Fundraising and applications for the Haas Social Impact Fund will open in April 2019, headed by Midori Chikamatsu, MBA 20, incoming vice president of community. Donations to the fund are accepted year-round here.

Prof. David Vogel receives career achievement award

Professor Emeritus David Vogel, a member of the Haas Business and Public Policy Group, was honored with the Elinor Ostrom Career Achievement Award in recognition of his lifetime contributions to the study of science, technology, and environmental politics.

David Vogel
Prof. David Vogel

Vogel accepted the award at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in August.

Vogel, who held the Soloman P. Lee Chair in Business Ethics, is the author of nine books, including the forthcoming California Greenin’: How the Golden State Became an Environmental Leader. He has taught both “Ethics & Responsibility in Business” at Haas and “Public and Private Global Business Regulation” at UC Berkeley.

Vogel’s academic research has tackled subjects ranging from regulating health, safety, and environmental risks in Europe and the United States to global challenges in responsible business to the environmental policy of the United States compared to that of the European Union.

“David is a pioneer,” said Haas Dean Rich Lyons. “Not only was he digging into the fields of corporate social responsibility and ethics long before these areas were mainstream, but he’s also questioned the status quo on these issues at just the right time.”

Vogels heavily-cited work has already earned him the coveted Faculty Pioneer Award from the Aspen Institute, four Best Book Awards, and many other accolades.

“I have devoted much of my academic career to writing about environmental politics in the United States, Europe, and internationally, and this recognition of my work by the political science profession is such a special honor,” Vogel said.

Vogel has been a faculty member at Berkeley’s business school since 1973 and editor of the school’s journal, the California Management Review, since 1982. He is now professor emeritus at both the Haas School and UC Berkeley’s Political Science Department.

Tech can play key role in protecting free speech: UN High Commissioner & Microsoft President

UN/Microsoft free speech event at UC Berkeley

With freedom of expression being challenged around the world—and in clashes on the UC Berkeley campus—is there more that the technology industry can do to protect free speech and other human rights?

The answer to that question was a resounding “yes,” as the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and Microsoft President Brad Smith spoke last Thursday at a Berkeley-Haas Dean’s Speaker Series. The panel was co-sponsored by the Berkeley-Haas Center for Responsible Business’ Peterson Speaker Series, as well as the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law.

The panelists agreed that technology allows for better tracking of abuses around the world, while also enabling better communication with political dissenters—and that technology companies themselves have an important role to play.

Microsoft Brad Smith
Microsoft President Brad Smith

Smith reiterated Microsoft’s pledge to help the Human Rights Commission strengthen its work by embarking on a five-year, $5 million partnership. “We are a company that believes that a better-funded, more diversely financed UN Human Rights Commission will do more to protect people—not just their right to speak but even their ability to stay alive,” he said.

More diverse funding, Smith said, would serve to insulate the UN commission from threats by governments to reduce their contributions when the UN’s contribution is contrary to their own. “Governments want the High Commissioner to be vocal when he is poking other governments, but are less enthusiastic when he is poking them,” said Smith, in an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on the UN.

Free speech threat on rise

Haas Dean Rich Lyons framed the discussion—which was moderated by Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Lawby noting that some 75 percent of governments around the world restrict freedom of expression, according to Amnesty International. Threats to a free press are also on the rise, he said.

“You may be tempted to think this is a ‘them-not-us’ situation, but the US ranks number 43 on the World Press Freedom Index, ranking just below the West African country Burkina Faso,” he said. The US had a higher ranking last year and “statements such as labeling the press as counter to American interests will probably weaken our standing further.”

Although Americans overwhelmingly support the right to free speech, that doesn’t translate into support for hate speech, he said. “Recent events at Charlottesville have brought hate speech to the forefront of our nation’s conscience and reignited calls for censorship.”

UN High Commissioner Zeid
UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

Balancing two conflicting priorities “requires fine-tuned thinking,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the sixth UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the first Muslim to hold the position. “With internet freedom on the decline we must wage a bare-knuckles fight for rights.  We have to become human-rights brawlers.”

“We need transparency”

The high commissioner said Microsoft’s technology has improved the commission’s ability to communicate with dissenters it could not normally reach, and to sift through data on alleged ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. It now has the ability to analyze video images for evidence and is developing a dashboard to give commission staffers a real-time snapshot of human rights around the world.

While calling on technology companies to do more to further human rights, the high commissioner warned that companies like Facebook may not be adhering to standards developed by the UN.

“We need transparency. We need to know what criteria they are using.  If they are going to police these issues, they have to police and judge according to international standards,” he said.

Indeed, Facebook has been criticized for Russia’s use of the social media platform to buy political ads and use fake accounts to target users with messages designed to inflame religious and racial tensions. The company recently agreed to turn over to Congressional investigators more than 3,000 ads paid for by entities linked to Russia.

Universities, too, have a role in protecting free speech. But education is only part of the answer, the high commissioner said.  Noting that many of the top Nazi Party members were highly educated, the high commissioner stressed that what the world needs most is educated people with empathy and compassion.

He referenced Charlie Chaplin’s character in The Great Dictator, who said: “More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”

Watch the full video:


Top photo (L-R) Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Microsoft President Brad Smith. All photos: Manali Sibthorpe


Berkeley-Haas Names First Winner of New Investment for Impact Prize

Job applicants will accept lower wages in order to work for a socially responsible employer, according to research by the winner of the newly launched Investment for Impact Research Prize.

Berkeley-Haas created the prize last year to encourage new academic research on the social and environmental effects of capital investment.

The competition drew a total of 48 papers. A team of 11 judges from the academic, investment, and nonprofit world selected the winners.

Vanessa Burbano
Vanessa Burbano

The first-prize winner, Vanessa Burbano, an assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School, won for her paper, Social Responsibility Messages and Worker Wage Requirements: Field Experimental Evidence from Online Labor Marketplaces.

“This paper is important because it speaks to a transition we’re seeing in the labor market,” said Adair Morse, the award’s faculty co-director (with Assoc. Prof. Ayako Yasuda of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management) and an associate professor of finance at Berkeley-Haas. “It shows that the social–plus-economic agenda, as opposed to a purely-profit agenda, can be a powerful way to understand individuals’ decision-making.”

The winning paper presents the results of two experiments in which workers applied for short-term jobs online and, in some cases, were given information about the employer’s charitable giving. In the first experiment, this information prompted applicants to accept slightly lower payments on average, with the highest performing workers responding most strongly.

In the second experiment, prospective workers submitted 44% lower bids for payment after getting information about the employer’s philanthropy. Burbano described the study as one of the first to show that social responsibility messages prompt workers to accept lower compensation. In the case of corporate social responsibility and wages, it’s hard to demonstrate cause and effect, she noted. “But, by using online labor markets, we have a clean causal story.”

Using capital for public good

The new award was created when Haas alumnus Allan Spivack, MBA 80, and CEO of RGI Home, offered last year to help the school finance a social impact research prize.

The Center for Responsible Business at Berkeley-Haas focused the prize on research into ways that capital can be used for public good, including social entrepreneurship and sustainable capital investment. The award complements Haas’s Moskowitz Prize, which concentrates on social responsibility at traditional investment funds.

“We award these prizes because Berkeley has always been a thought-leader in this space,” Morse said. “Thus, we at Berkeley-Haas want to continue to encourage rigorous scientific studies of how social agendas matter in broader contexts of economics, finance, law, management, or other social sciences.”

Two teams were awarded second prize, including Alexander Dyck of the University of Toronto, Karl Lins of the University of Utah; Lukas Roth of the University of Alberta; and Hannes Wagner of Italy’s Bocconi University, who found that institutional investors from countries with strong social responsibility values significantly influence the social and environmental performance of the companies they own. Caroline Flammer of Boston University, Bryan Hong of Ontario’s Western University; and Dylan Minor of Northwestern University showed that linking executive pay to a company’s social and environmental performance creates benefits ranging from lower carbon emissions to greater stock market value.