Guest Blog: Why the National Debt Defines the Future for Millennials

Guest post by Elizabeth Brightwell, University of Virginia Class of 2013, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

national debt project
Participating in a year-long, trailblazing course on the national debt was the capstone of my academic career. Our professor, Renaissance woman Mary Margaret Frank, gathered a class of students from across many academic disciplines at UVA including law, business, nursing, engineering, public policy, and public health. Over the course of an entire academic year, we studied and gathered together to share our points of view on the national debt and its effect on issues of deep concern to all of us.

In our classroom, the perspectives and experiences varied but we all share a passion for and an interest in the national debt. As a student in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, I learned from my fellow students, and I hope they learned from me. For example, as an idealistic, public policy student, I often overlook the bottom-line; “I don’t care how much it costs—it is the right thing to do!” My classmates studying business stressed the necessity of considering the costs. Their advice is well-founded; if you mishandle your budget, everyone loses in the long run. The diversity of our classroom broadened my limited perspective and enhanced the group, as a whole.

For many of my classmates, the national debt course was one of our last experiences in academia. Many of us have already started our new jobs, embracing the challenges of the “real world.” For some, this transition was not entirely welcome; luckily, our work for the National Debt class is not over.

The final product of our course was a short video intended to educate and engage our generation on the national debt. Many millennials ignore the national debt despite the great impact it can have on our lives. Will Social Security be available when we reach an eligible age? Should we sacrifice funding research for future innovation in order to cover our increasing health care expenditures? Our class distilled all that we had learned throughout the year into one, ten-minute video.

educated about the debt

Screen shot from National Debt video

The video has already gathered some momentum and we are working to propel it into the cyber sphere. We hope that as our video reaches a wider community, including people of all ages, we can grow the conversation that my classmates and I continued throughout the year. I was sad to walk down the Lawn in May after my wonderful years as a Wahoo and the engaging discussions with classmates and professors. Because of my desire to keep the momentum going, I jumped at the opportunity to become the Social Media Campaign Manager for the National Debt project. I look forward to continuing our class’ efforts and working to get our video in front of as many eyes as possible; I hope your eyes will be next.

Watch the video here: Why the National Debt Defines the Future for Millennials

Learn more about The National Debt Project on Facebook ( and on Twitter (  


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Sustainability Centres Collaborate for Greater Impact

By Erika Herz, Associate Director of Sustainability Programs

2014 Sustainability Centers Workshop

2014 Sustainability Centers Workshop

Sustainability Centers, Institutes and Initiatives (“centers”) are an important nexus between academia, corporations, government and NGOs working to solve sustainability challenges. Thus, center directors have a unique perspective on how to achieve impact, which is one reason why the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School  (HBS BEI) and the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) organized this terrific workshop I attended in June. I represented two organizations, Darden’s Institute for Business in Society and the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS), a consortium of 19 universities advancing corporate sustainability research.

Who would have thought that a workshop for sustainability center staff and faculty would be quickly oversubscribed? But that is what happened. Clearly there is a need for those in this role to share best practices. 60 of us convened in an HBS classroom for a series of roll-up-your-sleeves sessions on how to further integrate sustainability and social impact topics into our respective business school offerings.

We tackled the areas below, which give you a sense of what centers do. For each we identified: 1) Key questions and challenges; and 2) Best practices and good ideas.


1. Teaching and Curriculum

  • How do we best integrate sustainability as a critical business lens into the MBA curriculum in required and elective courses, as well as Executive Education?
  • What are best practices for experiential curriculum, field projects, and cases developed with companies?

(For Darden, see a recent article on global field projects for sustainability here, and a recent piece on a sustainability case we wrote with Walmart here.)

2. Research

  • What are the trends in business sustainability over the next 10-15 years?
  • How do we develop a long-term research strategy and robust faculty network for sustainability research, focused on our schools’ respective strengths?

3. Outreach

  • How do we get research into the hands of business leaders who can put these learnings into practice?
  • How do we connect students interested in sustainability and social impact with the appropriate companies for internships and jobs?

4. Center Strategy and Operations

  • How do we successfully fund and effectively operate sustainability centers to leverage existing intellectual capital and corporate relationships?
  • How do we effectively partner with, and serve our alumni?

2014 Sustainability Centres Workshop at HBS

I especially liked the “Collaboration Open Mic,” an innovative format in the workshop which allowed us to suggest topics real-time, gather with a group of interested colleagues, and develop a set of recommendations and goals. My group began sharing our schools’ lists of sustainability topics that we thought all students should learn. We considered the viability of business school accreditors such as the AACSB including sustainability competencies in their evaluations of MBA programs.

A corporate perspective was also present in the workshop, with representatives from 3M, BASF, Mahindra Sanyo Special Steel and TD Bank discussing What Corporations Need from Business Schools – And What They Can Offer. HBS Professor Michael Toffel (@MikeToffel), winner of the 2014 ARCS Sustainability Scholar Award, facilitated.

Overall, the big question we all had was: how do we prioritize our activities, especially when students regularly bring interesting new ones to our attention.

We discussed that activities should fit the following criteria:

    • Have a positive impact on tackling global issues like poverty and climate change
    • Align with our school and center’s missions
    • Inspire a critical mass of our faculty to engage
    • Be able to be funded.

Thank you NBS and HBS BEI for giving the sustainability center community a chance to collaborate and enjoy each other’s company. Check out the  NBS website later this month for a report on all that we discussed in case it is helpful to your work.

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The Business of Global Water Management in an Era of Climate Change

By Allison Elias, Research Associate, Institute for Business in Society (IBiS) and Erika Herz, Associate Director of Sustainability Programs

On Friday, March 21st, organizations from across the University Grounds came together in the Rotunda’s elegant Dome Room to host the U.Va. World Water Day Symposium, in honor of the United Nations’ holiday, which has been observed on March 22nd since 1993. The UN-declared theme for 2014, water and energy, sought to bring attention to the interdependence of the two resources and to shed light on new strategies for using water and energy in efficient ways.

According to Darden Professor Peter Debaere, who co-organized the event along with colleagues from U.Va.’s Center for Global Health, the Department of Environmental Sciences, the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health,  as well as The Nature Conservancy:

“Public understanding of the policy and business implications of water and energy challenges is lacking. We hope this interdisciplinary conference helped educate all of us on root causes, as well as about frameworks for innovative business and government solutions.”

Debaere also teaches a popular MBA elective called “The Global Economics of Water.”

In keeping with the 2014 theme, keynote speaker Jamie Pittock, Senior Lecturer at Australian National University, spoke about sustaining water in an era of climate change and population growth. Pittock’s research led to many insights including:

  • Solutions may appear to be attractive but we must consider the long-term, less overt environmental and economic costs
  • Policy reform is most likely to happen in times of crisis and/or leadership change; reformers must use these moments to their benefit
  • Academic research must become more relevant to decision makers given the uncertain environment

His rich discussion addressed ways that governments and businesses could remain adaptable and find complementary solutions to meet a variety of stakeholder needs given the changing nature of water and energy problems.

A second panel discussion focused on water markets, whereby water use rights are traded through either short- or long-term contracts. Water markets encourage conservation behavior as well as a more accurate valuation of water resources. The state of California, for example, has a water grid infrastructure that facilitates movement of water and enables trading activities. Water trading is helpful for short-term needs, as apparent in Colorado recently when ash from fires contaminated municipal water sources. Due to an already-robust trading scheme, fresh mountain water suitable for drinking was able to be exchanged for the contaminated water, which was used instead for agricultural purposes. Panelists also discussed that natural gas mining through the method of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has driven up the price of water due to the water quantity needed for the process. Water contamination caused by fracking is also a significant issue.

The last panel session of the day concentrated on the health impacts of poor water access using South Africa as a case study. Although improvements have been made, still over 2000 children die per day of diarrheal illness, which often is caused by contaminated water. The speakers looked beyond health to the economic and educational consequences of clean water access. Children who survive such illnesses have to contend with problems such as stunted growth, lower IQ levels, or chronic internal diseases. These cognitive and physical impairments have furthered the cycle of poverty that leaves many children without opportunities to improve their quality of life. One panelist called the issues of inadequate water supply and contaminated water the ‘silent humanitarian crisis’ because public and private resources are often devoted to other crises that are more concentrated in a single location.

The symposium closed with a note of optimism: these problem are solvable if resources are allocated in the most efficient manner. However, public attention, cross-sector alliances, and interdisciplinary research collaborations are necessary to move toward lasting solutions.

The UVA World Water Day Symposium was supported with funding from Darden’s Institute for Business in Society (IBiS) U.Va.’s Office of the Vice President for Research, and other U.Va. departments. To hear interviews with speakers, listen to the Darden GreenPod #27 and the Darden BusinessCast #279.

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Darden MBAs Effecting Positive Change in Unlikely Places

Guest post by Hope Moffett (MBA ’14)

Before I began my internship with Education Pioneers this past summer, I knew that approximately two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading between middle and low-income students stemmed from the summer drop, which is the stagnation and loss of learning over the summer break among low-income students. During the summer, I had the opportunity to work through large student data sets in order to turn that knowledge into action.

At the district and the school levels, identifying students most at risk for summer learning loss allows for proactive intervention. I worked with the initial hypothesis that students who dropped over the summer would make up ground quickly as they refreshed their knowledge. However, the data indicated that students whose reading ability drops over the summer struggle to catch up with their classmates and grow less than average in the coming school year. By analyzing correlations between student demographics and learning loss and by building tracking tools for ongoing data collection, I identified students needing targeted support to prevent them from falling behind. Watching this and other data projects I completed being used to make organizational changes was a strong validation for my decision to come to Darden.

My summer was made possible in large part due to the Darden Nonprofit Internship Fund (DNIF). While Education Pioneers provided a summer stipend, a grant from DNIF made living and working in Washington DC feasible and allowed me to use the skills I’ve honed at Darden to pursue work that I am interested in.

Darden MBA students

Darden MBA students

Path to Business School

I joined the education sector through Teach For America in 2008. Because I was a student in Title 1 (low-income) schools, and I am a sister to four siblings who didn’t finish high school, educational equality is an issue of personal resonance.

Teaching in Philadelphia felt like home to me, but while my classroom was a sanctuary, systemic issues constantly battered individual and team successes at the school level. In my third year as a teacher, I paid more attention to macro issues in the field and what was happening in my area.

In 2011, I authored a letter to the editor supporting community opposition to an irregular no bid takeover of the school where I taught English Literature and Language. Three days later, I was removed from my classroom, given a gag order, and assigned to “teacher jail.” My case entered into federal court; the NAACP offered their team of lawyers in my defense; and two Philadelphia City Council members sponsored a resolution calling for my return to the classroom.

Thousands rallied, I became the subject of a local street art campaign, and the Philadelphia Daily News had a running front page feature “Hope Held Hostage: Day –.” The District’s allergy to subpoenas reinstated me, but my classroom would exist within the District for just three more months.

Increased scrutiny by the press uncovered contracting scandals, forensic evidence of wide-scale cheating and unethical backroom deals. Unfortunately, much of the damage had already been done.

A few months later, after attending the last public meeting before the disgraced superintendent was ousted and 75 percent of the school board stepped down, I walked down the street to take the GMAT. I applied to Darden because of its commitment to rigorous education and in hopes of becoming a principled leader in a world of practical affairs.

What is DNIF?

Darden Nonprofit Internship Fund is a program funded by both students and the Darden School that helps First Year students defray summer living expenses while pursuing low-paid internships with nonprofit organizations. Many excellent opportunities exist for MBA internships in the nonprofit and public sectors. Unfortunately, many of these organizations do not have the resources to pay an MBA candidate adequately. This is where the DNIF can help by supplementing pay.

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Reunion 2014: Alumni in Mission-Driven Careers Return to Darden

Guest post from Darden’s Associate Director of Sustainability Programs Erika Herz:

Darden’s largest ever Alumni Reunion took place this past weekend with over 800 attending.

Our Institute for Business in Society (IBiS) sponsored two events: 1) a pharmaceutical industry-focused case discussion integrating considerations of ethics and finance, led by faculty Jared Harris and Mark Lipson, and 2) our 3rd annual gathering of “Alumni in Mission-Driven Careers.”

About 50 alumni with professional and voluntary experience in social and environmental impact shared meaningful insights with one another. They hold a variety of functional roles in the areas of renewable energy, corporate social responsibility, education, and nonprofit work. Many explained that their titles do not indicate the ways that social and environmental concerns are part of their “day jobs.” For example, participants included a brand manager of channel development and consumer packaged goods for a well-known coffee brand as well as a director of global business processes for one of the world’s largest retailers. Both are paying attention to the potential impact of natural resource limitations,and the opportunities inherent in efficiency throughout their companies’ value chain.

Darden alumni in nonprofit roles also shared their experiences while engaging with organizations like The Asia Society, Girls on the Run, and The Sunshine Foundation. As nonprofit-corporate partnerships become more common to address mutual goals, and as nonprofits increasingly are pressured by donors for concretely-measured outcomes, the skills of an MBA degree can be invaluable.

As this and this recent article about Darden from the Triple Pundit’s “The MBA Series” reflects, today’s MBAs find congruity between making money and making a difference. And the world needs them!

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The power of public-private partnerships

Many people think of public-private partnerships (or P3s) as a relatively recent invention. The fact is P3s have been around for a long time. In 1742 Benjamin Franklin founded the American Philosophical Association of Philadelphia which soon joined forces with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to establish America’s first medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.[i]

While sometimes defined as a partnership between government and the private sector, P3s can now refer to any cross-sector collaboration. This could include NGOs or nonprofit organizations working with government or business to address societal problems.

Often one thinks of road or infrastructure projects when they hear public-private partnerships; however there are other examples worth noting. The international organization, Save the Children, partnered with GlaxoSmithKline to bring needed medical aid to countries with high mortality rates. The World Wildlife Fund partnered with the Coca-Cola Company to address water scarcity issues around the world. There are many more examples of innovative partnerships happening right now to bring about positive change.

20130912_Carolyn Miles820

Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children, speaks about the partnership with GlaxoSmithKline


Leaders are looking outside of traditional solutions to solve new or persistent problems. Each sector can contribute its own set of strengths to better address the problem. That’s why P3s have the potential to offer fresh ideas, community involvement, more resources and lasting impact.

To honor the world’s best P3s, the Institute for Business in Society and Concordia have created the P3 Impact Award. Applications are now being accepted through 30 April 2014. Criteria and the application form can be found at the P3 Impact Award website. The award will be presented at the Concordia Summit held on 29-30 September 2014 in New York City.


[i] Louis Witters, Revital Marom and Kurt Steinert. “The Role of Public-Private Partnerships in Driving Innovation.” The Global Innovation Index 2012. INSEAD.

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Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb “elevates the community stakeholder”

Freeman chatting with Robb about the Whole Foods mission
Photo/Susan Wormington

In an event co-hosted by Net Impact at Darden and the Darden 2014 Leadership Speaker Series, Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb addressed a packed Abbott Center Auditorium on January 22nd.  Robb credited IBiS Academic Director Ed Freeman, and his world-renowned concept of stakeholder theory, with helping to guide the mission, agenda, and goals of Whole Foods Markets.  Robb focused his remarks on “elevating the community stakeholder,” describing the people and institutions external to a business as some of the most important but most underappreciated of the stakeholder groups.

Through new initiatives such as Whole Cities, Whole Foods has begun to expand into neighborhoods where residents lack access to fresh food.  Stores have opened in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, Chicago’s Southside, and Detroit’s Midtown.  The Whole Cities initiative aims to create long-term value in these depressed areas by employing residents in stable jobs, by providing whole and healthy food options to those living and working in the city, and by encouraging other businesses to take root nearby.  Robb stressed that with Whole Cities, Whole Foods is putting Freeman’s stakeholder theory into practice, measuring success by Whole Foods’ ability to improve the lives of all stakeholders.

Robb describing conditions in Midtown Detroit
Photo/Susan Wormington



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Senator Warner visits Darden, meets with IBiS elective class

On January 21st, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) spent the afternoon at the Darden School of Business, meeting with administrators, faculty, and students as part of a trip to the region.  In particular, he met with IBiS Academic Director Mary Margaret Frank‘s students who are part of her groundbreaking course on the national debt.  In this cross-disciplinary seminar, graduate students from seven different departments and professional schools at UVA explore the broad topic by engaging with guest speakers, learning problem-solving approaches from various disciplines, directing their own reading and research, and collaborating on a final project.  For the course project, the students are creating a short video to educate young adults about the size, growth, sources, and consequences of the debt.

Photo/Andrew Shurtleff

Following Senator Warner’s meeting with the students from the national debt seminar, he spoke to a larger audience of graduate students about innovation and politics, answering a number of questions about crowdfunding, immigration, and taxes.

Senator Warner’s visit was co-sponsored by the Institute for Business in Society (IBiS) and the Business & Public Policy Club.  Read more in The Daily Progress and at UVA Today.

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“Local Roots, Global Reach” Business in Society conference on 14 February 2014



Registration is now open for the 2014 Business in Society Conference!

The annual Business in Society Conference aims to bring together a diverse audience of students, community members and business leaders to discuss the role of business in providing lasting value in an increasingly complex global society. This year’s conference will be held on Friday, February 14th at the Darden School of Business.

This year, the theme of “Local Roots, Global Reach” aims to explore the convergence of local and global players in impacting society through business solutions.  Sessions will explore how local actors can produce big wins and how big players can drive local change.  The conference will feature a broad collection of panelists and speakers from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, as well as a keynote address from Katherine Neebe (Darden ’04), Director of Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement at Walmart. See the conference website for the conference agenda, detailed session information, and more.

We ask that all conference participants register online by Monday, February 10th. Registration is free and should be completed through the conference website.

Please reach out to Christine Dreas with any questions concerning the conference.

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BPA and the Question of Replacement

In 2009, many parents posted pictures on blogs like this one, informing others of which baby bottles did not contain BPA

Many mothers’ blogs posted pictures like this one, informing others of which baby bottles did not contain BPA

Some firms proactively replace chemicals that have been labeled as potentially-hazardous substances.  Perhaps they want to avoid the chance of regulation in the future or perhaps the market is inducing replacement because consumers are demanding products free from the substance in question.  If firms do not proactively replace these potentially-hazardous substances, how can non-governmental organizations (NGOs) influence companies to take action?  When should NGOs target industry and when they should target regulatory bodies given the existence of potentially-hazardous substances in consumer products?

This question is the subject of a paper co-authored by Assistant Professor Tim Kraft (along with Yanchong Zheng, MIT, and Feryal Erhun, Stanford).  It is the first to analytically study an activist organization’s strategic choice of where to allocate (often scarce) resources under different market and regulatory conditions. Often a substance such as bisphenol-A (BPA) is not regulated by a government; however, scientists and consumers remain concerned about the potential harm to human health that could result from repeated exposure.  Using game theory, Kraft and his colleagues suggest best practices for NGOs, strategic recommendations that depend on market structure, potential environmental benefit, and the degree to which the organization is willing to be pragmatic.  For instance, more pragmatic NGOs (meaning NGOs that consider firms’ profits) should leverage competition between firms to ensure that a replacement becomes available to consumers.

This paper was recently published in a special issue of Manufacturing and Service Operations Management on sustainability and operations management (Fall 2013) and can be downloaded here.

Kraft recently published a related paper in Production and Operations Management (July-August 2013), from the viewpoint of corporations’ decisions of whether or not to replace a potentially-hazardous substance and the timing of a company’s investment decisions.  He and Associate Professor Gal Raz have also written a paper that examines whether opportunities exist for companies to not compete on toxicity but to instead work together to replace a potentially hazardous substance. It is currently available here for download from SSRN.

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