MBA grads build legacy tackling global challenges
The Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA (GSSE) program at Colorado State University started with a simple idea: that hands-on business education could enable students to build careers creating lasting impact by addressing some of the world’s most stubborn social and environmental problems.
In 2007, when the program launched, the master’s degree was designed to emphasize experiential learning with an entire semester dedicated to field work built into the curriculum. That spirit carries on strong today with student teams creating businesses domestically and abroad while applying classroom learning in the real world.
As the MBA program grew, its graduates spread over the globe, taking the seeds of the idea that businesses could do well by doing good across dozens of countries. Now, they’ve developed a network of passionate and skilled business people focused on forging a more sustainable future.
When Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA alumni recently returned to Fort Collins for a reunion celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary – with some graduates traveling from as far away as West Africa and Eastern Europe – it provided the perfect opportunity to ask about how the program helped them launch their careers and effect positive change in communities throughout the world.
Impact of the graduates we talked with:
• Saving women and children’s lives by facilitating hygienic births
• Supporting and innovating on local food systems
• Reducing reliance on fossil fuels by creating solar power facilities
• Conserving resources and helping move CSU toward 100% renewable electricity by 2030
• Combating rare diseases and anemia among pregnant women
• Improving vaccine delivery by revamping supply chains
Mike Callahan, Cohort 1
- Senior Project Leader at National Renewable Energy Laboratory
- Co-founder of Powermundo
Mike Callahan began working in offshore exploration oil well drilling after his undergraduate studies. However, after witnessing the tragedies of the Angolan civil war while working in Africa, and seeing the conflict’s connection to oil, Callahan decided to make a career change to focus on clean energy. His journey brought him to Colorado State University’s Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise program where he earned his master’s degree and co-founded the social enterprise PowerMundo.
“I was drawn to the mission and the applied, experiential learning aspect of GSSE. In the ecosystem of Fort Collins and CSU there’s ingenuity, an entrepreneurial spirit, and humanitarian ethic. The program helps students create businesses that are renewable, regenerative, and that support a better life for people.”
Ten years after graduating from GSSE, Callahan continues to support PowerMundo and works at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, where he helps to deploy energy innovations and develop large-scale clean energy and water projects across the globe, directly reducing the negative impacts of fossil fuels and mitigating the risks of droughts.
What do you do at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory?
“Most recently, I’ve been supporting the Department of Defense,” said Callahan. “There’s an interest from the DoD in using distributed energy sources to increase energy security. For example, a microgrid incorporating solar and batteries can provide increased resiliency, enabling a base to continue to operate even if there is a disruption to the electrical grid from a natural disaster or cyber-attack.”
“I see the military ideally being a leader. A lot of military solutions can help move the market to where it becomes more common.”
What’s one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on?
“While embedded with the Navy in Hawaii, we worked on a project on the island of Kauai to help develop a large-scale solar array and large-scale battery that could continue to power the installation in the event of an offsite power disruption.”
“Especially in the case of Hawaii, where a lot of energy comes from importing oil and running generators, every electron produced from solar power also reduces the need for oil. This stabilizes energy prices, keeps jobs and money in the state, and contributes to the world-wide movement to reduce conflicts fueled by oil.”
What did you find most valuable about the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA?
“A cornerstone of business school is working in teams: how you manage to accomplish a real goal, how you start a business. It’s kind of hard to do that on your own if you’re just one person working in your garage, but the GSSE MBA brings an international cohort together to work on a common cause: making a positive difference in the world.”
“GSSE can also be a way for students to explore new career opportunities, and the program’s diversity broadens people’s points of view.”
What are your goals in increasing access to electricity in rural areas through Powermundo?
“About 15 percent of the global population, over one billion people, don’t have access to electricity and may use candles and kerosene lanterns to light their homes, which is dangerous. It’s also very expensive to light your home candle by candle, or with kerosene or diesel. At PowerMundo we provide education, distribution and digital micro-financing for plug- and-play solar systems in Peru, helping people improve their lives and save money with solar energy. “
Rachael Miller, Cohort 5
- Assistant Professor of Business at Alaska Pacific University
- Director of Community for The Food Corridor
“Mapping out my career since GSSE I saw how my time in the program really did affect the trajectory of my career. I found my love of food systems during project research and haven’t looked back since.”
After graduation Miller co-founded and served as the executive director for MamaCarts, which aimed to improve the quality of global street food by working with food vendors to help deliver healthy and affordable meals to underserved populations.
“Seeing 10 years of GSSE rock stars come together was so inspiring and admittedly a little emotional. We all took a bit of a risk investing our time and resources in a new program, in a time when MBAs were flooding the market. It was all worth it; to see the impact graduates are having in their areas was so humbling.”
Have the relationships you built as a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA student stayed with you?
“Yes, our cohort was and is very tight. Some of my best friends today are those I met in GSSE and our network is paying off in more ways than one.”
“For instance, I got a call from a GSSE friend one day and he said, ‘I just saw this woman pitch a cool food-related company. They’re AirBnB for commercial kitchens.’ He connected us over email and I’ve been working with The Food Corridor for the last two years, building a business that has a positive impact on communities across the country.”
How have you seen the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program evolve since you were a student?
“I’ve seen the business idea evaluation and business building process change since my time in the program to include more idea vetting on the front end. That the program solicits students for feedback and makes changes based on that feedback is amazing! I hope we continue to see more of our graduates not only starting and growing their own ventures, but working themselves into larger firms; working on already established supply chains, metric evaluation systems, and market development.”
Mitesh Gala, Cohort 1
- Product manager at Nexleaf Analytics
- Founder and CEO of SEED
“The simple description of what we do is converting existing equipment into smart equipment,” said Mitesh Gala of his role as product manager at Nexleaf Analytics. “Our devices monitor temperature and transmit to the cloud in real time so you can monitor data without having to go out to the field.”
Gala helps develop internet-of-things technology for companies, governments, and non-governmental organizations to manage their refrigerated supply chains in order to preserve vaccines and conserve energy. The company also analyzes data for research into cookstoves.
Where do you see value in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA?
“My intent of coming to GSSE was mostly from an entrepreneurial standpoint. GSSE gave me that platform to explore how to drive social change and social impact while using standard business practices and methodologies, and a safety net that allowed me to experiment. In the job that I am in, experimentation is the only way you can move forward. You’ve got to be really lean and agile to develop insights and use those insights to move forward. I think for anybody that is something you need to develop as a skill set.”
“The program has also definitely enabled a lot of folks to drive their passions within organizations.”
What was it like seeing your classmates during the reunion and returning to campus?
“I think the last time I was back at CSU was 2011, so it’s been a while. A lot of the reunion was catching up with my cohort. There’s so much that happens in 10 years, you just want to get to know where everyone is. I also got to meet the new GSSE students, which was nice.”
Meghan King, Cohort 10
- Current Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA student
“It’s such a diverse network of people in terms of their skills and their passions,” said Meghan King after attending GSSE’s 10-year reunion and listening to alumni share their stories.
“When I went into the program I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I‘m an entrepreneur, or if I want to be an entrepreneur, if that’s my path.’ But seeing the number of jobs that graduates have, that range from nonprofits to government to consulting to their own ventures, the material is widely applicable.”
“I also enjoyed hearing about what the GSSE program looked like for other cohorts, and how different it was,” said Meghan.
“The program has constantly iterated to stay new over the years.”
How have you seen Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA alumni engage with the program and current students?
“I feel like alumni events always struggle with engagement, but I was like, ‘Wow,’ the evening event at the reunion had over 150 people. I was impressed with how much GSSE alumni want to connect with each other so much. It was a really good reminder to use that network.”
(Those connections also helped King find employment while she completes her degree, currently working with GSSE alumni at Afinidata and The Food Corridor.)
“A lot of our classes have also brought in alumni, which has been really helpful.”
What surprised you about talking with the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA graduates?
“It was interesting to see how they applied GSSE to their jobs. They talked about the importance of their soft skills more than I thought they would. They talked about those relationship-building skills a lot more than the technical skills they gained.”
Paul Hudnut, GSSE MBA Director
Lecturer in CSU’s College of Business
“Changing the world is hard work and I think sometimes people come into this naively thinking, ‘Oh, well, we’ll go start a company and be wildly successful,’ and there’s a lot of struggle,” said Paul Hudnut, who helped create the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA.
“That’s why we’re recruiting people who are really passionate about it. They keep pushing instead of giving up.”
“There’s also something to be said for connecting talented people, having them explore this area for 16 months of their life, and then while they’re here instilling in them some skills and some approaches that they can use, as well as this network that they can continue to tap into going forward into their careers. I think that’s a really powerful thing.”
How do students who don’t end up creating their own business find value in entrepreneurial curriculum?
“People ask me, ‘How do you teach someone to be an entrepreneur?’ and I say, ‘That’s not what we do. We teach people about the entrepreneurial process. We teach them entrepreneurial skills and approaches and then those have pretty broad application in a lot of organizations.'”
Where do students find work after graduating from the program?
“Generally, I think about one third of the people work at startups that they either created during the program on or came in touch with in their time at CSU. Another third work for small and medium-sized companies, often with an entrepreneurial approach. The last third work for large organizations, and that could be in government, at NGOs, or with big companies. We’re proud that we have people working for Coca-Cola and OtterBox and those organizations as well as the younger companies too.”
How do you think the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA has become a valuable program in developing sustainable enterprise?
“We satisfy the requirements of an MBA, but we do it in our own unique way of working on how you build something that matters. How you do that in an intentional way, how that may require different approaches to financing and marketing and operations and human resources across the board.”
What was your favorite part about the 10-year reunion?
“The panels in the morning that our alums put on. It was really wonderful to sit there and listen to all the interesting things they’re doing, they’re on the cutting edges. I sat in on the panel on food systems, where they’re pushing the boundaries of bringing their ideas for business into areas that may have not had a lot of business thinking. And then I listened to our graduates talk about renewable energy from the level of, ‘I started my own solar installation company,’ to ‘I’ve just been working for the U.S. Navy on a one-gigawatt renewables and solar project,’ and it was just great. I didn’t ever imagine that, and that was a failure of my imagination.”
Gracey Hanley Wright, Cohort 6
- Co-Founder of Ascent
- Entrepreneurship instructor in CSU’s College of Business
“A single approach will never be successful in addressing the immense scale and complexity of climate change, poverty, environmental degradation, public health, and many other challenges,” said Grace Hanley Wright, an instructor at CSU whose company Ascent focuses on diagnosing rare diseases and improving maternal health.
“We need cross-sector approaches. We need to figure out how to work together in industries that have traditionally been separate, and in order to do that we need a strong network of people.”
What did you take away from the 10-year reunion?
“The reunion really showed me that there are a whole lot of people that are really making a difference, who go out there and they put their head down and they make their companies more sustainable.”
“I have been feeling really worried about the state of the world, the state of the United States, the state of the environment, and the future of the people who are most vulnerable in our global population. I think it’s really easy to see what’s out there and feel down or feel hopeless, but when you see what people just like you are doing out there, and the kind of impact they’re having in their communities and their organizations and how that has a ripple effect, I do feel hope for progress.”
“I hope the weekend helped people realize that they’re part of a movement, part of a community of change-makers. When people graduate they’re one more person who is equipped to amplify that mission of a better future.”
How do you think the network of Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA students and graduates is working to address difficult issues?
“GSSE students and alumni are on the front lines, using their careers and their lives to move that needle toward a future that is more equitable and more sustainable. Change will not happen in isolation, and by now, we are all aware that we must help each other and rely on each other to create systems of change.”
“A single approach will never be successful [to address] the immense scale and complexity of climate change, poverty, environmental degradation, public health, and many other challenges. We need cross-sector approaches. We need to figure out how to work together in industries that have traditionally been separate, and in order to do that we need a strong network of people. Now that we have alumni who are high up in businesses, or own their own business, those efforts are being magnified.”
How do you see graduates who don’t start their own business making a difference?
Graduates working within industries, they’re not this deified entrepreneur, but they’re making substantial change. It’s easy sometimes to measure: Did a person start a business? What is their revenue? What has their market growth been? But that internal change, that intrapreneurship, it’s hard to measure, but it’s immensely powerful. If you can move organizations you can produce a lot of impact.”
Stacey Baumgarn, Cohort 1
- Campus Energy Coordinator at CSU
“No matter what – every day – I can feel like I did a little something that mattered,” said Stacey Baumgarn, who provides education and outreach to CSU faculty, staff, and students regarding energy and water conservation.
“My focus is on the people – our day-to-day choices and habits – and how conservation behaviors can really add up.”
“We have to play the long game. We have to believe that the work we are doing matters and that it makes a difference.”
What are some of the projects you’ve been most proud of working on at CSU?
“I have been working to establish a Green Labs program for CSU; a huge amount of the total energy and water we use on campus flows through our labs. The labs are doing important and incredible work and I work to collaborate on solutions that keep a lab safe, high-performing, and, hopefully, a little less intensive for energy and water use.”
“I also have the opportunity to work on large utility scale opportunities, working to help CSU realize 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.”
What do you think is the impact of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program?
“Ten years ago, I didn’t really think about a room possibly filled with 200 GSSE’ers. The potential of that group is really exciting. No matter what an individual graduate or student has chosen to do with the experience, GSSE is a life-altering degree program.”
“It is a good feeling to be a part of this GSSE family, but we have a huge responsibility. Yes, it is an opportunity, but it is work too. But, I believe, it is the work we can do that makes a difference.”
Zubaida Bai, Cohort 2
- Founder and CEO of ayzh
During her fieldwork as part of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program, Zubaida Bai traveled to India, where she grew up, to look for ways to empower women living there. In her research she discovered that some midwives used sickles to cut newborns’ umbilical cords.
“This was my ‘aha’ moment that launched me into the world of maternal health,” said Bai.
Out of that experience she created ayzh, a company that now develops clean birth kits that aid in hygienic deliveries and have reached more than 500,000 women and infants.
What drove you to create your company and how did your experience in the MBA program empower you to pursue that goal?
“Founding ayzh has been a lifelong journey. As a young girl growing up in India, I witnessed many women and families suffering from health and financial hardship. I always wanted to find ways to end that suffering. After earning my engineering degree, I was determined to take that learning back home. I spent four years working in India developing various kinds of appropriate technology for low-resource settings before I realized that too many great innovations never got out of prototyping and into the hands of those who need it most. I knew then I wanted to spin off on my own and close that last-mile gap.”
“I wanted to figure out how to sustainably bring appropriate technology to market for significant and scalable impact, and the opportunity arose to obtain my MBA in Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise at CSU. As both my husband and I were particularly passionate about helping women, we began looking for opportunities to design and deliver for this underserved population.”
Can you describe the mission of ayzh and how women have been impacted by your company’s efforts?
“I founded ayzh with my husband and another colleague from the GSSE program on the basis that no woman should die or suffer from a preventable cause, especially while giving life in childbirth. And so, we launched ayzh with our first product, a $3 Clean Birth Kit in a Purse (named ‘janma,’ meaning birth in Hindi) to prevent infection at the time of childbirth.”
“In a world where health systems are large and complex, simple, low-cost solutions often get overlooked while the real needs of women go unmet at the expense of their survival, health and well being. For example, poor hygiene at the time of childbirth is directly linked to the preventable deaths of more than 1 million women and newborns each year, with more than 80 percent of those deaths concentrated in 30 countries in the developing world.”
“After a woman gives birth there is a ripple effect, a healthy woman contributes to a healthy family and a healthy community. Maternal and child health are the foundation of health and well being for society.”
Connect with us
To learn how you can become a Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA student at Colorado State University, request information now. We’ll follow up with you and guide you through the process.
“We’re proud of all of you. Looking forward, the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA will continue to be a central program in the College of Business and one that will take us far into the future.”
– Dean Beth Walker, CSU College of Business