SXSWorld November 2015


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1 0 S X S W o r l d | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 5 | S X S W. C O M he non-profit Casey Gerald runs is on a roll. "Things are going fantastic," the charismatic Dallas native says in a recent phone call. So it's a little confusing when, in the next breath, he says, "We are right on the brink of putting ourselves out of business." But Gerald is as ambitious and driven as a person dedicated to social change can be, so it is clear he is serious and more interested in starting movements than in caretaking institutions. Gerald is the CEO of MBA xAmerica ("MBAs across America"), the organization he co-founded with three of his fellow Harvard Business School graduates. The non-profit got a huge boost at its launch when a video of the speech Gerald gave to his HBS graduating class racked up more than 100,000 views. Google him and you can watch it by clicking a link titled Most Stirring Speech Ever by an MBA. Be assured that the title is not damning with faint praise. MBA xAmerica was born out of an existential crisis Gerald and his co-founders confronted on the eve of their final year at HBS. Though it might sound counterintuitive, each of them, to varying degrees, chose to get an MBA as a means to help drive social change, rather than to simply drive opportunities for more lucrative careers. Gerald, who got his undergrad degree at Yale, explains, "My junior year in college, I used to sneak over to Yale Law School because they had the best speakers. One night there was a guy speaking named Van Jones. He's an environmental activist and a brilliant speaker (and former Special Advisor to the Council on Environmental Quality under President Obama). And he said, 'In the 20th century, if you wanted to change the world, you went to law school. In the 21st century, if you want to change the world, go to business school.' Because business and the understanding of it is really the tool for change in this century." The advice was instrumental in convincing Gerald to go to graduate business school, rather than law school, as he had originally planned. But halfway through the Harvard MBA program, he and his three colleagues wondered if their education was preparing them to affect social change, or simply to fatten the balance sheets of Wall Street investment banks and hedge funds. In response, they did what lots disaffected college students do: ROAD TRIP! But this road trip was no Animal House-style bacchanal on wheels. In what became the pilot for MBA xAmerica's signature program, over the course of six weeks they traveled to six different communities, spending a week in each place. At each stop, they workshopped with a local fledgling entrepreneur or small business owner. They hoped to prove that a week's worth of MBA expertise could help those busi- nesses and, in turn, help those businesses help their communities. In other words, they sought to actually do the kind of work they had hoped their elite B-school educations would prepare them for. And did they ever succeed! "We started this, just four kids with a crazy idea that nobody really believed," Gerald says. "And in three years since, we've found something that was quite extraordinary. First, that there was a deep hunger among our generation not just to make a dime, but to make a difference. Second, and more importantly, that there was an extreme urgency on the parts of communities and entrepreneurs to solve real problems, and not wait on folks in Washington or in big corporations to come and fix them." Maybe people didn't believe in them then, but they believe in them now. Of course, believing is easier when the participating entrepre- neurs, many of them skeptics at the outset, rave about what they have Casey Gerald and How MBA Road Trips Can Drive Social Change by Rich Malley T C O U R T E S Y O F M B A X A M E R I C A C O U R T E S Y O F M B A X A M E R I C A

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