Q&A: MBA Net Impact president Meisha McDaniel

MBA Net Impact president Meisha McDaniel (MBA '16)

MBA Net Impact president Meisha McDaniel (MBA ’16)

Meisha McDaniel, president of the MBA Net Impact chapter at UNC Kenan-Flagler, discusses the intersection of business and sustainability – and why she’s passionate about making a difference.

Why are sustainability and corporate responsibility important to you? 

Business is a vehicle for value maximization. Traditionally, businesses have measured value through top-line and bottom-line growth. I think sustainability is an exciting opportunity to provide a new framework for value creation that businesses are well-positioned to leverage.

My commitment to sustainability stems from living in environments where social and environmental ecosystems were not conducive to promoting human development and accessibility of the American dream. My work has led me to view climate change as a contemporary issue that will affect me, the people I care about here and abroad, and my future children.

All of these things make sustainability even more meaningful to me, because I view sustainability as a framework to confront what otherwise might be an insurmountable obstacle and, given the amount of resources that corporations and private wealth organizations have under their purview, these institutions are critical partners in extracting and leveraging value to scale sustainability in ways that public and social sector institutions cannot.

What do you think are some of the biggest opportunities in sustainable enterprise?

I’m completing a dual-degree program to earn my MBA and a master’s in City & Regional Planning, where I specialize in economic development. Within my operations concentration at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I’ve found business operations to be a critical driver in win-win social sustainability outcomes, particularly as large corporations and state and local governments recognize and prioritize the utilization of businesses owned by women and underrepresented social groups.

I see great potential and opportunity in the area of distributed renewable energy generation, particularly in countries without stable, affordable electricity, which could use this technology to leapfrog towards greater energy security.

I interned in the impact investing sector. During my internship, I had the opportunity to speak to the director of programs at DBL Investors, which closed a $400 million fund to become one of the largest social impact venture funds in the country. My internship was an opportunity to learn more about private and institutional wealth and how investors are starting to incorporate multiple bottom lines into their investment strategies. All of those trends are really encouraging.

Why is it important for all business leaders – regardless of job function and industry –to learn about sustainability? 

Shareholders are concerned about the impact of corporations on society. Millennials have prioritized working at and buying from businesses that have an authentic sustainability lens. The emergence of new markets requires non-traditional marketing and operational approaches to maximize value. Sustainability is a cross-cutting thread that can enable businesses to navigate all of those demands.

Why did your pursue an MBA?

In 2010, I attended the Social Enterprise Alliance Conference. It featured social enterprise organizations and thought leaders from around the world. During the conference, I noticed that a lot of people at the forefront of that movement had MBAs. I was also surprised to see that representatives from traditional corporations were also in attendance and had really exciting things to say about how they utilized their human and financial capital to drive sustainability. That’s when I knew I wanted to pursue an MBA.

UNC Kenan-Flagler has been a global leader in sustainability education for over 15 years. How did the School’s commitment to sustainable enterprise factor into your decision to attend?

I knew I wanted to be involved in the MBA Net Impact Club (Net Impact Club) before applying to UNC Kenan-Flagler. I read Net Impact’s Business as UNusual, which is a guide to graduate programs around the world. It talks about each graduate program and their offerings with regards to sustainability.

Reading Business as UNusual provided me with insight on how impact-oriented students can leverage UNC Kenan-Flagler’s culture, career support and course offerings to embark on sustainability career paths. Since matriculating, I’ve also heard from several other students that UNC Kenan-Flagler’s review in that publication influenced their decision to come. The MBA Net Impact Club’s gold rating and UNC Kenan-Flagler’s recognition for excellence in business education told me that I could put my non-traditional business skills to use here.

How does Net Impact make a difference on campus and in the community? Why should students get involved?

What makes UNC Kenan-Flagler awesome is that the MBA and Undergraduate Net Impact Clubs, our faculty advisors and our partners within the Center for Sustainable Enterprise aren’t the only folks that care about how business impacts the world.

What makes our club unique, and what particularly appeals to students in our chapter, is that — via the regional and global Net Impact networks — you can engage with a community of other passionate folks who specialize in sustainability and connect this passion to various industry and functional areas.

That’s why I think the Net Impact Club is a critical vehicle for reinforcing UNC Kenan-Flagler’s value proposition with regards to sustainability. In addition to providing career-oriented and educational programing around social and environmental impact that complements what’s available through the MBA Sustainable Enterprise Concentration, we also partner with anyone who wants to help our members gain experience applying their business acumen to drive positive change within our institution and the greater community.

What values are most important to you as a business leader?

The values that are most important to me are inclusion, efficiency and value maximization.

The Net Impact Club is particularly interested in partnering with other businesses, student organizations and people. I think that sustainability can’t just be limited to one bucket or silo. Sustainability is much more valuable when it is integrated, as we seek to do with business. For that reason, it’s important for the Net Impact Club to build relationships with a variety of businesses and organizations.

It’s been great to be a student at UNC Kenan-Flagler because I get to engage with people with different perspectives. Diversity of thought and opinion are really important to me.

What legacy do you want to leave at UNC Kenan-Flagler and in the business community?

Our Class of 2015 MBA Net Impact leaders Cindy Frantz, Dario Kuperman and Taylor Mallard were instrumental in launching the Social Impact Summer Grants (SISGs) at UNC Kenan-Flagler. These funds allow MBA students to take low-pay or no pay-internships and apply their business skills in social impact organizations. We plan to distribute these grants again this year, and it is very important for me to increase the funds available for the SISG recipient.

Thanks to the support from UNC Kenan-Flagler, our classmates and local businesses such as The Crunkleton, Carrboro Yoga and Steel String Brewery, we were able to distribute more than $2,200 to last year’s SISG recipients. Taylor is also helping us partner with the School’s advancement office to raise money for a $100,000 endowment by 2018 to establish long-term funding for these grants.

Learn more about the business of sustainability: