No two ways about it: Paul Rice was an improbable candidate for an MBA when he arrived at Berkeley Haas in 1994.
But Rice had a clear purpose. He had seen Nicaraguan coffee growers reap a ten-fold increase in the prices for their beans by selling them under a fledgling Fair Trade logo to European buyers. If he could build a Fair Trade movement in the United States, American consumers could become a huge force in reducing poverty around the world.
"It was an epiphany," he says today. "I went from being a devout anti-capitalist to realizing that the market is probably the most powerful force we have for liberating poor farmers."
First, though, he had to know about American business. "After eleven years in Nicaragua, I felt like Rip Van Winkle, waking up after being asleep for 20 years," he says. "I needed the MBA to get acculturated."
It worked. By his second year at Berkeley Haas, Rice had a detailed business plan - written in Jon Freeman's entrepreneurship class and sharpened by input from classmates and the faculty. By 1998, he had raised start-up money and was up and running.
Today, Fair Trade USA is one the most successful and fastest-growing social enterprises in the nation. It certified around $1.5 billion worth of imported products last year - and not just coffee. The Fair Trade Certified logo now adorns cocoa, tea, flowers, fruits, honey, herbs, spices, sugar, and wine. It even appears on body- care products and clothing. Over 750 companies in North America, including Walmart, Starbucks, and Whole Foods, now sell Fair Trade Certified products.
In a tiny kitchen in Emeryville, Calif., Revolution Foods co-founders Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, both MBA 06, worked with four friends through the night prepping and packaging all-natural spaghetti and meatballs, carrots, and fresh peaches.
"Six of us did everything," Richmond said at a recent Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business celebration. "We cooked the food, we packed the food, we counted fruit, we drove the truck. We got these first hundred, 200, 300 meals to schools so we could prove our concept, get our company funded, and scale from there."
Since then, the company's mission has remained unchanged: to provide every child a healthy meal free of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or high-fructose corn syrup.
That mission is gaining traction. With a compound annual growth rate of 125 percent, Revolution Foods is now a $70 million business, providing jobs to 1,000 largely inner-city employees who prepare a million meals a week (breakfast, lunch, snack, and supper) in 10 states and Washington, D.C. About 85 percent of Revolution Foods' meals reach children who are in free or reduced-price meal programs.
For Revolution Foods' co-founders, everything started at Haas, where Richmond and Tobey met. "This is going to help us sign a term sheet," Richmond recalls Tobey telling her in Haas' New Venture Finance class. A New Product Development class helped them define their product and align it with their values. In 2007, the pair won grand prize in the school's Global Social Venture Competition. And their first funding from Bay Area Equity Fund also came through connections at Haas-along with a few of its leaders.
Ben Cain, MBA 06, a classmate and friend, showed up at 3 a.m. to help pack those first meals in Emeryville before heading to his day job at PayPal. He's now the company's vice president of financial strategy and analysis.
"So when I talk about 'It takes a village,' that village came from our family at Haas," Richmond says. "I can't say enough about that."
By Kim Girard
I held my breath and thought, "Oh dear."
Patrick Awuah, MBA 99, is recalling a moment a decade ago when his dream of establishing Africa's first private secular liberal arts college-Ashesi University-was being dashed. After months of seeking a hearing before Ghana's college accreditation committee, he finally was presenting his case, and the chair was not impressed. In a country where large public universities and an emphasis on rote learning prevail, the authorities thought Awuah's plan to build an Ivy League-type school was about as realistic as opening a Disneyland in the Sahara. It didn't help that Awuah, 35 at the time, looked even younger.
And then, without skipping a beat, Awuah recalls, he laid out the vision he had been developing over the previous three years. He presented the financial plan, detailed the money he had raised, and warned that he could not afford to burn through any more cash waiting for approval. He pointed out where the campus would be built and explained the bigger picture: How change could only come to Africa if it had a new generation of entrepreneurial, ethical leaders-and that's just what Ashesi would produce. He discussed how computer science and business majors need to study philosophy, why small classes are better suited to teach technical skills, and how the new university would require community service.
Nine-hundred students are now enrolled at Ashesi, a stunning, new 100-acre campus perched on a hillside overlooking the capital city of Accra. It has lush green lawns and palm trees, covered walkways and light-filled classrooms, dormitories, and a library. The university also has a balanced budget, with tuition revenue covering operations, and has raised more than $10 million in philanthropic gifts.
Already its 420 graduates are taking on leadership roles. Within six months of completing school, almost 100 percent of Ashesi's graduates are placed in jobs at international firms as well as in Ghanaian enterprises, nonprofits, and government. While an estimated one-third of African professionals have left Africa in the last 20 years, nearly all of Ashesi graduates stay on the continent.
Awuah has won the Aspen Institute's John P. McNulty Prize for extraordinary young leaders and the Microsoft Alumni Foundation Integral Fellow Award for making a difference in the lives of others.
By Jonathan Rabinovitz