Cultivating compassionate leadership through volunteerism
Kellogg offers a Social Impact Pathway designed for students who want to create positive social change throughout their careers. As social impact becomes a core business focus, it is important for today’s leaders to understand how to effect change. Full-time student Ava Quail '23 (2Y) discusses how volunteerism is a bedrock to building sustainable communities and compassionate leaders. Looking for ways to get involved in your community? She also shares tips on how you can get started.
What drew you to pursuing an MBA at Kellogg, and why an MBA at this point in your career?
When I was evaluating MBA programs, I wanted to find a community of impact-minded peers who could both share my passion for integrating social impact in business and challenge my perspectives on how this could best be achieved. Using business to maximize social good is not a new concept, but how social impact is being applied across all industries is changing.
While I worked at tech start-ups focused on sustainability in the transportation industry prior to Kellogg, I wanted to take my commitment to social impact one step further. During the COVID-19 pandemic, my sister and I launched a volunteer organization, called Reconnecting Connections, where we hosted technology drives to donate used smart devices to foster care organizations and nursing homes. We had two goals: to help address the digital access inequity for foster youth and to connect senior citizens in care facilities with their loved ones during quarantine.
This experience was so fulfilling that I realized I did not want this to just be a passion project - I wanted to devote myself to social impact full-time. Thus, I felt that getting an MBA was pivotal in granting me a deeper understanding of social innovation and how businesses can deliver scalable impact around the world.
Congratulations on being a scholarship recipient. Can you share more about how this came to be?
Thank you, I feel very grateful to have been awarded a Kellogg Scholarship. This scholarship is provided based on Kellogg applicants’ prior achievements, demonstrated leadership, and academic abilities. There was no separate process for this scholarship, as admitted full-time students are automatically considered.
Creating sustainable communities is one of your personal and professional passion points. How do you feel the Social Impact Pathway at Kellogg is preparing you to continue achieving this?
The social impact courses I have taken thus far have surpassed my (already high) expectations. The professors have done a remarkable job of framing each class as a true discussion in which I am entirely engrossed, leaving me eager to discuss the material with my peers after class.
What makes the Social Impact Pathway so valuable is not just the course content – it is also the community of impact-focused students I can learn from every day. For instance, in Megan Kashner’s Business of Social Change class, my peers' final projects gave me a deeper understanding of how unsustainable business methods are most often harming low-income communities. To create sustainable communities, I must remain abreast of how sustainability can improve the quality of life for all, and the Social Impact Pathway has given me endless access to such knowledge.
You’re active within the community at Kellogg. Can you share more about the different ways you’re involved and how it has impacted your MBA journey?
Too many ways to count! My involvement in Kellogg Cares (community service club), Social Impact Club (a Net Impact chapter), Special K! (43-year satirical musical tradition), and Golub Capital Board Fellows (ex-officio nonprofit board membership for 20 months) has allowed me to meet a diverse group of students, better understand my strengths and weaknesses, and reimagine what true leadership looks like.
Volunteering has always been a large part of my life, but Kellogg Cares has taught me how to create service opportunities for others. The people I have met through Social Impact Club have helped me shape my career goals and secure my summer internship on Zoom’s Social Impact team. In Special K!, I am constantly motivated by my peers pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones through participation in theatre. Through Board Fellows, I am becoming better prepared to achieve my long-term professional goal of serving on nonprofit boards.
These various communities of talented individuals have given me a family at Kellogg, and my MBA journey is undoubtedly more fulfilling because of their support, trust, friendship and guidance.
“Pay it forward” is in the DNA of the community at Kellogg. How have you seen this in action through the various clubs and interactions you have with peers, faculty and staff?
Every day, I am amazed by the generous community here from social entrepreneurs’ awe-inspiring business ventures to the active engagement in many social impact clubs at Kellogg. One specific example that comes to mind is when Kellogg Cares organized a holiday food drive. Kellogg students, JVs, faculty, and staff rallied together to donate non-perishable goods for Connections for the Homeless and Hillside Food Pantry, causing six large boxes to overflow with more than $3,500 worth of food. The high volume of donations surpassed our expectations, and as you can imagine, the beneficiaries were ecstatic!
What connection do you see between volunteerism and leadership, and why do you feel volunteering can benefit organizations and companies?
True leadership requires persevering in the face of adversity. Volunteering gives us a window – a small one, but a window nonetheless – into the lives of others and the adversities they face, leaving us with invaluable lessons. It enables us to briefly step into a different community’s shoes in a way that is far more tangible than merely reading statistics about them.
As consumers increasingly demand companies to integrate social impact in their missions and structures, volunteerism grants us the opportunity to better understand how to amplify the voices of underserved populations. If we don’t understand what our diverse staff and customers are going through, how can we provide them with products and services that actually meet their needs?
For anyone who has limited volunteering experience, what are some tips for them?
You do not need any volunteering experience to be an excellent volunteer! In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Here’s how you can get started:
- Think of a cause that is meaningful to you. Search online for a local nonprofit supporting that cause, and contact them indicating that you’d like to volunteer. Find a group of friends to join you, and go for it!
- Enter the event with empathy, energy, and patience. With these three qualities, you’ll surprise yourself with how much you can accomplish.
Learn more about Social Impact at Kellogg.