While Leah Bradford Francis ‘06 was working in management consulting, she frequently asked herself how she was improving the quality of life for others in what she did each day. To explore this question, she left the firm and joined Habitat for Humanity. Through her work on affordable housing, she learned that for true scale and sustainability of effective interventions to social change, the brainpower and resources of all sectors – corporate, government and nonprofit – are needed. This idea led to yet another question for her: How does this type of cross-sector work manifest itself in a career?
That’s when Francis chose to pursue an MBA at Kellogg. “I decided to get an MBA because I wanted to make sure I could make the most compelling business case for actually doing some good, whether to a CEO or a policymaker,” she says. “Getting an MBA from Kellogg gave me the tools to lead an organization and understand the levers of business for sustainable social impact.”
Kellogg not only opened Francis’ eyes to the world of business, but also gave her the space to explore community impact in Chicago. She spent her summer at a community foundation working on capacity building for grassroots organizations across the city. From this experience, she saw the role that philanthropy can play to empower organizations and individuals to improve their communities, and influence the civic discourse on social change.
Following her graduation, Francis recalls that charting her career path wasn’t easy, since an MBA wasn’t a typical entry point into philanthropy. However, Kellogg provided her with the best tools and networks to map out her course. “The Kellogg experience shows you how to define yourself, and the value that you bring no matter what industry you decide to pursue,” she says.
Eventually Francis landed at Kraft Foods. “I thought, well, if I want to work on issues of malnutrition, why not go work with one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world?” she reflects. “Don’t work it from the outside; work it from the inside.” As president of the Kraft Foods Group Foundation, she was able to shape the company’s platform for charitable giving, employee civic engagement and humanitarian aid.
In her current role as director at the Synergos Institute, Francis works with philanthropists, both institutions and individuals, to address complex issues of poverty around the world. She is especially keen on employing a multi-stakeholder approach. She believes that in order to bring about systemic change, collaboration across sectors is key. Most especially, the communities impacted need to be a part of the decision making process. Francis also explains that ultimately a paradigm shift must take place in order to create incentives for diverse groups of stakeholders to work together to find solutions.
“In order to solve tough social problems, that are frankly very old problems, no organization can do it by itself. They have to work in partnership with others in order to drive transformational change. And if you’re competing or there is a lack of trust, you’re not really incentivized to work together.”