UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Alum immerses himself in Kenyan sustainability project with MBAs


When Ken Hines (MBA ’84) made a decision to make a significant donation to UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise (CSE) earlier this year, little did he know that he would soon be embarking with a group of 12 MBA students and faculty on a trip to Kenya as part of the school’s Sustainability Immersion course.

Hines has always had a personal and professional interest in sustainability, earning an undergraduate degree in forestry from NC State before getting his MBA degree at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Ken Hines

Today, as senior managing director for John Hancock’s Bond and Corporate Finance Group, Hines leads a team of 60 investment professionals who manage $60 billion in bond assets, many of which are in some way related to sustainability, from power and green energy to timber, agriculture and water.

“While we invest in every sector of the global economy, sustainability is a theme that cuts across all of our decisions,” says Hines. “When I expressed my lifelong interest in forestry and sustainability to UNC Kenan-Flagler Director of Development Shontel Jung (BSBA ’97 & MAC ’99), she arranged a meeting with Lisa Jones Christensen (PhD ’07) and members of the Advancement group,” says Hines. (Christensen is an assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, a faculty advisor to the CSE and teaches the Sustainability Immersion.)

“I was very impressed with the CSE staff and mission, which led to my gift. That meeting led to an invitation to go on the Sustainability Immersion trip, which was an awesome experience. “

UNC Kenan-Flagler launched the Sustainability Immersion course in 2010 as an innovation in teaching and learning. Designed for a select group of second-year MBA students, the Immersion provides students with the opportunity to work on actual sustainable enterprise projects with companies and other organizations in the US and Africa. Ultimately, it equips leaders with skills and experiences that develop leadership and enable them to advance sustainable business practices immediately after business school and throughout their careers.

On the Kenya trip, the MBA students were involved in two separate projects: improving the commercial viability of a water distribution kiosk in a rural area and advising about the manufacturing, marketing and selling of green charcoal in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi. Green charcoal is made from a mix of paper, sawdust, coffee husks and water.      “It was an interesting, encouraging and at times, shockingly fascinating experience,” says Hines. “People living in both areas needed help, and I was reminded that humans are positive, resilient and committed to making things better. The CSE and students are doing good work, and overall the trip renewed my interest in helping to develop a sustainable world. I would encourage everyone to do something like this trip if they have the opportunity – it will change your perspective.”

“UNC Kenan-Flagler has an incredibly engaged alumni base, particularly in the area of sustainable enterprise,” says Jessica Thomas, managing director of the CSE.  “One of the core strengths of the school’s sustainable enterprise program is the many ways in which alums such as Ken give back their resources, time and expertise to strengthen innovations like the Sustainability Immersion.”