UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
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Chris Strausz-Clark

Chris Strausz-Clark


MBA 2000

"Choosing only to work with people who think and act like you do, many alternative and interesting views are missed. Broader exposure to different points of view is critical to innovation in sustainable enterprise. "

Interviewed March 2006

Chris is a Senior Financial Analyst at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is responsible for supporting the financial and business planning efforts of the Pacific Northwest and Global Libraries grant programs. Born in Charlotte and raised in Minneapolis, his interest for sustainable enterprise stems from watching his father, a Presbyterian Minister, develop and attempt to sustain social service programs in low-income neighborhoods, often with very limited resources. At an early age he realized how critical sustainability was to the continuity of initiatives that positively impact the livelihood of people.

After earning a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Davidson College, Chris worked at Sara Lee Corporation in France, South Africa, and New York. While in South Africa he volunteered to assist in small business development in rural Kwazulu-Natal, such as helping local women create a business plan for a small sewing operation. Following his career at Sara Lee, Chris concurrently obtained an MBA from the Kenan-Flager Business School and a Master of Public Policy from Duke University. He gives credit to the sustainable enterprise program at Kenan-Flagler for helping him to conceptualize sustainability beyond profit, to constantly think about the big picture, to consider multiple viewpoints on the implications of organizational actions, and how to address the issues created by these actions. After completing his degrees Chris worked as a consultant and equity analyst at Trillium Asset Management Corporation before moving to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Sustainability is a primary criterion for grant making at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization is constantly faced with the challenge of not only identifying and funding programs that address deeply entrenched social problems, but also ensuring the sustainability of these programs. In evaluating funding opportunities, Chris and his colleagues attempt to define, forecast and marshal the resources required to implement and sustain the entire project, and not just the foundation's share of costs. Gates Foundation funds are often quite small in relation to the goals they are trying to achieve; it is therefore critical to involve other partners like the government, the private sector and other NGOs to help support and sustain each effort. As a result the Foundation is very proactive in talking about sustainability and managing the expectations of each partner regarding what it will take to sustain each effort over the long term.

Chris sees his work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as an avenue for creating positive change in the world. The Global Libraries program seeks to increase access to technology for residents in low-income and disadvantaged communities through partnerships with public libraries in the United States and throughout the world. The Pacific Northwest program works with public and private partners to make a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable families and children in Washington State and Oregon. The program invests in three closely-linked strategic areas: early learning, to ensure children have the opportunity for success in school and life; supportive housing, to help homeless families stabilize and move toward self-sufficiency; and community grants, to advance and augment human services for low-income children and families.

Chris believes that a silo based thinking pattern is a major hindrance to universal implementation of innovative and sustainable thinking in business. "When individuals and organizations choose only to work with people who think and act like they do, many alternative and interesting views are missed, which creates significant blind spots. Broadening one's exposure to different points of view is critical to innovation in sustainable enterprise".

Conflict is often times about the control of resources. Chris' viewpoint is that as resources become scarcer, it is increasingly important to incorporate sustainable practices to mitigate this scarcity in a bid to avoid conflict and promote cooperation.

Chris is married with a 17 month old daughter and lives in Seattle, Washington.

Chris' picks

Sustainability Book Recommendation:

I and Thou By: Martin Buber

Takeaway lesson: You can view life forms like objects or like living beings, and this view affects how you interact with people and the environment. Business is primarily concerned with creating and mobilizing capital, which creates an object-oriented focus. While this perspective is unavoidable and necessary, it is also important to recognize its limits, especially with respect to human rights and environmental sustainability.

Nominee for Sustainability Superstar:

Dr. Wangari Maathai Nobel Laureate and founder of the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya

Founded in 1977, the Greenbelt Movement uses a reforestation initiative to mobilize and teach women to stand up for their rights and take the initiative of creating better living conditions for themselves. Through the process of mobilizing people to action, GBM addresses a wide range of issues that directly affect the lives of individuals, particularly women, and their families, including education, access to water, equity, and reproductive health. People then begin to stand up for their rights and those of their communities. It is their empowerment that truly leads them to decide to prioritize the environment, good governance, and cultures of peace. Of Dr Maathai, Chris says "She offers a great example that one can start a grassroots movement and, with discipline, dedication, and a lot of hard work, can really make a positive impact."

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