Interviewed June 2006
Maia Blankenship is the current Director of National Partnerships and Investments at College Summit, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the college enrollment rate of low-income students across the country. In her role, she is responsible for building and maintaining College Summit's relationships with both national foundations and private investors. In addition, Maia directly manages the organization's "Proof Fund" (a $15 million growth capital investment) raised in 2005 from ten individual donors over the
next four years.
She graduated from Spelman College in 1998 with a BS in computer science and began her professional career as a management consultant at Ernst & Young LLP in Atlanta, GA. At the same time, Maia founded and served as Vice President of the Empowerment Resource Network, a community-based nonprofit organization supporting entrepreneurship education in Atlanta. Her experience there fed her passion for serving her community and gave her a glimpse of what her career could be. Maia decided that the best way to make the desired transition into the nonprofit world was to find a way to gain the skills she was then lacking to start a successful business — since she sees
starting a nonprofit as much the same a starting any business.
This decision led her to UNC Kenan-Flagler where she completed her MBA in 2004. In addition to the school's culture of teamwork, Maia's main reason for choosing Kenan-Flagler was their strong curriculum in sustainable enterprise and entrepreneurship. While in school, Maia had the opportunity to work on a practicum project for the Education Entrepreneurs Fund. She credits this experience as one that helped define her niche interest in social entrepreneurship and education. It exposed her to the innovation in the education industry and the variety of ways both nonprofit and for-profit organizations are working to improve public education in the United States. Her exposure to social entrepreneurship at UNC gave her example case studies and viable options of individuals working in education reform so she could draw a path to where she wanted to be in her career.
She persisted in her passion for education reform and feels lucky now to have discovered a professional family at College Summit, an organization committed to sustainable business practices. They believe that the way to increase college enrollment in low-income communities is through a market-based approach that provides tools to communities
and empowers them to close the gap. In Maia's words, to be successful, their organization must be "scalable, sustainable, and effective." To be sustainable in the short and long-term, College Summit balances funding from philanthropic donations and fee-for-service revenue (paid by the school districts they serve).
The positive social impact of College Summit is unquestionable and its commitment to social change is at its core, but they fulfill their social mission through a business approach. They hold themselves accountable to their stakeholders across the board, from their investors to the communities and schools they work with, using accounting based on a balanced scorecard that measures their social impact compared to how much the organization spends to achieve their results. In a departure from the mentality of most nonprofits, Maia notes that, for College Summit and their investors, "the cost of doing business matters."
Maia is one of the people changing the world every day: the work she does each day gets another low-income student to college. When research has proven that children are significantly more likely to attend college if their parents did, it is apparent that her work has the power to change the trajectory of the generation that follows behind today's youth. Her ultimate goal is to lead a nonprofit or socially responsible business that impacts communities across the country. No doubt she is well qualified to achieve that goal.
Sustainability Reading Recommendation:
How to Win Friends & Influence People By: Dale Carnegie
No matter what field you work in; you will have to convince and influence others to buy into your ideas. This is a great book that provides practical ways to motivate people and achieve team goals.
Nominee for Sustainability Superstar:
Johnetta B. Cole — As an educator with a lifelong commitment to advancing social justice, both domestically and internationally, Johnetta B. Cole is one of the leaders in America I admire. She is a passionate proponent of civil and human rights and an expert on cross-cultural issues of race, gender, and class, and other systems of inequality. Dr. Cole has spent a lifetime advocating for others drawing on her training as an anthropologist, celebrating the commonalities and differences among the world's people.