Interviewed December 2007
The World Bank, USAID, Africa, Southeast Asia, Washington D.C., a top-ranked business school in North Carolina… Tom Outlaw's travels of the past few weeks sound like part of a storyline from an international thriller. A member of the EMBA class of 2008 at UNC Kenan-Flagler and an international health consultant, Tom works on water and sanitation issues in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Tom recently returned from a consulting assignment in Uganda, where he put many of the skills he's learning here at UNC Kenan-Flagler to use. There, he helped USAID develop market-based approaches for improving access to sanitation products (i.e., latrines) in poor, rural parts of the country, where supply chains are weak and the diffusion of innovations is slow. "The problem of human waste disposal is one of the most profound sustainability challenges facing the developing world. What I saw in Uganda, however, was very encouraging. International aid agencies such as USAID and the World Bank were exploring ways that microcredit can help finance the cost of building new latrines. Finding innovative ways of harnessing the power of markets and entrepreneurs can improve the lives of millions living at the bottom of the pyramid."
In addition to his consulting practice, Tom also co-directs the Carolina Global Water Partnership, which he began after winning a research grant this fall. The grant is the first such award made to UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School by the Gillings Innovation Laboratory Program at UNC's School of Public Health. Over the next six months, students and faculty from the two schools will evaluate different business models for marketing affordable, safe drinking technologies water to the poor. The team will examine the business and public health attributes of several water purification technologies, including point-of-use water filters and water additives such as Procter & Gamble's socially-marketed Pur® product. The goal is to develop a business plan for taking one of these technologies to scale in SE Asia. Later this year, Tom will travel to Cambodia and Thailand, where he will meet with staff from the Kenan Institute Asia and conduct research for the Partnership project.
Before coming to Kenan-Flagler, Tom worked for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), where he managed the Population-Health-Environment program. The experience gave him an appreciation for the challenges of working across different cultures and across different development sectors. While at USAID, Tom helped design integrated health, conservation and livelihood projects in Nepal, the Philippines, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Guatemala.
A meeting with renowned primatologist, Dr. Jane Goodall, sparked Tom's interest in development work. "Jane's approach was simple but profound. A lifetime working in Africa taught her that poverty, conflict and environmental destruction are linked and should thus be addressed that way. She felt the path to true sustainability was through giving the poor access to health care, education and economic opportunity."
After four years with USAID, Tom realized he needed business skills to complement his public health graduate studies at Johns Hopkins. The Center for Sustainable Enterprise was one of the main reasons Tom chose Kenan-Flagler. "Working in international development convinced me that the private sector has a vital role to play in poverty alleviation. The combination of Carolina's world-class faculty and CSE's expertise in sustainability made coming to UNC a no-brainer for me."
Tom's coursework at Kenan-Flagler and his internship with CSE Consulting have taught him how to incorporate sustainability issues into his work with businesses, governments and the non-profit sector. "One of the most important skills I've gained here at Kenan-Flagler is the ability to translate sustainability concepts into the language of business. Promoting sustainability requires communicating in terms that resonate with the business community, using metrics that show sustainability's impact on the balance sheet. Through Kenan-Flagler and the Center for Sustainable Enterprise, I've learned an entirely new vocabulary for making the case that sustainability matters, not only to people and the planet, but to profits as well."
Tom credits his summer internship with CSE Consulting as the perfect example of pulling everything together, and giving him the overall experience he was looking for in an internship.
When he graduates from the EMBA program, Tom will continue to leverage the knowledge, skills and networks gained through Kenan-Flagler's MBA program to help achieve his mission of bringing safe and affordable drinking water to developing countries.
Sustainability Reading Recommendations:
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, by Paul Collier
From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession, by Rakesh Khurana
From Condoms to Cabbages: An Authorized Biography of Mechai Viravaidya, by Thomas D'Agnes
Jane Goodall: 40 Years at Gombe, by Gilbert Grovesnor
Carolina Global Health Partnership Announcement
USAID Population-Health-Environment program