UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Q&A With Sustainability Leadership Capstone Professor Lisa Jones Christensen


Lisa Jones Christensen, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, shares her passion for advancing social entrepreneurship education and her co-creation of the Sustainability Leadership Capstone course.

Please tell us about your background and current areas of interest.

I have been very active as a researcher and part-time practitioner in the microfinance field for more than fifteen years; I co-founded a student-centered non-profit focused on partnering with others to co-create economic self-reliance and building change makers who fight poverty. It is over ten years old now and active in 8 countries. I use action-based and experiential learning techniques to teach at the graduate level; my courses focus on social entrepreneurship, social value creation, and how to use business skills to end global poverty. My current passion is co-creation, where all parties involved recognize and build on the talent within the team and we don’t facilitate dependency.

How do you continue to build your expertise in the field?

I am always interested in networking and learning from bright, motivated changemakers and I am happy to share my experience living and teaching in developing countries, my particular abilities creating new ways of teaching social entrepreneurship, my decade of contacts and the latest news of our exciting programs and activities at UNC.

How are you working to advance social entrepreneurship education?

I currently train future social entrepreneurs through a new course I’ve developed called the Sustainability Leadership Capstone. I help them to discover, leverage, and focus their talents; I think social entrepreneurship education can do more to reach out to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Please tell us more about the Sustainability Leadership Capstone course.

In 2009, with support from our Dean, Jim Dean, UNC Kenan-Flagler sought to completely alter the way MBA programs approached social entrepreneurship and sustainability education– we wanted to utilize all of the MBA skills and take them out of silos, we wanted to take students out of the classroom and break the classroom model, and we wanted to capture or reignite student passions to lead social change in a truly transformative way. We piloted what has become the Sustainability Leadership Capstone course as an innovation in teaching and learning. The course offers a unique opportunity for select second year MBAs to synthesize and deepen mastery of core practices by addressing substantial, real-world business problems, both domestic and international, using a social impact lens. The course takes place in the community more than it takes place in the classroom. We compare and contrast regional US poverty with international poverty by partnering with others to address what can only be considered shared and global problems. The course uses: 1) enrichment activities and virtual conversations with national and international thought leaders, 2) personal strength finding and leadership skill-building exercises; 3) economic development consulting engagements in rural Eastern North Carolina, 4) in-person social impact consulting in East Africa, and more.

What is your role in this innovation?

I am the founder and the lead professor for this innovation. I work with others who share a servant-leadership philosophy and we live and work alongside the students as we push them to live and work in slums and very depressed rural communities stateside and in East Africa. I work very closely with Nick Didow, Assistant Professor of Marketing and Tracy Triggs-Matthews, Assistant Director for the Center for Sustainable Enterprise on the course design and delivery. We also bring in outside experts, like Chris Wedding with Iron Oak Innovations and Cherokee Investment Partners, for project specific work.

What results have you seen from the Capstone?

Our innovation is in progress. We adjust and make alterations every year, but we have three years under our belts with some fabulous testimonials from local and international partners and alumni. The results have been amazing as this innovation is something that new students claim as part of their reason for selecting our school. We use it in recruiting and in motivating our alumni but most importantly, it has changed lives in radical ways. Just last year, a medical clinic focused on minority rural families obtained a grant to open a dental clinic based on student work. We’ve seen similar results in our work overseas.

What do you think other business schools can learn from the Sustainability Leadership Capstone?

What is exciting about this model is that it can and should be replicated, and it can be done in parts or as a whole. Other schools can gain inspiration and ideas whether they are at the student level or the Dean level, and they will also see how the innovation can be adapted for their students, universities, and budgets. I would love to see others be inspired to create or demand such a program at their schools. If people can’t replicate the entire program I hope they feel empowered to change something small or big about the style, content, requirements, mode, and/or rewards they currently use in the teaching of social entrepreneurship/leadership/sustainability at their institutions. Finally, I hope people are inspired by the idea to upend how we practice education and I hope they can give us many more novel and ambitious ideas about how to harness potential & create leaders who thrive in ambiguity.

Applications for the 2013 Sustainability Leadership Capstone are due Wednesday, October 24th. Contact Tracy Triggs-Matthews for details and questions.

Read more about the experiences of students who participated in the 2012 Sustainability Leadership Capstone on the UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog:

The TO.MO.CA Coffee Experience in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by Brian Westlander (MBA ’12)

Vision and Investment in Eastern North Carolina by Andrea Gourdine (MBA ’12)

Powerful Firsthand Experiences in Mombasa, Kenya by Rawlins Parker (MBA ’12)