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Helping businesses do well by doing good

A spirit of giving has guided the life of David Soltani (BSBA ’24).

From a young age he has traveled frequently to Nicaragua to work for La Luz de Cristo Ministries, a nonprofit his mother started with his grandparents. Since 2007, it has provided medical care and educational resources for children and adults in rural Empalme de Boaco, where most people live in extreme poverty.

When a close friend died, he helped launch a scholarship fund in her memory to sponsor two Nicaraguan women to go to college.

It’s purposeful work Soltani always prioritized but didn’t connect to a future career until now. He knows that he does not want to separate his work for a company from his work in the community.

“To me, business is not about making yourself rich. It’s about creating change for the common good,” says Soltani. “I want to use business to help people.”

Soltani is taking the core course Management and Corporate Communication with Professor Jenna Haugen. It helps students concisely and confidently voice ideas and provide constructive criticism in a workplace. It also teaches executive presence, how to gain attention and command a room.

Haugen’s approach helps students bring their authentic selves to the table. Those skills will be on display March 30 at a fast-pitch competition for students that the Management and Corporate Communication unit has launched at UNC Kenan-Flagler for the first time.

Business school students frequently participate in competitions, but this one has a bit of a twist: Through three-minute presentations, students must convince business leaders why it’s strategically important to work with a specific philanthropic partner.

“We find our students have a really authentic connection to corporate social responsibility and being better as a business,” says Haugen.”It’s not about picking a philanthropic partner that simply looks good on paper. It’s about making philanthropic choices that naturally align with the company’s internal culture and external mission.”

Sponsored by product analytics company Pendo, the competition features about 60 students nominated from the course’s fall, spring and summer sections. After a preliminary pitch round, 12 students move on to the finals which are judged by representatives from Pendo, faculty who teach the course and UNC-Kenan Flagler career development staff.

The competition also helps students connect with companies like Pendo, which has headquarters in downtown Raleigh. The firm regularly recruits sales development and research associates in North Carolina who are clear, concise salespeople able to make suggestions and have difficult conversations productively.

“Businesses have the human capital and the financial resources to make a difference and they should,” says Haugen. “Tying in some of those passions that I see my students have and helping them articulate that in a business setting where there can actually be action — that is powerful.”

Having that type of actively engaged employee appeals to Pendo, which has had a director of diversity, equity and inclusion since late 2020. The company also works with local organizations instilling societal change; the coffee shop in its headquarters is run by 321 Coffee, which is staffed by people with developmental disabilities.

Pendo employees are encouraged to pitch philanthropic ideas and partnerships that will make a difference in the community while also representing the company’s values, says Ryan Gibson (BA ’12), head of early career and recruiting programs.

“We are a very values-driven company, and a major one is to be direct and transparent,” says Gibson. “That’s one of the values that we instill in everyone, that they can really provide constructive feedback and pitch ideas because ultimately we want Pendo to be better.”

Haugen, who also studies corporate social responsibility, says the topics for future fast-pitch competitions might go more in-depth, such as how to incorporate social justice into the mission of an organization or diversifying the supply chain through minority-owned businesses.

“More and more of our students are looking for a social mission in the companies they work for even if they’re not a social enterprise,” says Haugen. “They want to see that at a company’s heart is a social mission, even more so than a philanthropic business-driven idea of what doing good is. They have the power to shape that vision.”