Perspectives: Why HBS SEI?

Charles Edwards

President and CEO
Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency


“We want the individual to have a long-term view of how they can sustain themselves economically.”


I like to call this my “sixth career.” After I retired from IBM, my first role in a nonprofit organization was as senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Atlanta Paralympics Games from 1992 to 1996, when the Olympic games were in Atlanta. It was simply one of the richest professional experiences of my life. Later, while serving as assistant dean for development at Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. I learned that the Atlanta Enterprise Center was in the process of merging with the Samaritan House of Atlanta. In May 2010, I became CEO of the newly merged organization, the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency.

Why SEI @ HBS?

The Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management program had all the components I was looking for to best prepare me for the new leadership responsibilities that I had taken on. HBS had developed solutions and methodologies for increasing the chances for becoming a high-performing organization. Harvard has an incredible history as being a catalyst for achieving effective, significant social change—they challenge you to sharpen your thinking around your cause and around the ways in which you can become a more effective leader of that cause.


SPNM showed me what it truly takes to achieve lasting social change. After coming back from Harvard, I said, “Our mission needs to change; our vision needs to be to do what’s necessary to break the cycle of homelessness. We need to help people establish a career, not simply get a job. We want the individual to have a long-term view of how they can sustain themselves economically.” We immediately expanded the curriculum from one week to four weeks and we went from a 90-day support program to a 12-month support program. Our mission has been embraced by the major foundations in the community, by the major volunteer organizations, and by every staff member of ACSS.