Harvard Business School (HBS) has named Rob Zeaske (MBA 2002) the new director of its Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI), succeeding Matt Segneri (MBA 2010), who was recently named the Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Executive Director of the Harvard Innovation Labs (i-lab).
Established in 1993 with the help of a generous gift from John C. Whitehead (MBA 1947), SEI pioneered the concept of “social enterprise.” SEI has adopted a problem-focused approach toward understanding the management and leadership challenges facing organizations involved in creating social value regardless of their structure (profit, nonprofit, or hybrid) or the source of their funding (from grants to commercial transactions).
As director, Zeaske, who recently arrived on campus to start in his new role, is responsible for working with the Initiative’s faculty co-chairs, Professors Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard and V. Kasturi “Kash” Rangan, to refine and implement a strategy designed to leverage SEI’s intellectual capital, its network, and its executional capabilities. He will also be responsible for overseeing SEI’s overall strategy and operations, managing a portfolio of program activities that support faculty research and teaching, educational programs within the MBA and Executive Education curriculum, MBA field-based learning and career support programs, and alumni outreach and engagement.
“I believe there is an extraordinary opportunity for SEI and HBS to extend our learning platform to those who need it most,” said Zeaske. “This is a time when institutions need to step up and create leaders prepared for the moment. Every piece of my career has built upon what I learned at HBS, and I’m looking forward to bringing that same opportunity to the current and future students of SEI.”
“Now more than ever, the Social Enterprise Initiative needs the kind of leadership that Rob can provide, as the world faces more and more complex problems that cry out for solutions from HBS students looking to make a difference,” said Professor Rangan. “We’re excited to welcome him back to HBS, and have him use the experience he gained as a senior executive at some of the leading socially-focused organizations to help guide SEI through its next phase of growth.”
“Over the years, Rob has shown a commitment to making social change and has been one of SEI’s biggest supporters,” Professor Leonard added. “It’s only fitting that he returns to where his journey of social impact started, to lead the Initiative through this crucial juncture.”
Zeaske has long been a participant in, and collaborator with, SEI. He was among the inaugural cohort of the HBS Leadership Fellows program, serving as manager of program strategy at Mercy Corps, an innovative international relief organization and development agency. This experience led him to pursue a career in nonprofit management and leadership. He subsequently served as senior vice president of external relations at Jumpstart, a nationally-recognized early literacy program. In this role, he developed and led cross-sector partnerships with corporate partners ranging from Starbucks to NBC to Pearson Publishing.
In 2008, when he was named chief executive officer of Second Harvest Heartland, one of the nation’s largest hunger-relief and nutrition organizations, he talked to SEI about how his time as a leadership fellow helped prepare him for the role. During his 10-plus year tenure at Second Harvest Heartland, Zeaske tripled the amount of food distributed to partner agencies, quadrupled annual public and charitable financial support, incubated multiple innovative high-growth social ventures, fostered deep cross-sector relationships, and led a $50 million capital campaign in which he partnered with the state of Minnesota to secure $18 million in legislative funding. Due to the success of the capital campaign, Second Harvest Heartland opened a new facility in March 2020 that tripled the organization’s capacity—a prescient move that ended up providing critical services and resources to many organizations and individuals in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Zeaske joins HBS after most recently serving as the chief operating officer at the GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit news and media organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and around the world.
In 2019, Zeaske was interviewed as part of SEI’s 25th Anniversary blog series, and commented on the future he saw for the Initiative: “I hope that SEI’s next chapter will continue to see a blending of important social values into the ethos of all companies. When I graduated I think SEI was largely synonymous with ‘nonprofit’ but I find many positive signs that community leaders of any type have a responsibility to act in a moral way and am hopeful that SEI can accelerate that in the next 25 years.”
In addition to his HBS MBA, Zeaske hold a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Stanford University.