This post is part of our Social Enterprise Initiative 25th anniversary blog series, which highlights some of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni who have been a part of SEI throughout the years. In this post, Rob Zeaske (MBA 2002) shares his insights on pursuing a social enterprise career. Rob is the President and Co-Founder of Democracy Entrepreneurs, an organization working to build a more participatory and inclusive democracy for all.
How would you describe the social impact you seek to have in the world? I’m a problem solver and a builder. And while I absolutely have a heart for the missions and people I’ve been involved in, my unique contribution has been about finding leverage points with organizations that I can help scale for greater impact. I’m interested in working on solving some of the hard problems that really matter for our communities and I hope I can model and entice other leaders to do the same. I’ve had the good fortune to work across several different industries in the social sector (education, international development, hunger and nutrition) and in each I have tried to bring about a meaningful, lasting contribution as well as very personal deeper understanding of the issue and empathy for those people affected by it. I can’t provide impact to the world if the issue and people don’t also change me.
What motivated you to pursue a career path in the social sector? When I graduated from college and in my adulthood I had the growing understanding that I had been very fortunate. Born to two loving, educated parents in America – I’d won the lottery. And as those advantages dawned on me I necessarily considered what it meant for the many people who didn’t enjoy my good luck. It became clear to me that I wanted to find some way to put my skills to use in service to the world, especially for those who may be lacking the resources that come more easily to others. And when I graduated with my MBA in 2002, a popular formula suggested that HBS grads spend the first third of their careers learning, the second third generating wealth and the third giving back. That recipe was very clarifying for me – though perhaps not in the way intended. Given that I felt my purpose was closer to “giving back” I didn’t want to wait until my “third third” and jumped into an HBS Service Leadership Fellowship.
What do you hope for the next 25 years of SEI? I hope that SEI’s next chapter will continue 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.