The Hunger Relief System

Robert Zeaske
Job Title
CEO, Second Harvest Heartland
St. Paul, MN, USA


I came to Harvard Business School with an interest in exploring social enterprise. Although my past experience had been in the for-profit world, I was really interested in that intersection between business and nonprofits. I didn't think I was necessarily going to go right into a nonprofit from HBS, but the opportunity that was most interesting to me in my EC year was becoming a Leadership Fellow. It was the first year of that program, so I didn't know anything about it before visiting HBS, but that year gave me the opportunity to work at a fantastic nonprofit, Mercy Corps. I was able to interact with their leadership team in a variety of impactful ways that I think set me off and got me excited about how I could find a career in the nonprofit world.

Careers & Connections

The HBS alumni network has been very important in my own personal development, and in my career. The first person I called when I moved to Minnesota was an HBS alumnus who has been instrumental in connecting me with a number of opportunities for work, for donors, and for friends. I have two HBS alumni on my board of directors right now, and I have also built a small personal board, which includes many of my classmates from HBS.

Beyond supporting my work locally, this entire network allows for a lot of personal support and growth. We kick around ideas about challenges that I'm faced with, and also about my own personal development and growth… how I can continue to think about my best role in the community and my career path going forward.


One of the most interesting trends in philanthropy, and in social enterprise right now is the engagement and partnership with for-profits. Our work at Second Harvest Heartland exemplifies how we can find win/wins with good partners. In working with businesses, we really need to think about how we can engage their employees as volunteers, how we can get in-kind product with them, and how we're able to get financial support that not only helps our community, but is able to tell a story for employee affinity, and in the end generates awareness of a strong brand.

So, it's not just about what these for-profits do for us, but how do we provide value for the organization and its employees. We've got some great success stories, with Target, SUPERVALU, General Mills, and many others, on how we can partner to drive value and ultimately to end hunger.