Dr. Jennifer M. Walske: Program Director, Social Innovation & Assistant Professor, SOM at University of San Fransisco

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Bio:

Jennifer Walske, Assistant Professor and Program Director, Conscious Leadership and Social Innovation program, is a leading advocate for raising the social consciousness of global businesses. As a writer, researcher and entrepreneur, Dr. Walske promotes emergent social venture firms, with an emphasis on how human and social capital can strategically maximize new firm success. Professor Walske is a thought leader in research and practice, linking socially conscious business practices and investments with entrepreneurship. As a firm believer of societal responsibility's essentialness to the success of future economies, Dr. Walske strives to help her students develop a greater awareness of socially conscientious business through internships, case analysis, research, business modeling, and ongoing mentoring.

As former Faculty Director of the Global Social Venture Competition - a worldwide program that develops next generation social entrepreneurs and an advisory board that she still remains a member of - she garnered recognition for judging and coaching future leaders of emergent social venture firms, drawing on experience as a board member of various nonprofits and for profits, as well as an investor, and co-founder of Myriad Investments LLC, an NVCA registered venture capital firm, where she remains a partner. Myriad participates in the Bay Area's Hub incubator program, helping foster the formation of such new firms as UClass, SharePractice and SunFunder. Professor Walske is also a trustee of the renowned San Francisco Ballet, reprising her contribution as trustee emeriti for the Boston Ballet. She continues to serve on the boards of both non-profit and for-profit enterprises, including the National Net Impact Board - a worldwide forum that promotes the concept that profits align with the interests of society. She continues to serve on the boards of both non-profit and for-profit enterprises, including the National Net Impact Board - a worldwide forum that promotes the concept that profits align with the interests of society” and then please add: She also serves on the executive board of Fair Trade USA, and chairs its finance committee.

What do you do best?

I really enjoy solving highly ambiguous, complex problems. Sometimes, this involves a research question, in looking at data and seeing something everyone else has missed. At other times, I am involved in the launch of new initiative or program, typically with limited resources, but with big potential impact.

Of late, I have had very interesting discussions with my students on the intersection of society and business, and what “doing well and doing good” really means.  The last two years, I have been working closely with the graduate students at USF on exploring complex topics, such as ethically grounded decision making, and what it really mean to be a “healthy” society, looking well beyond just GDP.  In my second year social entrepreneurship elective, we created a fantastic conference, which tested the impact (both positive and negative) of tech and society.  I also enjoy conversations with notable people in the field of social innovation, government and tech. This has included discussions with senior executives at Facebook, Google, Kleiner Perkins, and Fair Trade USA, to name a few.

What makes you the best?

Oh boy, this is a Donald Trump question! Personally, I don’t think any one person is the “best.” I hope we are on a path to getting “better,” while still being unafraid to learn new things (which sometimes means we are not at our best, when first taking on new challenges). I very much enjoy working in teams, and I am fortunate to be surrounded by a great network of professionals.  Finally, I ultimately want to feel  that “Jennifer Walske” represents “additionality” to this world! Working on boards, with students, and in communities that want to “change the world” gives me hope that in some small way, I do add value in our collective social progress.

What are your aspirations?

As I mentioned before, I do hope that some of the efforts I am involved with do make a lasting difference and seed social change. For example, with Fair Trade USA (which I am on the board of) we are really trying to change business behavior.  We want consumers to purchase goods that are of great quality, but also that have been produced ethically and fairly.  We want businesses to not maximize profits alone, but also look deeply into their supply chain, to ensure sustainable production.   To give a specific example, if harvesting an agricultural product (i.e. cocoa) results in poor nutrition and health for farmers and their families, those farmers will do everything in their power to get their children out of farming. How can this make food production for our growing population sustainable? Selfishly, how can we live in a world without chocolate?

Biggest Success?

I feel life is a succession of mountain climbs.  At this point in my career, I have figured out how to scale several types of mountains, and have begun to see patterns in their varied terrains. When I look back and see some of the programs that I built from scratch, still in existence, it’s a wonderful feeling. When I have students that insist on keeping in touch, ten years after I’ve been their professor, it seems that my impact is real. And, it is truly rewarding – to know I’ve touched their lives somehow, just have they have touched mine.

Most Challenging Moment?

Each time I took on a new career or challenge, there were of course “nay sayers.”  But, typically,  when I take on a new initiative, I have thought it through, and won’t do so unless I feel strongly that I can succeed. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t low moments – of course there are.  In fact, there have been many challenging moments. For example, I was  one of the few women in investment banking that ranked second in the nation for the quality of my stock picks. Believe it or not, some of the ibanking guys joked that I “couldn’t do math” as if I was some kind of Barbie! Yet, within a year, I was the highest ranking analyst in the firm!  

It was also rewarding to be in product marketing, in the highly technical field of electronic design automation. Respect from my fellow engineers and senior management team was hard won after successfully launching a new product line, and negotiating a shared software agreement with our biggest competitor. It was also wonderful to be a founding member of an industry executive board as the only non-CEO. 

Favorite Motto?

“I get by with a little help from my friends.” “Go big or go home.” And, “just keep swimming.”

Favorite People?

I just love smart, outspoken people.  Eleanor Roosevelt.  Hillary Clinton. My mother! My husband and daughter.  I surround myself by these personalities whenever possible.

Favorite Places?

The place of my birth, Hawaii,  and in the summer, Cape Cod. In the winter on skis, looking over an impossible peak at Squaw Valley, California.

Favorite Products?

Teavana peach or pineapple tea.  Lavender (as a fragrance).

Current Passions?

I love to be outside with my two dogs.  We used to run on the beach pre-knee surgery. Now I walk, and they run, but it’s a great way to step away from electronics, breath deeply, and enjoy our beautiful planet at the start of the day.  Having drinks with my girlfriends (who I can call pretty much anytime/anywhere), and traveling to new places with my family.