Managing Partner, Kapor Center for Social Impact
Mastering the Business of Social Change
By the time she began work on her MBA at Berkeley Haas, Nicole Sanchez, MBA 12, had already become a serial social entrepreneur in communities facing poverty and powerlessness. But to take her activism to a higher level, Sanchez decided that she had to tap into the art and skills of business.
"I've always been committed to marginalized, under-represented communities, to increasing their participation in and access to the American Dream," she says. "But professionally, I realized that I still didn't have the language of business. Every time I tried to raise money or recruit from the private sector, I found myself unable to translate those needs into terms that would matter to private sector."
Today, after earning her MBA, Sanchez is bridging the gap. As co-leader and managing partner of the Kapor Center for Social Impact in Oakland, Sanchez is working with tech companies and community organizations on ways to use information technology as a tool for empowerment and to diversify the innovation economy.
To some, pursuing an MBA might have seemed like an odd way to be a champion for low-income and marginalized communities. The daughter of a restaurant owner in Oakland, Sanchez led protests in high school against outbreaks of racism. As an undergraduate at Stanford, she campaigned for increased diversity on campus.
After graduating in 1994, she became a top organizer for City Year, recruiting teams of young people to help fight dropout rates by working as mentors and tutors to at-risk students. During a four-year stint, Sanchez helped launch City Year in cities from Roxbury, Mass., to Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, and San Jose.
Returning to the west coast, Sanchez helped start the Stanford Center on Ethics and created "Hope House Scholars," in which professors teach humanities to women recently-released from prison. Still restless, she became an architect of "New Global Citizens," an organization that pairs up American high schools with counterparts in developing countries to raise awareness about pressing issues around the world.
For all that, Sanchez decided she needed to expand her toolkit. Though an MBA seemed incongruous at first, she was drawn to Haas's long-standing programs on social entrepreneurship, corporate responsibility and non-profit leadership.
By then, Sanchez was a working mother with two children and a busy professional life. Like many other mid-career students, she enrolled in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program. But she thrived on it.
"All the students around me were working, so everything had to be real," she recalls. "It made for a much more dynamic and interesting experience." Almost to her surprise, she found many of her fellow students shared her interest in social goals. "I was there to learn how to apply MBA skills to the public and nonprofit sectors. What I learned was that there were a lot of people at Haas trying to go the other way. They were in business, but wanted to have a social impact."
Sanchez says she drew particular value from her coursework on effective negotiation and a course by Cameron Anderson on the psychology and politics of organizations and human interaction.
"It's naïve at best and incorrect to think that politics are not in play," Sanchez says.
"People have individual goals, even if they have the best intentions. Politics and political groups are just how people organize – who's in power, who's setting the tone, how people defer to power and how people are lining up in any kind of social interaction. I use those ideas in everything I do."