Scholars share their passion for social business
By Jaycie Weathers, Student Reporter
On Saturday, October 19, three Baumhart Scholars shared their thoughts on how young people can pursue career paths in social business with attendees at the College & Young Professionals Diversity Summit held by the Illinois Diversity Council. Baumhart Center Senior Program Manager, Emily Nordquist, moderated the conversation with Erica Loper, Manager of Operations Analytics and Diversity and Inclusion leader at Hyatt; Charity Driggs, Associate Project Manager in ESG at Morningstar; and Daniel Cervantes, SVP of Programs at Skills for Chicagoland’s Future. Each candidly shared stories about their passions for social business, sources of inspiration, and advice for young professionals as they build professional networks.
While working at KPMG early in his career, Cervantes didn’t picture himself as the nonprofit leader he is today at Skills for Chicagoland’s Future (Skills). However, as he began to reflect on his own professional journey, his community’s needs, and the challenges his father faced in finding a sustainable career path, Cervantes started to think about how he could lend his talents to helping young people from Chicago’s underserved zip codes reach the same career opportunities he worked so hard to access. These unique life experiences ultimately led him to become a founding staff member at Skills where he now oversees the overall strategy and management of the organization’s programs and services. As he continues to build Skills to be the “zip code equalizer” in Chicago, Cervantes remains motivated by his belief that “where you live should not define your employment.”
Loper found her passion for travel, and subsequently the hospitality industry, early in her career as she traveled frequently for Baxter, a healthcare company. Now a Manager of Operations Analytics at Hyatt, Loper has leveraged her talents not only to improve Hyatt’s business practices, but also to serve as a true diversity and inclusion champion for the company by leading an employee resource group for black employees and coordinating recruitment efforts at HBCUs. Erica is inspired to create a path for people of color who come after her in the organization. To do so, she has partnered with the HR department and continues to push for new initiatives within the organization.
After receiving her BBA at Loyola, Driggs began her career at Morningstar, a Chicago-based investment group, with the goal of supporting the integration of sustainability into the firm’s investment portfolio. Drigg’s mother inspired her to pursue a purpose-driven career early in life when she made the decision to return to school while Driggs was in her teens to become a teacher and follow her true passion for education. As a Baumhart Scholar, Driggs sees herself as taking after her mother by seeking to build a purposeful and fulfilling career in social business.
Social business exists on a continuum. On one end, there are non-profits with a social goal at its core, working to integrate business practices into their model. In the center, there are social enterprises that exist to solve a social problem with an entrepreneurial model, and the profits and purpose are uniquely aligned. On the other end exists traditional firms that might not have a mission that is explicitly about achieving social impact, but people inside are working to give back to the community through corporate social responsibility efforts, often in ways that are tied to the company’s core values.
The panelists discussed how they fit into this spectrum and how they see their businesses growing their social footprints. Loper stressed the importance of getting executives’ buy-in to move forward with her diversity and inclusion goals for Hyatt. Putting her goals in terms of profits proved to be a successful strategy to get her employee resource group off the ground.
Relying heavily on Morningstar’s core values, Driggs found a successful strategy to further her sustainable investment goals by structuring her case in terms of those values. For Driggs, embracing company culture and its mission is proving to be an effective way to drive social impact.
Cervantes, the only panelist leading at a nonprofit, described his strategy as one that emphasizes the importance of creating pathways with partner organizations. In partnering with businesses that have open positions to fill, he is always mindful of how he can position Skills to meet their partners’ business needs in addition to sharing his natural passion for creating career pathways for the individuals he serves. “People want to be part of winning teams,” Daniel explained, so describing the unique business value created by partnering with Skills goes a long way when onboarding new corporate partners.