Global Business

Weaving Business With Sustainability

I almost quit.

I was going to walk straight out of the classroom and never look back.

Yet, here I am with an undergrad marketing degree.

Living in India.

How did this happen?

It’s easy now to look back and connect the dots. To see how my aversion to the corporate definition of success as profits led me here. To a non-governmental organization in the desert town of Bhuj, Kachchh, Gujarat, India.

But when I was in that business classroom listening to a one-sided lecture on globalization or reading an international marketing textbook that failed to include developing countries, I could barely keep still I felt so frustrated and misplaced. What was I doing in college when I wanted to protect our environment and reduce poverty?

And then I realized there was a better question to be asking: what if I can use business to help solve these global problems? This new inquiry changed everything.

In that first year after the epiphany, I started taking steps in a new direction. I instigated debates in the classroom; I joined an environmental program to augment the business classes; I enlisted with the inaugural undergraduate chapter of Net Impact. When summer came, I couldn’t believe that for all the time I had spent trying to run away from business, it was exactly my business background that landed me a research assistantship at Stanford University.

Professor Jenna Davis’s group was researching water sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania. They needed marketing help. My role was to apply social marketing principles to determine the most effective and sustainable way to market hand sanitizer in Tanzania, a country where 100 infants die every day because of poor sanitation.

Getting to use my business skills in a unique and worthy way was beyond rewarding.

I came back for my last year at The University of Texas ready to face what I had been dreading since freshman year: the Plan II senior honors thesis. The sixty page research paper didn’t seem as daunting now that I had figured out what I was passionate about.

After a year of researching how the actions of the private sector are closely linked with the development prospects of poor communities, I presented my thesis: Better Business: the Corporate Role in Global Poverty Reduction.

When I finally graduated, I didn’t think the right question was “what are you going to do with your life?” Instead, I thought it was better to ask, “what is your next step?” Because one thing always leads to another. The seeds you plant grow. So while I was led to work at the United States Business Council for Sustainable Development, I applied for fellowships to live and work in a developing country.

And here I am. Applying business in yet another way. I volunteer for an NGO that exists to revitalize, reposition, and promote the traditional crafts of Kachchh so that they remain viable and sustainable livelihoods for the region’s 30,000 artisan families. I spend time in rural villages where the consequences (good and bad) of globalization are felt. Where the confluences of modernity and tradition tug at the fabric of livelihoods.

With the help of hindsight, I’ve learned that you can be standing on your path and not even realize it. It’s why you have to keep walking. And where am I walking after India? I don’t know yet. But I do know that I want to use business to help solve our major global challenges.

And really it’s not just about business. We all have skills and knowledge that can be applied in ways that make our world a better, more equitable place. Anything can be used for good. Just ask the right questions.

This article was originally published on the Forté website in 2009. Read Jamie’s beginnings and stay tuned for the final article in the series to see where Jamie’s career has taken her!

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