By Bryce Edmonds
A childhood bout of summer boredom might just have been the formative experience of Sandy Tesch Wilkins’ (’15) life. “I decided to do volunteer work, and started out as a clerical volunteer, answering phones and filing at the American Red Cross office in Concord, California.” It wasn’t long before she was attending the American Red Cross Leadership Development Center and learning skills such as project planning and public speaking — an important one for a shy 14-year-old. Since then, the Red Cross has led her to 12 countries — and to UCLA Anderson.
Wilkins noticed that many of the senior Red Cross leaders had MBAs, which, they said, helped them think across sectors. “The lines between nonprofits, government and business are increasingly blurred, so I knew the MBA would be the most flexible, relevant degree for me,” she says. “I also wanted the quantitative rigor of a business program since budgeting and finance skills are important in every context.” The smart yet still down-to-earth students, faculty and staff she met throughout the application process sealed the deal for UCLA Anderson.
WIlkins found her perfect fit in the Anderson chapter of Net Impact, a student group investigating the intersection of business and social innovation — from education to environmental sustainability to impact investing and more. Serving as the group’s president in her second year, Wilkins helped shepherd expansion of the Net Impact Consulting Challenge, a case competition focused on helping L.A.-area nonprofits, and the launch of the first-ever Social Innovation Week, exposing the broader Anderson community to the many intersections of business and social impact, from technology to corporate responsibility to media and entertainment through panel discussions, keynotes and a social impact marketplace.
The group also led the drive to establish the Center for Social Innovation, which will serve as the hub for social impact work at Anderson. “As business leaders, we are expected to know what impact investing is, to know how to serve on a nonprofit board, to know how to make smart decisions with the long term in mind,” Wilkins says. “The center will provide the programming and support necessary to make that happen.”
However, as much as her Net Impact work helped Wilkins grow professionally and personally, she might not mention that first in polite conversation. “My Applied Management Research project was the highlight of my time at Anderson,” she says. “Four other students and I worked with a hospital in Hawassa, Ethiopia, where our client, Dr. Carol Harris from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, helped establish the second breast cancer center in the country and the first outside of Addis Ababa.” Wilkins, of course, learned quite a bit about doing business in the developing world; but what she valued most was learning what it means to be on a “high-performance team” and exceed even their own high expectations. “We had the benefit of a team coach, Sara Tucker, who led us in activities that built trust between team members and showed us how to take advantage of each person’s unique strengths,” she says. “It took the quality of our work to the next level and helped us provide the most value for our client.”
Looking for the opportunity to work with a senior manager with an MBA, Wilkins worked a summer internship at the Tides Foundation, a social impact organization “working with innovative partners to solve society’s toughest problems.” Their CEO, Kriss Deiglmeier, fit the bill. Wilkins says she referenced much of her classwork while there, and also leaned on fellow Anderson students and recent graduates who helped her better understand investment management. “It’s a really supportive community,” she says of the Anderson students, faculty and alumni.
Since graduating from Anderson, Wilkins has worked for Humanity United, a private foundation established in 2005 by Pam and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, to build peace and advance human freedom around the world. As an investments manager focusing on corporate engagement, specifically on studying the system that produces modern-day slavery in corporate supply chains and the ways it can be eliminated, she says she calls on her MBA training daily. “One of the initiatives I’m currently working on is an impact investing fund that will invest in ethical supply chain tools to help corporations identify and combat forced labor and labor trafficking,” she says.
And, while Wilkins says her favorite quote is by Martin Luther King Jr. — “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” — it’s clear that she and other Anderson students working to advance the cause of social impact work are helping to make the moral arc just a little shorter.