MBAs Rule

Feeling somewhat disingenuous, I purposely asked Keely Stevenson, CEO of social impact fund Bamboo Finance, a dim-witted question. My feigned ignorance got us to the answer you need to know. See what you think:

Keely reminds of a hopeful lesson: For many of us, economic justice work is triggered at any early age and continues over a lifetime. Simple steps lead to big change.

For me, wearing a civic rights button in the '60s. For Keely, learning about life from the dying. Keely's first social change step: Hospice volunteer.

Hospice volunteering taught her basic, boring and vital life and business skills: How to listen to others, the value of customer service, the absolute necessity of organized filing systems, answering phones professionally and with a warming personality. "There's no replacement for that kind of 'normal' skill-building," Keely told me.

Her academic studies did not begin at a prestigious university. Not even close. She worked her way through a California community college and eventually earned an Oxford University MBA.

Along the way, Keely interned at the Acumen Fund, consulting with social enterprises as varied as an anti-malaria bednet manufacturer and the Royal Bafokeng Nation on economic development policy. At one point she was the very first employee of the influential Skoll Foundation (founded by eBay founder Jeff Skoll to advance social entrepreneurship).

Most impressively, she never quits on either her mission or herself. Upending convention, for Keely the two are inseparable.

She told me that she is a better leader when she takes care of her personal health. She recently lost 90 pounds.

Talking about her modest beginnings as a young teenager ("Ghetto Keely" she calls herself), she remembers that one of her close friends was murdered during a neighborhood basketball game. "Either I could be angry and sullen, or I could try to change things," she recalls.

Keely's entire life is about hard work - an often overlooked, but no-brainer, achievement attribute for social change agents. Commitment to cause, capacity to listen and compassion to share are the three C's on Keely's path forward. Focused hard work kept her on that path and we are all the better for it.