Before joining the team, Anthony was a nutritionist. His primary care practice was rewarding; he worked with undernourished patients and helped them thrive. But he knew that the principles he worked with could be applied more widely.
Yannick, meanwhile, was trained as a molecular biologist. His lab work involved testing and fine-tuning new drugs for pharmaceutical companies. Frustrated with an environment that prioritized profitability over patient welfare, he started to look for work in public health.
Now, Anthony and Yannick work together on a team that is figuring out how to mobilize its products to address malnutrition—developing affordable, effective nutritional solutions, and finding innovative ways to make them accessible to the people who need them most.
Yannick and Anthony started working together in March 2014, and shortly thereafter started moving their work more intentionally into the social impact space. The experience of this market was new to them. Frequently, they were being approached to consider partnerships where social impact was the primary goal—and financial sustainability for private sector partners only secondary.
Much of their work focuses on managing and leveraging partnerships with nonprofits, governmental agencies, and other companies to find strategic ways to distribute their products for maximum public health benefit.
The team has partnered with United Nation’s World Food Programme, addressing vitamin deficiencies in low-income populations in more than 80 countries, as well as the United States Agency for International Development, improving food aid commodity quality and shelf life.
The two realized that strong, well-defined strategic partnerships would be crucial for distributing their products without straying too far from DSM’s targets, or straining its budget; and they also realized that neither of them felt fully capable of evaluating the best opportunities.
“We wanted to be able to equip ourselves with the know-how to be able to navigate that well and successfully, and contribute to that social impact at the same time as establishing a sustainable business for the company,” Anthony explains.
The pair decided to dig deeper into the social enterprise space, looking together for solutions, working to improve their ability to implement these critical partnerships.
On the very same day that Anthony found the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy, a colleague had sent him a link to another course on strategic social impact. Anthony started weighing the pros and cons of the two programs, noting comparable scope, subject matter, and even price point.
The difference? The other course was only four days long.
The two were reticent to make such a long-term commitment. But they decided that the Executive Program’s eight-month curriculum would allow them to go further in-depth with the issues at hand.
“I could only really get to understand social impact strategy and its real potential if I grappled with the topic for several months,” Anthony says.
They applied. They both got in. And they made the commitment to themselves—and each other—to make it work.
Yannick and Anthony both admit that it was challenging, at first, to set aside the time each week to complete the assignments for the Executive Program.
But it didn’t take long for Anthony and Yannick to see that the course wasn’t just static digital content. By participating, they were becoming a part of a global community.
The in-person convening in March helped Anthony and Yannick put faces to the names on the discussion boards.
“You really felt us being part of a class,” Yannick says. “You felt connected to your fellow students, and that was tremendously helpful.” Doing the readings alone would have felt like a slog, but weekly Google Hangouts with fellow students reinforced the fact that they were part of a cohort, trying to help each other learn how to make impact in their own global arenas.
Anthony admits that he was apprehensive about the assignment in which students were tasked with working in pairs. But he says that engaging with fellow student Santiago, who worked at Acumen in Colombia, and was focused on a completely different field—learning how Santiago was applying the same principles toward an entirely separate goal—was fascinating.
Yannick says that talking with fellow students from around the world was a huge part of what kept the course engaging, interesting, and well worth the investment. ”The people who are taking the course could really become valuable business connections later on,” he says. He still keeps in touch with some of his fellow classmates.
Yannick and Anthony report that the Executive Program has, indeed, improved their ability to evaluate their partnerships. “Being able to have these tools now, that we acquired through CSIS, to measure the impact on every project that we’re a part of, makes a difference,” Yannick says.
Once they learned how to produce a logic model, for instance, the two were able to re-examine their partner organizations’ complicated theories of change—and to translate them into a set of measurable goals and outcomes.
And being able to identify various business models has helped them go into new opportunities with strong questions about proposed structure before considering the value of a project.
Anthony says he’s now able to talk to colleagues and managers about the measurable social impact of DSM’s partner projects to alleviate “hidden hunger”—but he’s also able to demonstrate the financial feasibility of those projects.
Yannick also says that the curriculum helped him bring impact to scale in large communities—but to remember that the work affects real people. “One day you’re in small classroom in the middle of Myanmar meeting with kids and parents….They’re telling you, ‘Look, I’ve been eating this specific food and I’m seeing my child being less sick, feeling more energetic.’ There’s clearly an emotional component, of course, that really makes you part of their story.”
Yannick and Anthony were just two workers in 25,000 who saw that an organization with the reach and resources of DSM could have a much bigger impact than just profit. And using the tools they learned through the Executive Program, they endeavored to change the organization’s social impact goals from within.
Having made it through, Anthony and Yannick now say they recommend the Executive Program without qualification.
“I’d go so far as to say the course, the content, the people, the experience, has actually changed my outlook on my professional future,” says Anthony.
The two have a lot of opportunity to look forward to.
Yannick has been working on a new technology to fortify staple foods in Asia, and is currently looking for the strongest partner with which to bring the technique to scale.
And Anthony is scheduled to discuss a potential DSM partnership with senior leadership of the Acumen Fund—an organization about which he would not have known were it not for his assignment with Santiago, an Acumen Portfolio Associate. Now, Anthony says he really understands their financing model. “I’m super excited,” he says. “I wouldn’t be able to engage with them in such a way had I not done this course.”
Before DSM, Yannick and Anthony were both looking to make a bigger difference in the world.
And with the curriculum and community of the Executive Program, they found they didn’t need to quit their corporate jobs to do it. In fact, they could redirect their resources from merely selling nutritional products to customers, toward offering nutritional solutions to communities.
“As a friend of mine always says,” Anthony offers with a smile, “you’ve got to lead from where you stand.”