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An Interview with GSEI's New Executive Director, Leslie Crutchfield

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GSEI welcomed our new Executive Director, Leslie Crutchfield in March. Nikunj Beria, a graduate student in the Global Human Development program at the School of Foreign Service and a GSEI student leader, sat down with Leslie to learn more about the path that led her to GSEI and her priorities for the organization moving forward. 

Nikunj Beria: Why did you decide to join GSEI at this point in your career?

Leslie Crutchfield: My career span of 25 years has taken me from co-founding my own social enterprise, to working in philanthropy as a venture investor with Ashoka and strategy advisor with FSG Social Impact Consultants, to writing two books on how nonprofits and foundations can drive greater social impact. I came to GSEI as a senior research fellow two years ago to write a new book, “How Changes Happen: Why Some Social Movements Succeed and Others Don’t”. Every time I write a book, I’ve been inspired to find answers to open-ended questions, like for my first book, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, the driving question was “what makes great nonprofit greats?” The answer to that question essentially was, great nonprofits build movements, not just organizations. So now my question is, what makes great movements successful? I have found that being in the university environment is very conducive to asking questions like these, and having the freedom to seek the unbridled truth.

NB: What is the role of GSEI? Where would you like to see GSEI 5 years from now? 

LC: GSEI values cross-sector innovation and is grounded in the belief that business can – and should - be a force for good. While there are many centers across the University that are committed to social impact, the unique value that GSEI brings is our focus on the role of business in society, and how market forces can be harnessed to drive positive social and environmental change. We also focus on how best practices in leadership and management – disciplines traditionally associated with the business world – can be applied by mission-driven, social purpose organizations – whether it’s a socially-responsible business striving to create shared value, or a high-impact nonprofit seeking to maximize impact by delivering better and more innovative services, or a government agency seeking to leverage the power of the private sector’s business and nonprofit organizations to advance the greater good. I see GSEI as both a “think tank” and a “do tank” and we accomplish that in three ways. We:

  • Educate current and future high-impact leaders through our courses and executive programs.
  • Create new knowledge and build the field through research and the pursuit of innovative solutions to problems facing society
  • Incubate and accelerate social impact projects by working on the ground with private and public private partners, including companies like Philips which sponsors the AgingWell Hub collaborative,  and government agencies like the USDA, which has sponsored our Rural Opportunities Initiative.

The next 5 years will be spent strengthening and ramping up our work in these three areas while always using an interdisciplinary, cross-sector approaches.

NB: How can GSEI engage with the wider Georgetown community in terms of collaborating with professors and other initiatives/centers?

LC: No change happens through a single actor. GSEI engages with the different schools in the Georgetown community and leverages the diversity of Georgetown, including its faculty and its students. I would like to see students advocate for shared value, invent innovative products and services that drive social and environmental impact, and apply best practices in high-impact leadership across their careers. Plus, I believe that GSEI’s mission aligns perfectly with the McDonough School of Business’s mission, which is to be in service to business and society as well as with Georgetown’s long tradition of service.

NB: What should students expect from GSEI going forward? What kind of skills do you want students to leave with?

LC: As part of GSEI, I would like to provide a wider range of courses for business school students in who seek to create social impact, whichever career path they chose. I would like to see students develop a greater understanding of what it takes to be successful, and lead with moral authority and find ways to advance the common good. There’s a famous quote by Henry Ford: “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” In the past, lines were drawn between business, public and non-profits clearly segregating each sector’s role in society.  It used to be that, if you wanted to make a profit, you would go to work for a business or start one. And if you wanted to make a difference, you would work for a nonprofit or run for public office. Now, the lines are blurring between these formerly distinct sectors of society. You can make a profit AND a difference through a socially responsible business or a mission-driven start up or social enterprise. And if you work in the social sector, there are now fewer barriers and greater incentives to find more sustainable, revenue-generating ways to support your mission. My hope is that McDonough students will be prepared to lead in this new world order, and have gained here both the know-how and the moral commitment to find ways to drive financial, social and environmental impact through everything they do.

For a full announcement of Leslie Crutchfield's appointment, click here.