Tuesdays with T4A: Jennifer Walske (01/28/14)

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Jennifer Walske
Faculty Director, Master of Global Entrepreneurial Management | University of San Francisco
Jennifer Walske is a Faculty Director of the Master in Global Entrepreneurial Management at the University of San Francisco. Previously she was the Faculty Director of theGlobal Social Venture Competition, a worldwide program that develops next generation social entrepreneurs, and the Director of Social Entrepreneurship within the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, Haas School of Business, U.C. Berkeley. Dr. Walske was the 2011 recipient of the Earl F. Cheit Award for Teaching Excellence.  She also received “Best Paper” at the NYU-Stern Conference in Social Entrepreneurship in 2011, researching firm formation and performance within venture philanthropy. In 2000, Dr. Walske founded Myriad Investments, LLC, an NVCA registered venture capital firm, where she remains a partner. She continues to serve on the boards of both non-profit and for-profit enterprises, including the national Net Impact Board and the San Francisco Ballet Board. Prior to her career in academia, Dr. Walske was a nationally ranked equities analyst by Institutional All-American, and was a regular guest commentator on CNN and CNBC.  Previously, she held marketing and sales positions within the high tech industry, based in Silicon Valley.
Where did you grow up, and what do you remember most about it?
I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. My mother was a home economics teacher at Punahou, and then worked at the University of Hawaii. My father was chair of the genetics department at the University of Hawaii; he was also a pineapple researcher (he and his team created the gold brand of pineapple). We lived a block from the beach, and both my sister and I learned how to swim in the Pacific Ocean. My family used to watch the stars at night, with all of the main house lights off, and with tiki torches lit. It was magical. It is difficult to explain how Hawaii was at that time. It was a very close-knit, warm, and inviting mixed cultural community. I learned to use chopsticks at three – in order to eat with family friends from Japan – and we had sushi at our church potlucks. 

What was your first job?
Whatever I could do to be paid at twelve. That would largely include babysitting for neighbors and some housecleaning. My parents believed that if you wanted spending money, you had to work for it. I actually value that lesson and hope to impart it on my daughter.
What is your first political memory?
I wasn’t alive when JFK was shot. The drama around President Nixon’s impeachment was memorable. I also remember Carter’s presidency, including long lines to get gasoline, and the hostage crisis. Jimmy Carter exemplifies how one should never let a past failure prevent you from a future accomplishment. Ben Affleck did a wonderful job with Argo, in bringing us all back to that time.
What is your favorite book?
When I was younger, I used to read Wuthering Heights every year. I was originally an English major in college. Now, I have really moved on from that place (no disrespect to Heathcliff!). I enjoy a witty/satirical article from The Economist as much as anything else. It takes real blocks of time to commit to a book. When I do read, I find myself choosing biographies or books that revolve around social injustice. I typically read on international flights, as I do not sleep well on planes. On the way back from China this month, I finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a book that my thoughtful my sister-in-law gave me.
Our second week in a row interviewing the recipient of an undergraduate teaching award! In 2011, you won the Earl F. Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. What do you think makes a good teacher?
Being a good teacher is about creating a connection with students, and challenging each other to think about the relevancy of what we are doing in the classroom. In essence, it really isn’t about me as a teacher, but about the collective classroom. I start each class by saying: “This is likely the only time that each one of us will have THIS shared experience – what you do want to do with this time together?” I also have to work very hard as a teacher to keep up with my super-smart students, but it is a great way to live one’s life.
Why is social entrepreneurship an important field as we move forward into the 21st century?
We are seeing some interesting themes arise in understanding human motivations blended with economic policy. Economist Joseph Stiglitz speaks to the “shared” economy – and such views no longer seem heretical, given Lyft, Airbnb, and other types of emerging businesses. This generation is also free from the preconceptions of the past. There is more “and,” less “or.” For example, you can run a company that is profitable AND one that benefits society. A company can perform in the financial markets AND have a commitment to the environment, to its employees, and to its customers in providing quality food, sustainable supply chains, etc. We haven’t seen this kind of widespread dialogue about the role of the corporation and society at large since Silent Spring.
Who are your role models and why?
It sounds a bit classic, but my parents are wonderful role models. They both came from households that did not have college degrees, yet they worked their way out of poor farming communities to receive PhDs from Cornell and U.C. Berkeley, respectively. I have also been fortunate in my career to have many great mentors and role models. While I value the many male mentors that I have had throughout my 25+ years of professional work experience, including two exceptional deans, the opportunity to work with a high caliber woman is welcomed; I am currently working on a joint research project with Laura Tyson, Director of the Institute for Business and Social Impact within the Haas School of Business, U.C. Berkeley. She is a delight.

Finally, I have a deep respect for our President, Barack Obama. He strikes a balance of great intelligence, warmth, and wit. He is a good listener. I just have not met many politicians, or leaders, like him. I will never forget being in Malawi with UNICEF, at a very rural school, one that is inaccessible several months of the year due to seasonal rains, and all of the children knew of President Obama. It is important to remember that he is role model, outside of the U.S. just as he is within it.

As you look at your community, city/state/country, how do you view your role/responsibility as a citizen? Within that context, how do you view your role as citizen in relation to our government and democracy?
Our country is only as great as its citizens. Currently, many nations are experiencing revolutions, resurgences, and often, instability that leaves its citizens bewildered. The citizens of a country overthrow what is viewed as one dictator, only to invite in another. In the U.S., we value freedom of speech and the right to vote. I hold these rights most dear. They allow us to question ourselves while holding each other to the highest bar. And, any of us can serve our country in various roles – quite simply this is very unique.
Just about everyone (regardless of political affiliation) sees a large gap between our politics (Washington, DC as well as state capitals) and the reality on the issues we face as a Country. Why do you think that is? I know it's a tough question, but what do you think can be done to close that gap?
I hope that our representatives are experiencing what most Americans experience. I fear that many risk being out of touch with their own diverse populations, and instead, live in a protected and insular bubble. As history has demonstrated, becoming disconnected from one’s constituents has led to the demise of many great leaders.

Finally, as part of our collective dialogue, instead of judgment, I suggest empathy. Instead of filibusters, I prefer “listening sessions.” This is not to take away from the great sacrifices that many public servants make. We just need to better celebrate those that serve with humility, and let these exemplars make the news, instead of focusing on those that create attention through destructive actions.

Are political parties becoming less relevant today, particularly for young adults? Whatever your answer, why do you think that is?
Among the younger generation, there is a great distrust toward politicians, and a sense that their vote doesn’t count. In some ways, it seems like their parents’ debate, not theirs. President Obama really did capture the younger generation’s imagination in his first election. We need that type of mental engagement in our political leaders at all levels, balanced with a commitment to enact change by keeping them involved once elected. If the children and young adults are our future, why aren’t our politicians spending more time on high school and college campuses while they are in office? We have the technology to do this with webcasts if actual visits are not possible – we just lack the will to do so.
What is your favorite journey?
Growing up, I traveled with my father to third world countries, due to his work in agriculture. I learned so much about the influence of health care and education, and how the lack of such can really determine one’s future. I also learned that children everywhere do smile, play, and want to be loved. We are all wired for it. We often forget in our adulthood to smile and play, and of course, to just love each other a little bit more.
If you could be anyone else for a day, who would you be?
Hilary Clinton. It would be a fascinating day.
What is your proudest moment?
I am not dead yet. Check with me in a few years! But in the interim, I am most proud of my students and family – they provide me with many moments. They have such a high bar for excellence, which in turn challenges me to be my best.

To get specific, the weekend before last I was skiing behind my daughter (very fast). She was so afraid of skiing two years ago, and had a horrible situation with a coach. Now she is on Northstar’s racing team. It took courage and determination on her part, to overcome her fears, which is far more important than her skiing ability.

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