Opening Students’ Eyes to Social Entrepreneurship
Toyah L. Miller
Assistant Professor, Eli Lilly & Co. Faculty Fellow
“Growing up, my mom was a nurse, and she always took us to visit nursing homes and children’s homes. She really wanted us to be out there helping people.”
In her five years as senior consultant at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Toyah L. Miller logged 60- hour work weeks leading client and consulting teams for Fortune 500 firms like Time Warner Cable and BellSouth.
“I got to be involved in top-level decision making, and it was very interesting to see how strategic decisions got made and to be the one influencing them,” she says. Miller found the work rewarding, and she was glad to be using her business degree from Baylor University, but in her heart she knew she needed a change. “ I wanted to learn more about strategy, and I had an interest in learning more about social entrepreneurship. I was missing the way I used to give back to my community,” she says. “Growing up, my mom was a nurse, and she always took us to visit nursing homes and children’s homes. She really wanted us to be out there helping people.”
Miller started doing consulting work on the side for people who wanted to start nonprofits, and soon she was applying for doctoral programs in strategy with an interest in social entrepreneurship, defined as the practice of using entrepreneurial principles to solve social problems. By combining her business skills with her desire to give back, Miller knew she was on her true career track.
Now an assistant professor at Kelley, Miller says she’s excited to work at a place that emphasizes social entrepreneurship. “The caliber of scholars here is amazing,” she says. “I was also impressed by the joint certificate in social entrepreneurship offered through the MBA program and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. It’s one of just a few programs in the United States, especially at the master’s level. These are clear declarations of the Kelley value that we care about community.”
On the research front, Miller is busy making her mark on the new field of social entrepreneurship. One of her first publications focused on defining social entrepreneurship, and she’s working on another that explores social venture capital, or the ways that social entrepreneurship gets funded. “The field is in its infancy, and it’s very exciting and challenging. It’s open terrain,” she says.
It’s more than just research for Miller, though. In today’s post-Enron business climate, where corporate ethics are scrutinized, she’s trying to show students that they can do good with their skills. “The lectures I give about social entrepreneurship have opened students’ eyes to the idea that a business degree can have a virtuous impact on the world,” she says. “Students are starting to say ‘yes, I love business, but I want to be involved with social issues too.’ I tell them that their degree can be about giving back.”
She tries to get that message across early in a business student’s career. Since coming to Kelley, Miller has been actively involved with its Young Women’s Institute and Junior Executive Institute, teaching high school students about Kelley’s social entrepreneurship offerings. “I try to pique their interest in the idea that a business degree can be used in ways that they never thought of before,” she says.
It’s sinking in. Miller’s students frequently get offers from prestigious Fortune 500 companies as well as social entrepreneurship firms, and they find themselves needing to make the big decisions. Many of them, says Miller, explore their values and decide that they need to feel connected to the mission of the organization in order to feel passionate about their job. “It’s exciting to me that the best of the best of our Kelley students are considering these possibilities,” she says.