Day in Durham: Global Leaders Start at Home!

This post was written by Duke MBA students Katie Campbell and Alejandra Gerosa in September 2014. Katie and Ale reflect on the 11th annual Day in Durham – where more than 1700 Fuqua first years have explored the Durham community and been inspired to use their business skills for social impact.

After a few weeks of climbing both metaphorical and literal walls, the newly-arrived MBA Class of 2016 got together (in record numbers!) to attend Day in Durham, a chance to get inspired by the community outside campus and the leaders who are shaping it.

Dean Russ Morgan kicked the day off by reminding us of the meaning of being consequential and urging us to take up every opportunity to grow as leaders. And the first step to becoming global leaders is engaging with the community that immediately surrounds us.

Erin Worsham, CASE Executive Director, followed with an introduction to Durham. For those of us who are new to this city, it was great to know more about our new home’s rich past. Durham has roots in the tobacco industry and a rich history of economic development led by the African American community (including a four-block section of town that was nicknamed “the Black Wall Street” in honor of the successful African American-owned businesses that were established there).

Durham also boasts a vibrant present. It has been named, among other distinctions, the South’s tastiest town and a top place to launch your own business – and many successful inventions have sprung from Durham over the years, including AZT (a drug used to treat AIDS) and even AstroTurf! There is, however, still too much disparity within Durham. One in five residents lives in poverty, so Erin charged us to think about how our Fuqua business school skills can change the world – starting here at home.

Kevin Trapani followed with a truly inspiring keynote speech. A Duke alumnus and member of the CASE Advisory Council, he urged us to make a positive impact from wherever we are. Using his own experience as the founder and CEO of The Redwoods Group, a for-profit company with a strong impact focus, he made it very clear that you don’t have to run a nonprofit to change the world. But you do have to change the world, for the better, if you want to be a good leader. The phrase that resonated with us the most, and that encompasses his message for us, is “Leadership is not about you. It’s about serving others and lifting up other people.”

It’s fair to say energy levels were up when, after lunch, we hopped on our respective buses for our afternoon excursions. The buses themselves served as a way to connect us with another impact-focused local business as well, as we were riding with Greenway Transit, the only green transportation company in the southeast. The six excursions included:

  • Healthcare
  • Impact Investing
  • Sustainability
  • Education
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Community Revitalization

Each site offered tours and panel discussions with local business and community leaders. Panelists presented their thoughts about social impact and sustainability opportunities in the Durham community, as well as reflections about how to make an impact.

Community Revitalization

The Community Revitalization excursion took us on a tour of the American Underground, a coworking space in Durham for start-ups and incubator programs. The open floor-plan allows for entrepreneurs to mingle and support one another as they work to launch their businesses. We met with Matt Gladdek, the Director of Government Affairs at Downtown Durham, Inc; Katie Spencer, the Executive Director of the Museum of Durham History; and Rev. Keith Daniel, Officer of Church Mobilization for DurhamCares. They all agreed that Durham is a start-up friendly city, and Katie Spencer felt that the tight-knit community has encouraged collaboration and an urban resurgence.


The Sustainability track took place at Counter Coffee Culture, where Founder Brett Smith took us on a full tour (coffee tasting included!) and explained their business model to us, which further showed us how sustainability and business can be a great combination. The panel also included Paula Alexander, Director of Sustainable Business of Burt’s Bees and Chris Carmody, former Executive Director of the Green Plus program. They gave great advice and encouragement for those seeking for a career in sustainable businesses.

Once back at Fuqua, snacks and Fullsteam Brewery beer awaited us, along with a chance to connect with our classmates to learn more about others’ excursions.  After our Day in Durham, we are excited to transform the day’s inspiration into action!