Another Year of Driving Social Change: What Would Greg Think?

May 2018, Erin Worsham, Executive Director

Every summer, as another academic year comes to a close and the echoes of graduation begin to fade away, I take some time to reflect on the year. This year that reflection has been particularly bittersweet as CASE celebrates our 15th anniversary.

To think that 15 years ago, our co-founders, Greg Dees and Beth Anderson, came to Duke with only an idea of what CASE could become.  Since that time, we helped define the term social entrepreneurship, were named one of the Top 5 Social Impact Centers in the World, have conducted in-depth research to understand what it takes to scale social impact, received global recognition for our CASE i3 Initiative on Impact Investing, and have seen inspiring young leaders come through our programs and go on to achieve incredible things.

As we continue to drive towards a world where all social impact leaders have the knowledge, funding, and networks they need to achieve lasting social change, I couldn’t be more proud of all that we have accomplished.  And it makes me wonder … what would our beloved founder Greg have thought if he was still here to see CASE in our 15th year?

The Business of Bettering the World

Greg – one of the most modest and humble people I have ever met – would blush about the Duke Magazine feature (read here) that was published about CASE this year.  I know he’d be thrilled to read the profiles of our students and alumni. Inspirational alumni like Monty Montoya, President & CEO of CorneaGen (formerly SightLife Surgical), who has helped deliver life-transforming corneal transplants to over 30,000 people per year­­. Monty, still not satisfied, is continuing to use his business skills to drive innovation and expand impact.  Or Lauren Gardner, COO of Durham based Emily K Center, who has helped the organization scale from an empty building to one that is changing the face of college access right here in our backyard.

And he’d love the sentiments shared by his friend, Sally Osberg, former President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, who said, “I don’t think there’s been a more important academic institution for social entrepreneurship than CASE.” She went on to say, “In terms of research, in terms of contributing to this field, in terms of offering both practical and really smart counsel to students, CASE is really the institution that sets the agenda and sets the pace for us all.”

Accelerating Scaled Impact

Greg would be thrilled that our team continues the work he started on the critical question of how social entrepreneurs can leap the chasm from idea to sustainable impact at scale.  For example, this year we launched Phase 2 of Scaling Pathways, a partnership with the Skoll Foundation, USAID, and Mercy Corps. We surveyed over a hundred leading social ventures, conducted in-depth interviews, and recently launched “Financing for Scaled Impact.” This report highlights a few “rules of the road” and features stories and advice about key external and internal sources of capital. And there is much more to come on scaling topics such as leveraging government partnerships, human capital, and more.

Improving Entrepreneur / Investor Connections

He’d get excited about how we are working to scale our own impact and reach. For example, we continue to improve and disseminate CASE Smart Impact Capital, our rigorous and flexible online toolkit helping enterprises raise impact investment capital, even launching an e-commerce platform this year.  We’ve had over 12,000 unique visitors to, formed 30 licensing partnerships, have 900 registered users, and our materials have been accessed or downloaded over 48,000 times by visitors from over 100 countries.    

Convening Great Minds

Greg would have been sad to miss the amazing conversations and events that happened on campus this year.  From Matthew Weatherly-White, co-founder of the Caprock Group, pushing all of us to envision a future where almost all investments will become impact investments (but will it be quickly enough?).  Leigh Morgan, former COO of the Gates Foundation, talking about the important but “unsexy” work of creating organizational systems, breaking down siloes, and governance.  Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach For America, who discussed the inequalities some children face and how TFA scaled to meet those needs. And Lorraine Orr, COO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, who spoke about using mergers and acquisitions to achieve greater impact and organizational health.

At the Sustainable Business and Social Impact (SBSI) conference, we brought together over 400 attendees for incredible discussions on diversity, equity, and inclusion; scaling social impact; impact investing; artificial intelligence in healthcare; blockchain for impact, and more.  Practitioners and students alike were inspired by amazing keynotes from Meg Garlinghouse, Head of Social Impact for LinkedIN; Clara Miller, President Emeritus of the Heron Foundation; and, Neil Blumenthal, Co-CEO and Co-founder of Warby Parker and Ella Gudwin, President of VisionSpring.

Next Generation Leadership

And last, but certainly not least, Greg would be blown away by our incredible students. This year alone, 200 first year students participated in Day in Durham and discussed the future of Durham with a panel of Durham’s mayoral candidates.  58 MBAs worked with 10 social ventures around the world through our consulting practica.  And we engaged deeply with many of our MBA students throughout the year, including 5 CASE Scholarship recipients, 12 CASE fellows, 9 CASE i3 fellows, and 46 students serving on the Board of 23 local nonprofits through our Fuqua on Board program.

It is these students that I know would give Greg hope. I know that because they do the same for me.

As we continue to grapple with the challenges of our time – systemic racism, sexual assault and the #metoo movement, religious discrimination, the increasing surge of gun violence, and so much more – CASE is pushing our thinking on what we can do to be an even stronger force for positive change.  That will take many paths, but one of the most powerful will be unlocking the passion and potential of this next generation of impact leaders who can point us to the promise of a better future.

Keep in touch: There is much more to come in the next year and beyond. So, continue to join us on the journey – sign up for our newsletter, follow us on social media, and – if you are so inclined – donate to our work so that we can help empower more leaders and organizations change the world.