Turner Family Center for Social Ventures

Mario Avila

Faculty Director

Owen

Bio

Mario Avila

Faculty Director

Mario serves as the Faculty Director of the Center for Social Ventures at Vanderbilt University, a new hub that serves as a resource and thought leader for people across the university interested in combining revenue-generating businesses with social impact objectives. Most recently, he was the CEO of Emerge and founder of Contigo Financial, a socially-responsible consumer lender headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. His management experience includes finance, education and consulting in three different countries. He was a Fellow of Vanderbilt University’s Cal Turner program for Moral Leadership in the Professions and helped develop a hybrid housing-microfinance model to finance mortgage needs of people at the base of the pyramid in Central America. Mario serves on various boards including the Vanderbilt University Credit Union, Conexión Americas, the Nashville Food Project, and formerly the Nashville Social Enterprise Alliance. He earned an AB from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Vanderbilt University.

Brooke Timberlake

Program Coordinator

Bio

Brooke Timberlake

Program Coordinator

Brooke serves as the Program Coordinator for the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures at Vanderbilt University, where she supports student leaders and the center’s daily operations. Most recently, she was the Undergraduate Program Specialist in the History Department at Vanderbilt. During her time there, she supported over 60 faculty members while also managing travel, course scheduling, and expenses for the department.

Brooke is thrilled to be working with the TFC as she is no stranger to supporting non-profits. She was a founding member of the Best Buddies Memphis Chapter in 2012 and served as a Co-President until 2017. Best Buddies International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Brooke holds a BFA in Music Business from the University of Memphis, where she graduated in 2021. Outside of the TFC and Owen, Brooke enjoys hosting friends with her husband, Stephen, and taking their pups, Monty and Beale, on walks around the neighborhood!

Executive Board

Ferna Alvarez-Carrascal

Project Pyramid Chair

Ph.D. Earth and Environmental Sciences '26

Bio

Ferna Alvarez-Carrascal

Project Pyramid Chair

Ferna Alvarez-Carrascal is a Ph.D. student in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department with a research focus on water, energy, and environmental justice, especially on Latinx communities in the U.S. She graduated from Taiwan National Central University in 2020 with an MSc in Environmental Sustainable Development and is a civil engineer by training from the UFPS, Colombia. She has academic and industry experience, always coupling the environmental and social aspects of projects. Her last job before starting her Ph.D. journey was as a Climate Risk Analyst for the insurance industry, which allowed her to see the significant positive impact private companies can have on society.

Abdullah Azhar

Summit Chair

MBA '25

Bio

Abdullah Azhar

Summit Chair

Abdullah Azhar is a first-year MBA student at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, concentrating in Finance, Strategy, Operations, and Analytics. With a background as a mechanical engineer at Pfizer, contributing to the development of the Covid vaccine, and later transitioning to Amazon Robotics, Abdullah brings a wealth of experience in technological innovation and corporate strategy. Passionate about sustainability and community engagement, Abdullah serves as a Board Fellow partnered with Goodwill through the Vanderbilt Owen Board Fellow Program, actively working towards empowering communities and promoting sustainable practices. As this year’s Summit Chair at the Turner Family Center, Abdullah is dedicated to fostering discussions on sustainable business practices and social impact, embodying leadership and vision within the Vanderbilt Owen community. Abdullah Azhar’s journey exemplifies a fusion of academic excellence, professional acumen, and a steadfast commitment to creating positive change. With a multifaceted background spanning pharmaceuticals to technology, Abdullah’s dedication to sustainability and community engagement shines through in all endeavors. As Summit Chair at the Turner Family Center, Abdullah is poised to inspire and lead, driving conversations around sustainable business practices and social impact to new heights of excellence within the Vanderbilt Owen community and beyond.

Irisi Gjishti

Immersions Chair

Master in Economic Development '25

Bio

Irisi Gjishti

Immersions Chair

Irisi is currently pursuing a Master in Economic Development at Vanderbilt University. For four years she had been working in the Ministry of Finance and Economy in Albania, where she was mainly responsible for evaluating policy proposals and for drafting and analysis of salary policies for the public sector. Irisi aims to acquire a global perspective on economic development and gain a thorough understanding of concepts and methods of contemporary research analysis on a wide range of economic issues. Her interest in involving with the Turner Family Center stems from her drive to provide effective solutions to challenging social and environmental issues, by working with social impact projects/enterprises.

Avery Hale

Executive Board Chair

MBA '25

Bio

Avery Hale

Executive Board Chair

Avery is an MBA Candidate and Dean’s Scholar at Vanderbilt University – Owen Graduate School of Management pursuing concentrations in Finance and Strategy. Following her undergraduate degree at Florida State, Avery worked in the technology consulting industry. Avery chose to attend business school as a pivot from consulting to an impact-driven career. She joined the TFC during her search for a community at Owen that shared her values and drive to apply business and entrepreneurship to generate meaningful change. As an MBA student, she specifically is interested in social entrepreneurship and impact investing as they relate to environmental and health-related endeavors. As Executive Board Chair, she strives to serve the Center’s mission by providing the space and resources necessary to develop the impactful leaders of tomorrow.

John Ide

Academics & Experiences Chair

MBA '25

Bio

John Ide

Academics & Experiences Chair

I’m originally from San Diego, California, and an MBA Candidate at Vanderbilt University – Owen Graduate School of Management pursuing concentrations in Accounting and Finance. Before Owen, I worked in real estate finance at a family office in Fort Worth, TX, and was an explosives expert in the US Army. I participated in Project Pyramid, which was a valuable experience. I learned much from TFC members, staff, and business partners. TFC provides an environment where you are exposed to unique viewpoints, and I’m excited to continue to grow from these interactions. Outside of Owen, I enjoy hiking with my dog, photography, and soccer.

Social Innovation Partners Chair MD 25'

Lance Johnson

Social Innovation Partners Chair

MD '25

Bio

Lance Johnson

Social Innovation Partners Chair

I am an MD student at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and am originally from the Hartford, Connecticut area. Prior to medical school, I worked in Boston managing finances at a nonprofit that distributes anti-malarial bed nets in Sub-Saharan Africa and later as a strategy analyst at a health software startup. I developed a passion for healthcare systems innovation and health equity while in Boston and felt right at home at the TFC upon arriving in Nashville.

I am always excited to see when complex social problems electrify creative people into action. Innovative thinkers and ideas transform lives every day, and it is a privilege to nurture those ideas through Innovation & Social Startups at the Turner Family Center.

Clint McHenry

Impact Investing Chair

MBA '25

Bio

Clint McHenry

Impact Investing Chair

Clint is an MBA Candidate at the Owen Graduate School of Management pursuing concentrations in Strategy, Finance, and Operations & Analytics. Prior to Owen, Clint worked as a professionally licensed landscape architect. He launched his own consultancy that provided design and engineering expertise to designers and construction firms. As an MBA student, Clint is focused on acquiring the skills necessary to become an entrepreneur in the social venture space. As a West Virginian, Clint saw wealth extraction and environmental degradation first-hand, and aspires to enable circular economies and responsible consumption.

Haniya Shariff

Brand & Marketing Chair

MPH '25

Bio

Haniya Shariff

Brand & Marketing Chair

I’m a Master of Public Health (MPH) student at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine specializing in the Health Policy track. I’m originally from Philadelphia, PA and hold a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Temple University, Philadelphia. Before joining Vanderbilt, I worked as a communications specialist in the health and fintech spaces. I managed social media campaigns and communication strategies, and played a pivotal role in rebranding projects and internal company initiatives. Through these experiences, I found joy in breathing life into an organization’s mission, goals, and vision. Discovering the Turner Family Center at Vanderbilt opened my eyes to the endless possibilities in the social impact space. The TFC has earned its incredible reputation for nurturing socially conscious leaders and creating memorable human experiences. I’m honored and excited to take the TFC brand to new heights and ensure its impact resonates far and wide.

Parker Willmon

Social Innovation Strategy Chair

PhD Biomedical Engineering '25

Bio

Parker Willmon

Social Innovation Strategy Chair

Howdy, y’all, I am originally from Houston, Texas and am pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering focusing on biophotonics (how light can be used for the diagnosis and treatment of disease). In particular, my research focuses on surgical guidance systems that can be brought to market by startups. This interest in entrepreneurship originates from spending four years in the backroom of my dad’s office while my parents tried to get their business off the ground. This interest developed overtime and led to me competing in several pitch competitions while an undergraduate at Louisiana Tech. After coming to Vanderbilt, I jumped at the chance to participate in the Social Enterprise Pitch Competition – my first experience with the TFC.

As someone who has been a Department of Child Services mentor and tutor, I have seen the impact volunteers can have on the disenfranchised. However, the fact that businesses can strive to help these groups and still succeed as a business was a novel idea that has sucked me in. Now, I attend as many TFC events as I can be they immersions, lunch and learns, or classes.

Advisory Board

Shani Dowell

CEO & Founder, Possip

Bio

Shani Dowell

CEO & Founder, Possip

Shani Dowell is the founder and CEO of Possip. A product of Houston public schools and a public school teacher and parent, Shani loves supporting the work of schools. She started her career as a consultant at Bain & Co. and helped launch the Boston office of the Posse Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to increase student retention and engagement on college campuses. She has also worked for Houston Independent School District, KIPP Foundation—a national network of charter schools, Teach For America, Bridgespan Group, and Relay Graduate School of Education. Shani earned her BA at Howard University in Washington, DC, and her MBA at Stanford University. In starting Possip, Shani seeks to support schools by elevating the ideas of parents, teachers, and students.

Hattie Duplechain

Director of Learning Experience and Impact Measurement, Innovation Space

Bio

Hattie Duplechain

Director of Learning Experience and Impact Measurement, Innovation Space

Hattie Duplechain is currently the Director of Learning Experience and Impact Measurement at the Innovation Space, an incubator for early-stage tech startups affiliated with the University of Delaware. She is also a lecturer for social entrepreneurship coursework there. Hattie has over 12 years of experience leading innovation initiatives across K12 and higher education with organizations including Ashoka, The New Teacher Project, and the U.S. Fulbright Program. Hattie holds an M.Ed. in International Education Policy and Management from Vanderbilt University and dual B.A. degrees in Communication Studies and English from Clemson University.

Ryan Lojo

Manager, Simon-Kucher & Partners

(Owen MBA '21)

Bio

Ryan Lojo

Manager, Simon-Kucher & Partners

Ryan is a Manager at Simon-Kucher & Partners. He is focused on industrial, tech, and non-profit clients, as well as those looking to grow their sustainability presence. Ryan earned an MBA from Vanderbilt University in 2021. While at Vanderbilt, he was a two-time board member for the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures (Alumni Engagement and Social Startup) and project lead for a Project Pyramid team working in Guatemala.

Prior to Vanderbilt, Ryan was a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural village of the Dominican Republic, where he served as a Community Economic Development consultant leading small business creation, micro-finance, and infrastructure activities in his community. Following that, he was named a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico City. During his grant and follow-up work, he worked with startups across Mexico, focusing on scaling operations, product development and digital marketing. When not in the office, Ryan can be found hunting for the best tacos and dumplings.

Brian McCann

Owen

Bio

Brian McCann

A long-time supporter and partner in the work of the Center for Social Ventures, Professor McCann is a celebrated teacher, mentor, and faculty member in the Owen Graduate School of Management. As faculty director, he will collaborate with center staff and student leadership to continue building the Center’s strategy for programming and learning at the intersection of social impact and business.

Professor Brian McCann is an authority in the field of strategic management. McCann has more than ten years of industry experience, including running JMD Development, Inc., a residential land development company; serving as the CFO for the Internet start-up Solve Interactive; and developing new strategic initiatives for the Dayton Development Coalition, a non-profit economic development group.

His research spans strategic management and entrepreneurship, including governance choices in interfirm relationships and the effects associated with the propensity of similar firms to co-locate geographically.  He has also studied a variety of decision choices in entrepreneurial ventures.

Professor McCann’s work has appeared in such leading journals as the Strategic Management Journal, Organization Science, Journal of Business Venturing, Journal of Management Studies, and the Journal of Management. He is also the co-author (with fellow Owen professor Luke Froeb) of the leading textbook Managerial Economics: A Problem-Solving Approach, which was originally published in 2007 by South-Western and is currently under revision for a fourth edition.

Bio

Emily Sheldon

CEO & Co-Founder, African Health Innovation Centre

Bio

Emily Sheldon

CEO & Co-Founder, African Health Innovation Centre

Emily Sheldon is most passionate about using market-based approaches to solve complex challenges throughout the African continent. Her global development experience spans sub-Saharan Africa and includes diverse engagement in facilitation and training, capacity building, and programme design. Emily serves as co-founder and CEO of the African Health Innovation Centre, Ghana’s first organization dedicated to the utilization of innovation and entrepreneurship to improve health outcomes.

Prior to establishing AHIC, Emily served as the Director of Health Innovation for Impact Hub Accra, and held a second role as Africa Regional Lead for the Impact Hub global team, driving strategy and business development throughout the continent. Emily has worked in the non-profit, for-profit, and consulting fields with a predominant focus on process leadership, project management, and strategy. She holds a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Global Health from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, TN, USA.

In addition to her work at AHIC, Emily supports entrepreneurs through a variety of advisory roles. She currently serves as a Mentor-in-Residence for the Yale Sustainable Health Initiative and as co-Ambassador for the Vanderbilt Master of Public Health program. She also serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Crowdfrica (Ghana), and as an advisory board member for the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures at Vanderbilt University (USA), AlephEngineering (Ghana), Rare Disease Ghana Initiative (Ghana), and PocketPatient MD (Kenya).

Courtney Watson

Co-Founder & Partner, Chestnut Catalyst Group

Bio

Courtney Watson

Co-Founder & Partner, Chestnut Catalyst Group

Courtney is a co-founder of Chestnut Catalyst Group, a woman-led company that through research, strategic capacity building, and investment works to advance social innovation for thriving, diverse, and sustainable communities. Courtney is a partner in Chestnut Opportunity Zone Fund, a qualified opportunity zone fund focused on community-aligned, real estate projects that have the potential to provide both financial and social value. She is also a partner in the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, a venture capital firm that has invested in early-stage companies in the Southeast. Courtney serves on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chattanooga as well as The Enterprise Center.

Courtney received her Bachelor of Science in Commerce from The University of Virginia with a minor in French and a Master of Business Administration in Finance and Strategy from Vanderbilt University.  She is often found in the mountains, on a yoga mat, or watching her kids on the sports fields. Courtney lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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