My Path to Vanderbilt: The Turner Family Center Guiding Light

My Path to Vanderbilt: The Turner Family Center Guiding Light

Julia Weber (MBA 2023), TFC Committee Member 2021-22

September 2021

The Turner Family Center for Social Ventures (TFC) was pivotal to my decision to attend Vanderbilt Business School. While researching business schools with a social impact and innovation focus, Vanderbilt came up first with a mention of the TFC in the search. I decided to apply. Very early on in the application process as I shared my interests and background, I was connected with Kathleen (assistant director of the TFC) and Mario (director of the TFC) to learn more about the TFC and its unique mission. Seeing their passion for creating a better world through business exhilarated me. Our conversations sparked an excitement within me that had been dormant due to quarantine and over half a decade in the work world without connected purpose beyond my day-to-day function – reinvigorating a natural intellectual curiosity and providing a clear path to helping humanity through the private sector.

At an early age, my parents trained us to look for ways to give back at both the individual and institutional level. My dad predicted early on that the way of the future cannot be companies simply having a philanthropic branch that donates to a certain cause each year. Companies needed to truly integrate social impact into the fabric of the company’s work for dramatic and lasting change. The private sector can make the most impact, since it works within the realm of our world – if you can make the business case for social impact, those companies will get us there more quickly and help sustain this impact and innovation. We need to “work with the market,” as Mario says. My mom elevated the individual perspective – work hard so you can make money and use it and your privilege and influence for the greatest good and give back to those who need it the most.

I have learned a lot throughout my education and career thus far. A pivotal moment in my own understanding of the intense demand for a broad scale solution to poverty and all of the underlying forces at play was when I went on a trip to Kliptown, South Africa in middle school. This was the first real moment of comprehension around the complex problems and stark inequity of the world. We made good friends with the bright, kind-souled people we worked with over there, and I kept going back as often as possible to help, specifically to support development of their youth program in an effort to bring food, shelter, and accessible, affordable

Photo from travels in Kliptown, South Africa.

education to the township to begin to alleviate the community’s systemic poverty (left in the wake of apartheid). One friend from this township, Thando, reiterated the importance of partnering with a community to create lasting change – “you must give a fishing rod, not a fish.” This is a lesson I tried to incorporate into my studies and brought this relationship with Kliptown to college. Beyond the academics in college, I earned a global health certificate and helped to create a fellowship to Kliptown, South Africa in order to establish a more lasting partnership to aid both the people of South Africa and U.S. college students.

There is still a lot left to learn. While I have been fortunate to have had a vast array of service work and had the privilege of meeting wonderful people across the globe, what I realized was missing was that original lesson from my parents – integrate social impact into your and your company’s work. Vanderbilt is where I found the solution: the TFC. Since arriving on campus this summer, I have met with Kathleen and Mario again to discuss my career going forward and how to both maximize my time at Vanderbilt Business (and the TFC) as well as

integrate social impact into my professional leadership and work. I have also joined the Project Pyramid committee to aid the global learning experiences of my classmates and support them in creating lasting social impact around the world. I am ecstatic to jump feet first into work with the TFC to learn from the many brilliant minds of the faculty, staff and students who work together across disciplines towards solutions to the many complex, global problems of humanity in the world in an interdisciplinary, analytical way.