The Pursuit of Social Good at UIC Liautaud

Jill Kozeluh, MBA '12, has been busy with UIC lately. She recently participated in a housing and economic development panel hosted by UIC’s Net Impact chapter, where she introduced UIC Business students to the work of Accion Chicago. She also paid a visit to Professor Renko’s social entrepreneurship class to talk about microfinance for Chicago’s underserved entrepreneurs. On top of all this, she’s looking forward to a new connection between her work at Accion Chicago and a fresh partnership between UIC and Accion. Beginning next year, UIC will offer entrepreneurship training to disabled refugees, and Accion will offer them capital.

Kozeluh enjoys all the engagement with her alma mater. “I welcome just about any opportunity to connect with students,” she says. “But at UIC Business, I’m there on a mission. I’m usually talking to students about social entrepreneurship and how an MBA can generate positive social impact. I want business students to know that there is demand for MBAs outside of the private sector.”

Kozeluh’s own path to social entrepreneurship started over a decade ago, when she began working with undergraduates as an instructor in film criticism. “I thought of teaching as a platform for engaging with people to create social change and impact through education,” she says. Kozeluh pursued a graduate degree in film, and spent years teaching film criticism in the Chicago area while writing her own criticism on the side. But as her interests evolved, she felt herself drawn toward work at the administrative level.

“The debate with myself was between an MPA and an MBA,” Kozeluh says. After speaking with a Liautaud professor, she decided the MBA was the more versatile degree. “MBAs are in demand in the nonprofit sector, in higher education, and in government agencies,” says Kozeluh, who was drawn to Liautaud in particular for the location and the diversity among students and faculty, but also for the opportunity to focus on using her MBA for social good.

“Liautaud offered a social value concentration that enabled MBA students to learn about careers outside of traditional finance and management work in the private sector,” Kozeluh says. “MBA students also came together through the college’s Net Impact chapter, and socially-minded MBAs were able to take courses on social entrepreneurship and leading for impact.” It was in Professor Renko’s class that Kozeluh learned about archi-treasures, an arts-based community development organization in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Kozeluh worked with archi-treasures on its marketing and business strategy, and during her time there, met a board member who worked at Accion Chicago.

“I kept in touch with Accion, and at the end of my MBA, a position opened up there,” says Kozeluh. “Having the connection with this board member definitely helped me get my foot in the door.”

Kozeluh has been with Accion Chicago for over four years, during which time the organization has roughly doubled in size. “We’ve grown a lot as a result of credit drying up after the recession,” she says. When small businesses can’t get financing from banks, microfinance can be a lifeline. As a CDFI, Accion primarily works with underserved entrepreneurs, providing them loans from $500 up to $100K, as well as business support, credit repair coaching, and other training and education to help them succeed.

“What drew me to Accion was the opportunity to revitalize communities and generate positive social impact through business,” Kozeluh says. “We’re helping our clients achieve financial stability, and in turn they’re creating jobs and local economic growth.” Because most MBAs look toward the private sector for work, they don’t see the demand for their skills at nonprofits. “At Accion, our COO has an MBA from Harvard. She could have gone anywhere in the private sector, but these are the problems she wants to solve, and her skills–and mine as well–are highly sought by nonprofits,” says Kozeluh. “We deal with measurable delivery just like any other business. Community revitalization needs to be efficient, it needs to have impact. There are huge opportunities for students who want to use business for good.”