This blog was originally posted on the U-M William Davidson Institute WDI Fellow blog.

By Michelle Gross

26 hours on three planes and I finally make it to the Bandaranaike International Airport of Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’m greeted by Angela, the housemother at Grace, and her husband Vicki, who drove all the way from Trincomalee to receive me from the airport. And so we begin the six-hour journey to the Grace Care Center. The GCC, or Grace, a girl’s orphanage and elder care center, is my home base for the next two months while I will be traveling to Colombo and the tea region.

The normal six-hour journey soon turns into eight, due to some roadwork, plus a stop to have a spicy lunch, making my full journey 36 hours door-to-door! That’s the longest record trip for me. But it is made fun with spontaneous stops along the way to pick up coconuts and fruit: pineapple, mangostin, rambutan….mmm… I am back in fruit heaven.

And then when we arrive, I’m greeted by these lovely ladies in the most fashionable way.


Angela and I with King Coconuts


Welcome from Grace Care Center














I came to Sri Lanka, as a WDI Fellow, to develop a business plan to establish a new tea export enterprise from Sri Lanka that will secure the long-term viability of Grace. Zingerman’s is interested in collaborating, as long as there is a fantastic product, and my job is to connect the dots and build lasting relationships with potential business partners in Sri Lanka and a strategy for moving forward.

I have spent the last few months preparing for my internship, first learning about the orphanage and elder care center from Dr. Naresh Gunaratnam, the President of Grace’s Board of Directors, and then meeting with Ari Weinzweig to chat about and envision the partnership between Grace and Zingerman’s. So far, I have been lucky to meet extremely interesting and passionate people along the way who pointed me in new directions. For example, I met a family who owns a spice business in Montreal, and who call themselves spice (and tea) trekkers, as they travel the world like explorers: searching for and discovering unique and high quality products. They visited Ann Arbor, shared some of their secrets with me, and subsequently inspired me to convince a good friend to transfer some of his knowledge about tea to me through a private workshop.

Finally, at the end of May I officially started my internship, and it all got even more interesting.

Tea time with Zingerman's CEO and Founder,  Ari Weinzweig

Tea time with Zingerman’s CEO and Founder, Ari Weinzweig

These last few weeks at Zingerman’s I spent getting to know the Zing culture from within, through new staff orientation, classes, and meeting with everyone who would agree to meet me in Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB). I apparently became known as the “Tea Lady” around town (by town I mean Zingerman’s). I also interviewed contacts and friends of contacts, in person and over the phone, from those who managed a Ceylon tea imports business until ten years ago to the founder of a relatively new Kenyan tea social enterprise.

Now, since my arrival in Trincomalee, I have focused on getting to know Grace and the people who live here, Angela, the devoted house mother, Vikki, the chef, Mrs. Matthews, Jesi, Maggie, Natasha, just to name a few….. I have had nine delicious home cooked meals, and about to have my tenth. I’ve learned how to say a few words in Tamil and Sinhala, listened to the girls sing me songs in three languages, had my hair braided by them, attended their Sunday activities, including a meditation session, walked and ran along the beach and jumped into the Bay of Bengal, and even got to watch the sunrise this morning. I had face-to-face business meetings, after having met over Skype before coming, and spent some time Skyping with Angela, Naresh, and about 15 other GCC Board members and collaborators at the State of Grace Conference this weekend….I’d say that we’re off to a great start and I’m looking forward to checking in again soon.


MichelleBefore coming to Michigan, Michelle worked in Marketing in the Healthcare industry in Spain, and in her spare time taught workshops to raise awareness on environmental and social issues. Michelle has returned to school to pursue a career in Sustainable Business because she has come to believe that through business she can make considerable positive impact. Michelle is passionate about bringing affordable, environmentally-friendly products and services to the mass consumer, and learning more about alternative energy, especially solar and wind power. Michelle received a BA in Political Science and minor in Marketing at McGill University. She was born in the US but spent most of her life in Europe and in her spare time she enjoys yoga, skiing, travel and hiking.

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Andrew Hoffman, University of Michigan

Laudato Si' challenges us to examine the root causes of environmental ills and injustices. Max Rossi/Reuters

Laudato Si’ challenges us to examine the root causes of environmental ills and injustices. Max Rossi/Reuters

One of problems in communicating about climate change is that it has been ghettoized as a strictly environmental message promoted by liberal messengers. This makes it easy for some to dismiss it. But the pope’s encyclical letter “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be To You,” kinks the arc of this conversation in some important and long-needed ways.

Whether it causes the profound changes that are necessary to fully address the “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us” that he calls out is now up to us. Our challenge is nothing short of changing our values and beliefs. Continue reading

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By Kathleen Carroll

By Achmad Rabin Taim from Jakarta, Indonesia, via Wikimedia Commons

By Achmad Rabin Taim from Jakarta, Indonesia, via Wikimedia Commons

In April, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend “How Business Can Tackle Deforestation,” a conference hosted by Innovation Forum, a London-based organization that convenes organizations around sustainability trends and opportunities for business. The two-day event focused primarily on issues and opportunities related to palm oil, a $40 billion industry which relies almost entirely on converted rainforest land in Malaysia and Indonesia, two of the most biodiverse countries on earth. Though palm oil is in so much of what we consume—in packaged food (like Nutella, peanut butter, and potato chips) and beauty products (lipstick, even shampoo) and laundry detergent—we often have no idea we are consuming it. This trend is expected to continue; the UN predicted in 2011 that demand for palm oil would double by 2020.1  

New standards established within the palm oil industry over the last year, combined with activism to raise awareness of harmful practices, have all led to greater scrutiny of the industry as it faces increased demand to expand from markets around the world. I became interested in the topic of oil palm agriculture after visiting Indonesia last summer and driving by hectares of plantations on its rural island of Sumatra, seated beside protected primary forest areas that house some of the world’s most dense primary rainforest. The intersection of the industry’s challenges with regard to ecology, agriculture, food system sustainability, and nutrition make it particularly relevant within the sustainability space.

The Innovation Forum conference underscored many of my (incorrect) preconceptions about the industry and about notions of sustainability within the private sector: Continue reading

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By Tamar Koosed


Robert Stansfield/DFID, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been really fun exploring BoP ventures here at the Erb Perspectives Blog and hearing from some of you about the work you’ve been doing on the topic. We close our series acknowledging the progress that’s been done around poverty reduction and touching on the next generation of challenges for companies looking to create shareholder value and improve the standards of living for low-income communities.

Oftentimes, in our quest for improvement, we focus on the negatives, also known as “lessons learned” if you are in the international development field or as “opportunities” if you are in the private sector. We took on this focus while writing this blog series, pointing out why so many BoP ventures have failed and what strategies they could implement when trying again.

However, we, as a global community, have done a lot to reduce poverty in the last 20 years. According to the World Bank, in 1990, 42% of the world’s population lived below the $1.25/day poverty line. That rate fell to 21% in 2010.1  Poverty was halved and this is no small feat.

Many economists attribute this largely to the rapid growth in GDP in populous and initially impoverished developing countries, like China and India. But the trend is true for all regions, when there’s growth there are declines in absolute poverty. Good macroeconomic policies and ensuring there is rule of law are important contributors to growth, but so are trade and the ability of the country and its citizens to be integrated into the global economy. Businesses have an important role to play in this regard and promote GDP growth by selling and buying products and services.

But it will take more work and incredible ingenuity from businesses, and governments alike, to move the remaining billion people across the poverty line. Many of those that were lifted out of poverty were just below the $1.25-a-day threshold, making it harder now to get people who are deeper in the poverty cycle above the same mark. Importantly, the remaining billion are also the hardest to reach in countries that are already growing or are living under unstable and failing governments. Continue reading

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By: Kristine Schantz

By marissaorton (Sweatshop project  Uploaded by Gary Dee) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By marissaorton (Sweatshop project Uploaded by Gary Dee), via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s global supply chain creates economic opportunity overseas and cost savings for U.S. businesses, but comes with limited visibility and control of the working conditions where goods are sourced and manufactured. At a recent gathering sponsored by the Erb Institute, students explored supply chain sustainability in an effort to better prepare ourselves to address this issue as business professionals.

U-M students do not need to travel far to view an example of the domestic impact of global manufacturing. Our once booming “Motor City” now offers only a fraction of the manufacturing employment it once did, as automotive supply chains now source parts from around the world to assemble domestically under U.S. American logos. These practices raise many questions for both consumer and business: What exactly is ethical sourcing, how deep into supply chains are companies required to go and what tools are available to assess and implement supply chain sustainability efforts?

By practicing global sourcing, companies take on risk associated with the working conditions and broader governance context of their overseas suppliers, including labor and human rights issues, environmental standards and safety concerns. This reality, coupled with an increasingly curious and informed consumer public, forces businesses to look further along their supply chain than ever before. The tragic Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh captured the concern of the public and major clothing companies, from H&M to Walmart. The multinational corporation response to these incidents has varied. While some maintain a “we didn’t know, this is our suppliers’ responsibility” stance, others have delved into navigating this ambiguity and complexity with responsible sourcing initiatives and reinforced transparency efforts. Continue reading

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Andy-cropRemarks by Faculty Director, Andy Hoffman at the 2015 Erb Institute Graduation dinner

Mark Twain once said, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”  Here at the Erb Institute, we know we had no involvement in that first day.  But we hope we had everything to do with the second.

Here in your years at Michigan, you took classes and learned about the issues we face and the models and tools for addressing them.  But the key to this second day is that it is not what you learn in class; it is developed in the “in-between” time.  It is not something you can intellectualize; it is something you have to feel in your heart.  It is not what you know; it comes down to what you believe. It is about learning the conviction of your beliefs.  Finding a purpose that goes beyond a job or a paycheck, beyond what you want for yourself, and leads you towards a devotion to something bigger.  And, I believe, this is what will make all the difference in your years ahead.

You develop this by first putting yourself in the company of others who think and feel deeply about the same things that you do, and second by taking the time in reflection to discern what you truly believe.  The opportunity to do that here is, I believe, something you cannot get elsewhere – this community and this culture to lay the foundation for your calling or your vocation. It is what will get you out of bed every morning and what will get you through the tough times.  And you will have tough times.

There are days when I get tired of this stuff and have to turn off the radio when I hear another news story about climate change.  And there are days when I get discouraged that change is just too hard…when a US Senator throws a snowball on the Senate floor to “prove” that climate change is not real, or the State of Florida can ban the use of the words “climate change.” But I keep trying.  Let me offer three of my own beliefs that keep me going. Continue reading

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acc8e9ca-ecb6-4afb-950d-7f0691ef96caRemarks by Managing Director, Terry Nelidov at the 2015 Erb Institute Graduation dinner

I would like to add two words to what Andy just said – “empathy” and “service”.

One of my learnings from the Institute’s alumni engagements around the country last summer is that business is hungry for leaders who not only know how to get things done, but who know how to work well with other people. The word “empathy” came up again and again in alumni conversations – especially from alumni who have been working for a while – as the most important attribute to be an impactful leader.

The word came up again in January when I met with the sustainability department of a partner auto company to brainstorm possible areas for collaboration. We started the conversation asking what they need from SNRE and Ross grads. Interestingly, the first word out of their mouths was “empathy”.

In essence they said that MBAs seem to have all the technical skills they need, but they also need managers who are able to reach deep down into other people’s hopes, fears, and dreams to understand what everyone at the table needs from a collaboration in order to get it done.

We already talk a lot about stakeholder engagement in business. For me the difference is that if stakeholder engagement is about what others are thinking, then empathy is about feeling what they’re feeling.

It was Bill Drayton, who coined the term “social entrepreneurship”, who said, “We have to teach empathy as we do literacy.”

But I wonder if empathy can really be taught. I prefer to think about how to create the opportunities to simply experience it. Fortunately, Erbers are exceptional at this, mainly because of who they are and the paths they’ve taken to get here. Continue reading

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By: Andi Waghelstein

My interest in becoming an Erb Institute student began, perhaps not unlike others, with a desire to make a positive impact on the world. Gaining work experience in emerging markets was not originally on my to-do list for graduate school, but after a MAP project in Zambia and a summer internship trip to China, I realized the benefit of expanding my pursuit of a global education to include developing economies. Impact can happen everywhere, and I recognized my interest in pursuing opportunities outside of the U.S. for impact oriented work in areas like healthcare, sustainability and the bottom of the pyramid (BoP).

My most recent opportunity was through the International Business Immersion class at Ross. The semester long class is run through the William Davidson Institute with the topic of Healthcare Delivery in Emerging Markets, and provides an immersive healthcare fieldwork trip over spring break. My team’s project was located in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka with the Grace Care Center, an orphanage and eldercare facility. My student team was tasked with looking at sustainable monitoring programs of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes in the elderly community at Grace Care Center and in the surrounding city. Our class spent the first quarter discussing what healthcare in emerging markets looks like, including the challenges these countries face from populations with lower incomes and less infrastructure, as well as the opportunities that exist from decreased regulations and communal societies. Continue reading

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Remarks by Faculty Director Andy Hoffman at the 2014 Erb Institute Holiday Gathering

I’d like to start with a vignette. I play in a casual summer golf league that is as much about beer drinking banter as it is about hitting a golf ball. We don’t generally talk about work. But one day Greg, a fellow golfer, asked me, “Hey Andy, what do you do for a living anyway?” I told him that I was a professor and that I studied environmental issues. He asked, “Do you mean like climate change? That’s not real, is it?” I told him that the science was quite compelling and that the issue was real. His next question was, “are you a Democrat or Republican?” I told him that I was an independent. He replied, “So what do you think about Al Gore?” I told him that I thought Al Gore had called needed attention to the issue but that he unfortunately also helped to polarize it as a partisan issue.

I think about that conversation often. Greg was not challenging my ideas, he was questioning my motives. He was trying to find out if he could trust me enough to listen to what I had to say, to figure out if I was part of his cultural community, his tribe. And I can imagine the hesitation he may have had in broaching this topic. Might I get condescending and give him a science lecture, challenging his lack of deep knowledge on the issue while asserting my own? Or, would I begin to judge him and his lifestyle, critiquing his choice of car, house, vacation habits or any one of the multitude of “unsustainable” activities that we all undertake? Or, might I begin to pontificate on the politics of the issue, complaining of the partisan split on the issue and the corporate influence on our political system? These are all plausible and unpleasant scenarios that lead people to avoid this topic.

These conversations come up enough—you’ve probably had one—that it is worth asking: What are we trying to get out of these discussions? Are we trying to change “heart and minds” or are we trying to make a point? Do we want to allow them a face saving way to come to their own conclusions or do we want to win, forcing them into acquiesce? In short, what is your theory of change?

This is a question we all have to ask ourselves.  While you are learning about the work that needs to be done to bring about a sustainable world, you also have to learn about how to help people to change the way they think. Continue reading

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