UCLA in the Community

UCLA Anderson graduate is arcing toward social justice

Sandy Tesch Wilkins takes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words to heart

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Sandy Wilkins and Adam Foley with faculty of Hawassa University Referral Hospital in Ethiopia
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As UCLA Anderson students, Sandy Wilkins and Adam Foley (the tallest in the group) worked on a project to evaluate the financial and operational elements of a hospital's breast cancer unit in Hawassa, Ethiopia. With them are faculty from the Hawassa University Referral Hospital.

A childhood bout of summer boredom might just have been the formative experience of Sandy Tesch Wilkins’ life.

That summer, Wilkins decided to work as a clerical volunteer, answering phones and filing at the American Red Cross office in Concord, California. It wasn’t long before the shy 14-year-old was learning such skills as project planning and public speaking at the American Red Cross Leadership Development Center. Since then, the Red Cross has led her to 12 countries — and to UCLA Anderson.

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Sandy Tesch Wilkins works in the world of impact investing to identify and combat forced labor and labor trafficking.

Wilkins is part of a solid core of Anderson students and alumni who are passionate about putting their business skills to use in positive ways, whether by working with a large corporation to adopt environmental management practices, bringing microfinance to developing countries, working for a small nonprofit or launching into the world of social entrepreneurship.

“The lines between nonprofits, government and business are increasingly blurred, so I knew the M.B.A. would be the most flexible, relevant degree for me,” says Wilkins, who earned her degree from Anderson this year. “I also wanted the quantitative rigor of a business program since budgeting and finance skills are important in every context.” The smart, yet down-to-earth students, faculty and staff she met throughout the application process sealed the deal for UCLA Anderson.

Wilkins also found a perfect fit in the Anderson chapter of Net Impact, a student group investigating the intersection of business and social innovation — from education to environmental sustainability to impact investing and more. As the group’s president during her second year at Anderson, Wilkins helped shepherd the expansion of the Net Impact Consulting Challenge, a case competition focused on helping L.A.-area nonprofits. She also helped launch the first-ever Social Innovation Week at Anderson, with panel discussions, keynote speeches and a social impact marketplace, all aimed at exposing the broader Anderson community to the dynamic mix of business and social impact.

With help from a dedicated team of student leaders and supportive staff in Student Affairs, the Price Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center for Global Management, the Anderson student group was awarded gold status by the national organization under Wilkins’ leadership in recognition of the group’s extensive programs that offer students opportunities to volunteer, network and seek out social-impact careers.

However, as much as her Net Impact work helped her grow professionally and personally, Wilkins considers her work with four other students to help a physician at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York establish a second breast cancer center in a hospital in Ethiopia “the highlight of my time at Anderson.”

Delving into this Applied Management Research project, the Anderson students analyzed information on and provided strategic recommendations around the development of required capital, materials and human resources for Hawassa University Referral Hospital's breast cancer unit.

What she valued most from the experience was learning what it means to be on a high-performance team that exceeded even their own high expectations.

“We had the benefit of a team coach, Sara Tucker, who led us in activities that built trust between team members and showed us how to take advantage of each person’s unique strengths,” Wilkins says. “It took the quality of our work to the next level and helped us provide the most value for our client.”

Looking for more opportunities to learn, Wilkins took on a summer internship at the Tides Foundation, a social impact organization that works with “innovative partners to solve society’s toughest problems,” she said. In this case, Wilkins used much of what she learned in class and also leaned on fellow Anderson students and recent graduates who helped her better understand investment management.

“It’s a really supportive community,” she says of Anderson students, faculty and alumni.

With her M.B.A. in hand, Wilkins now works for Humanity United, a private foundation established in 2005 by Pam and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, to build peace and advance freedom around the world. As an investments manager focusing on corporate engagement, Wilkins said she uses her Anderson training daily.  

“One of the initiatives I’m currently working on is an impact-investing fund that will invest in ethical supply chain tools to help corporations identify and combat forced labor and labor trafficking,” she explains.

And while Wilkins says her favorite quote is by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” — it’s clear that she and other Anderson students are working to advance the cause of social impact work to make that arc just a little shorter.

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