Open Masters Purpose and Plan

In September 2012, I decided to participate in the inaugural Open Masters Program, an individualized, peer-reviewed, open masters education based in Washington, D.C..  A component of this program is a public statement of purpose and masters portfolio.  I’ve also decided to share my syllabus and associated materials with the hope that they might be useful to educators, students and other individuals.  I will be updating my blog and portfolio frequently with reflections on my course work, the social business and impact investing fields, and my consulting projects.

Purpose:  I am committed to serving others in need and creating positive changes in society.  I do this by supporting entrepreneurs and leading businesses focused on social impact.  I hope to be present in all I do – in my work, in my relationships and in solitude.  By living in the present moment, I can be grateful, see beauty, cultivate compassion and, ultimately, better serve others.

I would like to leave the world a better place and I love art of building a business.  The combination of these is often referred to as social entrepreneurship (or “impact” investing).  However, I think we’re already entering a more all-encompassing, deeper values-based business movement where everyone (owner, investor, consumer, community member) is a participant.  One could refer to this as the “deep ecology” of business – every stakeholder of a business has worth, regardless of whether or not they have a financial or consumptive stake.

I have a number of lingering questions related to this movement:

  • How does social entrepreneurship and/or values-based business relate to our current socio-economic world?
  • Is social entrepreneurship destined to exist on the fringe as small stopgap measures to address larger societal failures?
  • How do we engage different stakeholders to drive widespread positive change?
  • How do we even arrive at shared values as a premise for an initiative or business?

The evolving concept of social entrepreneurship is still marinating in my head and, in addition to other topics, I plan to take the time and space provided by my Open Masters program to explore it further.

How I Got Here:  Like everyone, it’s been a long journey – I’ll share more about it on this blog in the coming months as I work through some personal reflection exercises.

In short:  While at university I was fascinated by the “social entrepreneurship” movement and did everything I could to get involved.  I managed to work, volunteer and travel throughout Asia every year at university.  A week after I graduated, I arrived in Cambodia on a one-way ticket to work with a start-up social business called PEPY Tours.

Over the course of my five years in Southeast Asia I had the opportunity to work with a variety of social businesses, including Hagar Catering, Hagar Soya Co., Hagar On-Time, Joma Bakery Café, Hydrologic, Discovery Farms, Battambang Bike, Credit MFI, Hagar Afghanistan, and First Finance MFI.   I was involved with these organizations in a number of capacities (operational manager, consultant, portfolio manager, Board member, advisor), allowing me to see the social entrepreneurship movement from different perspectives and gain knowledge/experience in business development.

In July, I moved from Vietnam to Washington, D.C., where my wife and I will live until her first posting in the foreign service in mid-2013.  Reflecting on my purpose and experiences over the past few years, I realized that I had accomplished quite a bit with limited resources and knowledge.  My mentors were instrumental in helping me fill skill gaps and increase self-awareness during these years.  However, I know that there are a lot of areas for improvement.

I see my relatively brief time in USA is an opportunity to develop new knowledge, skills and perspectives to help me more effectively serve others.  With the Open Masters Program community, leading public and private sector organizations, and near-daily conferences and speakers, Washington is a great destination for the proactive learner.

Where I am Headed:  Over the next two to three years, I want to expand my knowledge and skills with people and organizations that have business development experience, innovative methods, and different perspectives on life.

To keep myself accountable and organized, I’ve joined the inaugural group of the Open Masters Program.  Our community helps each other through a structured learning process – creating a personal learning plan, finding mentors and course courses, and developing an on-going portfolio of work and accomplishments.  I have identified a number of learning goals and associated milestones, which will allow me to track my progress and receive external validation for the outcomes of my work/studies.  This structure gives me the flexibility to travel or move during my studies (which is inevitable since my wife is in the foreign service!), as well as tweak my curriculum as new interests or opportunities arise.  Through peer reviews, letters of recognition, and a final presentation/thesis the Open Masters community will ensure I am able to demonstrate I have achieved my program goals.

My Program:  The purpose and goals of my Open Masters program are largely built upon a personal reflection exercise I completed in early 2012 with Gerard Rayside, my coach while living in Hanoi.  My program borrows heavily from the standard MBA curriculum: a few components to refresh general business skills and a few others that are focused on my specific needs/interests.  Because I have an intense interest in theology (specifically Buddhism), deep ecology and nature, I added a fifth unit on Presence and Compassion.  My intention with this unit is to immerse myself in literature and practices that I have long felt drawn to, and that I believe will afford me with a new perspective through which to reflect on social entrepreneurship.

Each unit contains a mix of online courses, trainings, readings, volunteer projects, paid projects, and written exercises (e.g. case studies) that I will share publicly on my blog.  I will track my progress through an public checklist.

Click on the links above for additional information on these units.  The basic syllabi are works in progress, but will serve as an initial starting point.

  1. Business Development
  2. Human Resources Management and Organizational Development
  3. Leadership
  4. Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing
  5. Presence and Compassion

Because I will be highly mobile the next few years, I have designed a flexible masters program.  Prior to the beginning of each semester, I will take time for reflection and set a detailed agenda based on my overarching program plan.  I fully anticipate that the course of my studies will change as new professional and personal learning opportunities emerge.  It is my intention to complete the program in about two to three years.

I will be updating my blog regularly with reflections on my coursework, social enterprise, and impact investing.  As well, I will be sharing some reflections on my practice and readings related to the Presence and Compassion unit.  This is not only to keep me on task, but also to contribute my perspectives and research to the evolving field of social entrepreneurship.  I welcome your feedback and support on everything I share.

2 Responses to “Open Masters Purpose and Plan”

  1. Await your updates. That sounds very perfect, well written, well-thought!

  2. Hi Tim, this is great. A couple of comments came up in my mind
    – Out of the 5 subjects, have you decided which ones/which pair you will go ahead first? The order of the subjects can be important during the process. I usually start with ones which provide more fundamental stuff or the ones which I know least about.
    – I think building up cases along the course is very important. Good cases can reflect all insights and your reflections from the 5 subjects. Cases will provide contexts which helps understand, apply or unpack the concepts and ideas into reality. Beside, you are good at writing so these cases can help you write book(s) later on. I can see it coming. 🙂
    – Take advantage of the fact that you will travel much in the coming years to enrich your learning, by seeing how this idea of SE are perceived and applied in different cultures, belief systems, countries … That will be so interesting to see.
    – Apart from actively engaging yourself in the local networks of the place that you are in (like how you were doing during your stay in Vietnam) I also think that involving in online community of practice will be much helpful. SE is a new area (I think) so we all are learning together, from different places in the world. Many just start their own cycles, like yourself. I like LinkedIn for my learning of coaching stuff, propably that will be the same for learning about SE.
    – I just came back from Bangladesh, during the time we got to meet people from BRAC ( You gotta read about them and even maybe travel there at some point of your study.

    Let’s continue the conversations, via emails or Skype, you know this is my stuff and I am happy to be involved in any part of your study.
    You are on the right tracks Tim.

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