Shannon Turner in Alausi, Ecuador.
Olin MBA shares experience launching nonprofit

Shannon Turner, MBA ’18, had a dream about using the skills she gained from her education to promote positive social impact. She shared her congratulations for WashU Olin’s No. 1 ranking in Inc. magazine for top entrepreneurship programs for MBAs—and her gratitude for the support she received while here in creating her organization. She shared a little about her story below.

Can you tell us a little about Maria Lida Foundation? What inspired you to found it? Was it conceived at Olin?

The Maria Lida Foundation is a nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting self-sustaining economic development in Alausi, Ecuador through tourism, education, and training programs.

Alausi is a town located in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador, South America, that experiences poverty. The area is near and dear to my heart because it is where my father and his family are originally from before immigrating to the United States.

CEL team working on consulting project for Maria Lida Foundation in Alausi, Ecuador.
CEL team working on consulting project for Maria Lida Foundation in Alausi, Ecuador.

It has long been a dream of mine to use skills from the education and resources I’ve been blessed with for positive social impact. The idea for the Maria Lida Foundation was conceived during my time at Olin through an Intro to Entrepreneurship course taught by Cliff Holekamp.

In this class, I was able to pitch my social venture idea, receive feedback, and explore its feasibility with my classmates. The class also helped me to focus on my social venture idea and use the many tools afforded to me while I was a business student at Olin. This focus eventually led me to launch the Maria Lida Foundation shortly after my MBA graduation.

Why did you decide to get your MBA and how did you land at Olin?

I worked in the legal field for several years before pursuing my MBA degree. In that field, I worked with underserved populations and realized that I very much enjoyed using skills to help empower people.

In addition, I recognized that business could be a great path to help empower underserved populations in a sustainable way. Since I had only worked in the legal field, I decided it would be beneficial for me to receive a formal education in business to help me pursue my dream of using business for positive social impact.  

Some of Maria Lida Foundation’s English class students in Alausi, Ecuador.
Some of Maria Lida Foundation’s English class students in Alausi, Ecuador.

I chose Olin for my business school education because it had an excellent reputation and provided many opportunities to explore entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship as a student.

In addition, I read many articles on the various opportunities in the St. Louis region to explore entrepreneurship including incubators, accelerators, forums, meetups, etc. to help support entrepreneurs.

This was all very appealing to me because I knew that I would be able to network with like-minded individuals, obtain access to incredible resources, and work on my dream of creating a social venture during my studies.

How did you decide to move down the path of entrepreneurship?

I’m drawn to entrepreneurship because I think business and innovation are great ways to solve problems and help empower underserved populations. During this journey I’ve met many entrepreneurs who are aiming to use innovation and grit to help alleviate the world’s pain points.

This includes the many entrepreneurs I met during my internships with the St. Louis Arch Angels and Arch Grants (in which I secured by being a student at WashU. Many thanks to the leadership of these organizations including Brian Kinman and Emily Lohse-Busch for the opportunity to work in St. Louis’ incredible entrepreneurial ecosystem.)

I very much admire these individuals and strive to do the same.

In what ways was your experience at Olin formative in your experience and goals?

My time at Olin gave me tools and resources to pursue my dream of using my education to give back to my roots. I started my business school education with a passion for social entrepreneurship and Olin had many class opportunities in this space.

Olin also provided me with incredible experiential opportunities such as building my idea in classes, serving on the board of a local nonprofit organization, working on a consulting project for clients in Ecuador, and helping a local social enterprise grow. These opportunities helped me build the confidence and skillset needed to take a leap of faith and launch a social enterprise after my MBA graduation.

Were there particular courses or professors who were particularly memorable?

My Intro to Entrepreneurship and Hatchery classes with Cliff Holekamp are particularly memorable as they helped me to truly explore the possibility of launching a social enterprise post-MBA.

This includes pitching my idea to various audiences, receiving feedback, introductions to key stakeholders in the St. Louis community, etc. It was wonderful to put my vision of using business to help underserved populations into action through these classes.

I also had incredible experiences with Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. Through Olin’s CEL programs, I was able to work on a consulting project for an Ecuadorian firm, sit on the board of directors of a local nonprofit organization and create strategies to help a local social venture grow.

These experiences helped me to obtain real life experience and skills needed to launch and operate a social venture post-graduation. I’m grateful for CEL’s leadership including Daniel Bentle, Amy VanEssendelft, Beth Doores and Al Kent for shaping my CEL experiences while a student at Olin.

What are the next steps for you in your career?

I plan to continue and expand Maria Lida Foundation’s educational programs including English, hospitality and business courses for community members in Alausi, Ecuador. In addition, it is my vision to launch new programs including providing resources to entrepreneurs working in Alausi’s tourism industry to help grow the local economy.

The Maria Lida Foundation’s leadership is pleased with its accomplishments in year one, including launching its English program, obtaining its 501(c)(3) status in the United States, obtaining nonprofit legal status in Ecuador, becoming a client for WashU’s CEL program, hiring its first program director, and hosting its first donor trip.

I am proud of the organization’s achievements and excited to grow its impact in year two and beyond!

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