Stacy Burnett has a powerful idea to shake up the big-business of prison re-entry: hire formerly incarcerated people to mentor folks who are newly released. Stacy, a current Bard MBA student, and her business partner Charlene Reyes started college together at the Bard Prison Initiative. Together they presented their new approach to re-entry at the late March Mid-Huson Valley Regional Business Plan Competition, winning in their category.
The same day, three Bard undergraduate teams also pitched their business ideas: work.elastic (Nathan Cho and Sabina); No Food Waste (Abby Frazier, Clayton Webb and Khadija Ghanizada) and Not a Shame (Bard student Alua Samat and five students from the American University of Central Asia: Aidai Vadimova, Aizhan Kurmanbekova, Almash Kochkorbai, Ramilia Chyntemirov, and Safina Saidibroimova).
Stacy’s business is called Just2Disrupt. Her idea is to redirect the hundreds of millions of dollars that are now being used to pay case-workers to instead train and directly employ formerly incarcerated workers to act as mentors. Her program also saves on duplicative services, instead directing clients to already existing educational and support opportunities. Stacy has already piloted the program, and has received grant support to further expand it.
“The Bard MBA unlocked my superpower. I can walk into a room fearless, and tenaciously make a business case,” said Stacy. “We did make some people uncomfortable about their beliefs about incarceration. There were legislators and business leaders in those rooms who heard us – and they listened. My ability to frame these issues as a business case – to speak their language – conveyed the problems of incarceration as something that they could tackle in their current capacity. Making it into that room was our first victory of the day. Changing hearts and minds was second, and winning was the third.”
All of the competing businesses were incubated in Bard classes. Stacy developed her idea in Professor Alejandro Crawford’s entrepreneurship class in the Bard MBA. And the undergraduate teams emerged from another social entrepreneurship class at Bard, led by Eliza Edge and Crawford, that is part of a newly minted undergraduate certificate in Social Enterprise and Leading Change.
Offered through the Open Society University Network, the Certificate is comprised of modified versions of three MBA classes, including social entrepreneurship, for undergraduates. The certificate is effectively a minor in sustainable business, and iincludes students and faculty from universities across the world. The courses all feature a global classroom, with students enrolled convening each week in a common zoom space to share ideas. Participating schools include BRAC University in Bangladesh, Al Quds University in Palestine, the American Universities of Central Asia (in Kyrgyzstan) and of Bulgaria, Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia, and Bard. Past certificate courses have incubated powerful social business ideas in Bangladesh and Palestine.
Stacy and the undergraduates all had the opportunity to practice their pitches as part of Bard MBA’s annual business competition held last December. At that event, the Bard/AUCA undergrad team Not a Shame won the award for the best business idea from the global classroom. The business model is to gamify sex education for teens in Central Asia, and provide access to education in regional languages. Not a Shame took home a $1500 prize to help them develop the business. Stacy’s Just2Disrupt business was an overall finalist in December.
Inspired by the power of the business ideas the teams developed, these Bardians all chose to take their ideas to the next level at the regional business competition. For Stacy, it’s now on to the New York State finals in late April.