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From Chicago to Cote d’Ivoire: Youn Impact Scholars are innovators for social impact

Kellogg announces 2021 cohort of global scholars and change makers

Providing critical guidance to education nonprofits during the pandemic. Bringing solar irrigation solutions to smallholder Indian farmers. Leading social impact initiatives for a global video game company.

These are just some of the contributions of the newest cohort of Kellogg Youn Impact Scholars. The Kellogg School proudly announces 10 new Scholars, each committed to driving impact for the world on critical dimensions, using their professional skills and network.

Kellogg’s Youn Impact Scholars program grows, celebrates, and supports a global community of alumni innovating for social impact. Each Scholar, part of an expanding community of leaders, exemplifies the school’s commitment to significant, sustainable global change.

Related: Read more about each of this year’s Youn Impact Scholars

Annually, Kellogg chooses five “Emerging Changemakers” (Scholars graduating from Kellogg that year) and five “Impact Leaders” (Scholars who are alumni) based on their past, current, and envisioned impact. Now in its eighth year, the program supports a community of 80 Scholars, with years of graduation from Kellogg spanning ’81 to ’21. 

Every two years (barring a global pandemic), the entire Kellogg Youn Impact Scholars group meets at Kellogg’s Global Hub, providing inspiration, insights, and practical advice on social impact to one another and to current students and faculty.

Driving global social impact 

Kellogg’s Youn Impact Scholars take on ambitious, diverse social missions and efforts at impact: launching and operating enterprises, shaping public policy, and drawing on private-sector practices and resources to drive critical change.

“Every year brings in applications from alumni whose work and social impact are inspiring. For some reason, this year was a windfall in both numbers of applicants and incredible impact journeys,” says Megan Kashner, Kellogg Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of Social Impact. “From Cote d’Ivoire to Chicago, the Scholars chosen this year reflect the reach of the social impact sector and of our alumni.”

Impact Leaders

  • Becky Betts (2Y ’98), A Better Chicago
  • Jeffrey Burrell (2Y ’11), Riot Games
  • John Duong (EMBA ’13), Kind Capital
  • Axel Kadja (EMBA ’19), TechnoServe
  • Kartik Wahi (2Y ’10), Claro Energy

Emerging Changemakers

  • Sanat Daga (2Y ’21)
  • Tracey Fetherson (2Y ’21)
  • Aaron Morales (E&W ’21)
  • Joshua Nathan (JD/MBA ’21)
  • Sam Schiller (E&W ’21)

Improving agricultural opportunity and impact

Emerging Changemaker Sam Schiller ’21 founded Carbon Yield in 2019 and currently serves as the business’s CEO.

Carbon Yield helps farmers in the United States access new revenue streams through carbon markets, by working with them to institute healthy growing systems and navigate carbon markets. When he entered Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend MBA program, Schiller helped launch and manage Tradewater, which eliminates greenhouse gases by destroying potent greenhouse gases such as CFC refrigerants and methane from abandoned coal mines. “We eliminated 2 million tons of greenhouse gases,” Schiller says. “That’s like taking all the cars off the road in a small city.”

Now he’s excited about working with farmers in the Great Plains, Midwest, and other regions to access carbon markets and align successful farming operations with practices that help draw down carbon from the atmosphere and stabilize our climate. Through Carbon Yield’s work with farmers and soil scientists, they have demonstrated farmers can store more carbon in healthy soils than previously projected, making these projects more valuable to farmers participating in carbon markets and more environmentally consequential.

“We want to show that farmers can derive real profitability and value from how well they steward their land and soil,” Schiller says. “It’s a substantial change in the business of farming, and can unlock a very promising climate and rural economic development solution.”

“Climate impact will be rewarded at a substantial scale, and this represents a once-in-a-generation infusion of resources” Schiller continues, given that carbon markets are multibillion-dollar spaces. That means opportunity to improve rural-community prosperity and connect urban and rural regions more closely, but also to expand participation in farming among underrepresented groups that have been discriminated against in the agricultural sector. “Our efforts go well beyond just trying to solve the climate problem. We believe we can access resources that can catalyze a more equitable and just food system,” Schiller says.

He’s excited about connecting with fellow Youn Scholars at the intersection of impact categories: “We can’t talk about climate issues separate from economic and racial justice and gender inequality. We have to address fundamental equity issues and solve these problems intersectionally.”

Further, Schiller is eager to “open up my constellation of contacts to accelerate the work others are doing and help them deliver larger impact. It’s about showing up for each other, and mobilizing our networks and capacities to ensure our shared success.”

Working toward a better Chicago

Impact Leader Becky Betts ’98 comes at positive change from the angle of improving opportunity and education for Chicago’s most underserved communities.

Today she works as Chief Marketing and External Affairs Officer at A Better Chicago, which works to fight poverty with opportunity. Previously Betts worked with former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as Chief of Staff for Chicago CRED, a foundation focused on reducing Chicago-area gun violence.

Through her work with A Better Chicago, Betts is eager to scale her impact in the local communities that need it most. “We believe in true partnership with the organizations and leaders we support,” Betts says. “Our grantees include early-stage, community-imbedded organizations and well-established, national nonprofits with a Chicago presence. Whether an organization is scaling to serve more young people or to influence change at the institutional or system level, we help them overcome strategic obstacles to ensure we’re bringing impactful, life-changing programming to youth from cradle to career.” Some groups supported have grown into well-known nonprofits like Chicago Scholars.

A Better Chicago is also working to address post-pandemic learning recovery. “Going back to ‘normal’ isn’t good enough,” Betts says. “We need to make up for learning that didn’t happen in the first place and aim for truly equitable education.” Through its Chicago Design Challenge, for example, A Better Chicago has awarded grants for innovative learning-recovery solutions such as one providing more comprehensive support for students experiencing homelessness.

Earlier, during her time with CRED, Betts saw firsthand the depth and breadth of the gun violence issue in the city. “Gun violence is a pressing problem in Chicago,” Betts says. “Chicago CRED provided wraparound support to help young men find better opportunities and outlets.” Starting in fall 2016, the program recruited 30 males age 18-24 years, growing to over 125 men served within a year — with participants hailing from the four “most under-resourced” Chicago neighborhoods, as Betts says. Today, CRED graduates work in some of the city’s best-known businesses, among other positive outcomes. “Their visions of themselves have changed and they have made a huge difference in the community as role models and influencers,” Betts says.

“I’m so excited about meeting and learning from other Youn Scholars focused on solving big problems, whether climate change or food scarcity,” Betts says. “I’m eager to share our approach to addressing poverty in Chicago, so we can model that for other cities, and I’m looking forward to mentoring younger Scholars interested in social impact.”

An inspiring program foundation

Kellogg’s Youn Impact Scholars program was named after Andrew Youn ’06, cofounder of the nonprofit One Acre Fund, which supports smallholder farmers in developing economies with the inputs and access they need to grow crops and support their families.   

In 2020, for example, the organization served over 1.3 million farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and other Sub-Saharan African countries, along with supporting 8,200 full-time staff jobs, nearly all of them for rural citizens. Youn founded the One Acre Fund while a student at Kellogg; his work has inspired students, alumni, and others worldwide. 

The Youn Impact Scholars program is made possible through a generous gift from the Combe family — part of their broad commitment to support Kellogg social impact efforts. Combe family member Cameron Amstater says, “Each year, we have the privilege of learning about a new group of amazing Kellogg students and alumni through this process. We could not be more pleased to take part in celebrating this group’s accomplishments and the difference they’re making in their communities and globally.”

Each new Youn Scholar, like their predecessors, has committed to making a real difference in the world. The inspiration, insights, and collaborations the program fosters and supports will help each Scholar maximize their social impact, for the global good.