Bringing Social Enterprise to Goizueta
"... business schools weren’t really asking the right questions.”
Roberts was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. After earning an undergraduate degree in economics from Queens University and a master’s degree from University of Alberta, he spent two years working as an economist for the Canadian Department of Finance. In those two years, he began to realize there is more to markets than simple economics. He went on to earn a doctorate in organizational analysis from the University of Alberta. After graduation, Roberts accepted a faculty position at the Australian Graduate School of Management.
“Folks think that this was a very cosmopolitan choice,” he jokes, “but, in truth, they were the only business school in the world that offered me a job.”
Roberts and his family loved living in Australia, however, he says it was “too far away, both professionally and personally.”
He moved to the U.S. to work at Carnegie Mellon for three years and then at Columbia University for another two years. In 2003, Emory offered him a tenured position, so he came south.
“It really was a nonintuitive choice for a liberal-leaning Canadian who dislikes hot weather,” he muses.
For the next few years, Roberts was “the guy who taught the core strategy class.” That began to change in 2008 when he started volunteering at a (sadly) now-defunct organization called the Open Door Community. This experience changed his perspective and his career trajectory.
“We served a lot of breakfasts and talked a lot about homelessness,” he recalls. “It was an unlikely entanglement of an atheist business school professor and a faith-based organization of socialists. However, it made me realize that big things were going on in the world, and there were big holes in the way we think about the role played by businesses and markets, but that business schools weren’t really asking the right questions.”
“I am a business school professor, not a business cheerleader.”
More troubling was the fact that people around campus had astonishingly low expectations for what someone in the business school might offer. When striking up casual conversations with folks around campus about the big and small problems that are rooted in business- and market-based activity, the exchanges often went like this:
“I thought you work in the business school.”
“But what you just said seems anti-business.”
To which Roberts would reply, “I am a business school professor, not a business cheerleader.”
These were the stimuli for launching Social Enterprise @ Goizueta (SE@G).
After years of publishing research on drug companies, hotels and wineries, Roberts founded SE@G in 2009, and became its first academic director. Ten years later, SE@G is a multifaceted research center that promotes positive economic change by focusing on the knowledge, network and capital gaps that stand between having economic potential and achieving genuine economic prosperity. According to SE@G Managing Director Brian Goebel, “our journey has always been about trying to make markets work for more people in more places, and in more ways.”
“By actively working across the spectrum of for-profit, nonprofit and hybrid organizations, our faculty and students become participants in important conversations and debates that are taking place around the world,” Roberts notes.
We guide professionals to positively influence society and its markets through business strategies and decisions. Through our new campaign Goizueta Beyond, we are issuing a charge to business to do more. More than make money. More than provide jobs. Business can - and should - ignite passion in people by being a meaningful agent of positive change. We invite you to join us to live out this challenge of elevating business to new and greater heights.
"Peter has a unique ability to produce research that is academically rigorous but also intensely practical and beneficial to decision makers."
To promote more vibrant communities close to campus, SE@G launched Goizueta’s Start:Micro-Enterpise Accelerator Program (Start:ME). In a few short years, Start:ME has worked with 158 small businesses in the Clarkston, East Lake and Kirkwood, and Southside Atlanta communities. These microbusinesses have in turn created and/or retained 230 jobs, established 29 brick and mortar locations, and generated annual revenues of $4.6 million.
Internationally, SE@G has launched research projects and support programs that focus on the specialty coffee industry and on the farmers who grow the high-quality coffees that end up in our cups.
Through the Grounds for Empowerment (GFE) incubator program, SE@G trains, connects, and invests in female specialty coffee growers in Latin America. On the macro level, Roberts’ research led to the establishment of Transparent Trade Coffee (TTC), which promotes greater pricing transparency so that coffee markets can work for farmers as well as they work for importers and roasters.
By spreading information and creating new specialty coffee pricing benchmarks, TTC helps create markets where specialty coffee growers receive the compensation they deserve.
“TTC is doing some of the most interesting work — things no one else has done — to bring transparency and, consequently, economic equity to the supply chain,” said Nick Brown, founding editor of "Daily Coffee News." “The first TTC colloquium at Emory was one of the most honest conversations I’ve been involved in since covering the coffee industry. This is how we generate movement.”
To Roberts, it is not enough to hope and cheer for the organizations that launch accelerator programs to support impact-oriented entrepreneurs around the world. He also wanted SE@G to address the lack of data on program effectiveness. To meet this need, SE@G founded the Entrepreneurship Database Program (EDP) and has now collected and analyzed data from thousands of early-stage ventures that apply to hundreds of accelerators working around the world.
With support from colleagues like University of Oregon Professor Saurabh Lall (previously working for the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs), the EDP has become the data engine behind a larger effort known as the the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI) which continues to ask and answer key questions about acceleration.
“Peter has a unique ability to produce research that is academically rigorous but also intensely practical and beneficial to decision makers,” Lall notes. “GALI is a great example of this. The dataset is high-quality and being used by scholars around the world, but the greater impact of the work is the policymakers, accelerator program managers, and donors using the research and reports to make a social impact.”
Abby Davidson, also of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, recalls working with Roberts on GALI in 2016.
“Peter is caring, lively, creative and highly intelligent,” she notes. “He always has interesting new ideas to bring to the table and operates with enthusiasm, seeing opportunities rather than barriers.”
"Peter has focused on not only developing meaningful experiences for our students but also enabling them to interact directly with the individuals served by the center’s work."
Roberts’ research and collaborative interest has led to connections with innovative social enterprise leaders including Ross Baird of Washington, DC–based Village Capital, an accelerator program and investment fund helping to launch and scale entrepreneurs focused on solving global problems.
“Peter took the model we developed at Village Capital, for entrepreneurs seeking high growth, and translated it to support local, neighborhood enterprises in underserved Atlanta communities — refugees in Clarkston and low-wealth families trying to start businesses in East Lake and South Atlanta. The Start:ME program has changed the lives of hundreds of families. Peter is the most ethical and intellectually courageous person I know. He is full of integrity and walks the talk.”
SE@G also affects change by developing the next generation of social enterprise leaders via the Social Enterprise Fellows Program — a multiyear, cohort-based fellowship created for top BBA, MBA and EvMBA students with an interest in and commitment to social sector careers. Fellows learn best by putting their skills to work at social ventures.
For example, Julia Krauss 17B 18PH spent her summer improving the quality of accessible and affordable sanitation systems in Nairobi, a trip supported by stipend funds she received as a social enterprise fellow.
“This program allowed me to see my public health interests through a business lens and completely change my trajectory,” Krauss explains. “I’m so grateful for that discovery.”
According to Julie Barefoot, students like Krauss have benefitted greatly from Roberts’ experiential approach to careers in the social sector.
“Peter has focused on not only developing meaningful experiences for our students but also enabling them to interact directly with the individuals served by the center’s work,” Barefoot said. “That learning approach has had a deep and profound impact on our students and has enabled them to truly understand how the work done at SE@G changes lives for the better. When students see or experience results firsthand, it is a longer-lasting, more transformative educational experience.”