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Alumna leads social impact from Colorado to Africa and beyond

Kate Deeny

Courtesy: Kate Deeny

Daniels alumna Kate Deeny’s career converges two traditionally distinct paths: with dual master’s degrees in business administration and social work, you’ll find her at the intersection of nonprofits, corporations and startups where they overlap on social impact.

Deeny (MBA & MSW 2017) is the director of the CiviCO Leadership Academy, a statewide, nonpartisan community leadership development organization for Colorado executives that’s centered around a commitment to civic responsibility. Formerly known as Quarterly Forum, CiviCO was founded by Mike Fries, Scott Reiman (BSBA 1987) and Sen.-elect John Hickenlooper.

While Deeny’s current job is to connect Coloradans, less than a year ago, she was splitting her time between Denver and sub-Saharan Africa as director of workforce development for the Global Livingston Institute and director of operations for its partner social impact business Staffable Africa.

The 33-year-old Colorado Springs native earned her way into those roles through the global challenge in her Daniels MBA program, where she traveled to Africa for the first time and worked on social good projects in Uganda and Rwanda. She and her fellow student consulting team helped the female founder of a micro-enterprise develop a plan to expand her food company’s operations.

“Kate has been a tremendous ambassador for the Daniels College of Business—both before and after graduation from our MBA program,” said Doug Allen, associate professor of management, who accompanied Deeny’s class as faculty advisor for the MBA global challenge trip.

“Joining our host partner after graduation, she assisted Daniels in developing a second round of consulting projects in Uganda—offering the same learning opportunity she had enjoyed to a new cohort of MBA students the following year. Kate’s work in Uganda embodies Daniels’ focus on combining business success with social impact.”

“It was obviously a life-changing experience,” Deeny said. “I came away from that saying, ‘I want to work for an international development organization, or within a global business development lens.’”

After graduating, she got her wish.

Deeny said her two-and-a-half-year tenure at GLI and Staffable “was the perfect confluence of experiences and skills I was looking to get, because it combined a nonprofit with a small startup business that was revenue-generating.”

Although Staffable Africa operated within a business, it had larger goals to support environmental sustainability development, health care and education initiatives for East Africa.

Courtesy: Kate Deeny

“It’s invigorating and energizing to partner with those types of companies that are this hybrid model of a social enterprise,” Deeny said. “The continent of Africa has a lot to teach Westerners about social development and innovation. I think that’s the next frontier for us. You cannot separate a company’s impact from its environmental output or its human capital output.”

“[Staffable] was also started by a former Daniels student, Shane McLean (MBA 2010), which always made me feel … happy to have that mentorship and connection back to Colorado,” she continued.

Deeny’s Colorado roots eventually led her back to the state—the same way she found her way into community and public service upon returning from college in California.

After graduating from Santa Clara University in 2009, Deeny spent two years as an El Pomar Foundation Fellow, where she worked on several programs to elevate and support Colorado’s nonprofit sector throughout urban and rural communities.

She worked at the foundation for four and a half years as deputy director of El Pomar’s Fellowship program, supporting Fellows’ career goals and youth development programs from ‘cradle to career’ across the state.

Then, came a calling for graduate school. She first enrolled in DU’s Graduate School of Social Work, then Daniels one year later.

“I had this cross-sector inquiry between the two schools early on to really ask, ‘where does business inform the nonprofit sector and where do more of the social organizations and social good concepts come into business?’ That was an interesting piece for me,” Deeny said.

She took advantage of opportunities to be involved in both schools, joining the Net Impact Club, Phi Alpha, and serving as a graduate assistant for Daniels’ Development Office.

“I’ve always thought there was this triple bottom line to anything we were doing, beyond just profit-generating business,” Deeny said. “I was drawn to this a lot at Daniels. I think that’s so embedded into the course work—really setting a pathway for ‘how are you going to individually contribute and foster community-wide impact once you leave this beautiful building and this beautiful campus?’”

Deeny said her desire to lead and impact her home community are ultimately what pulled her back stateside from her jobs in Uganda post-graduation.

“A piece of my heart will always be in East Africa,” she said. “But, a big part of the timing of leaving was a need to embed myself back in my own community and invest in leaders across our state to make it better. That became important to me.”

Deeny’s departure created an opportunity for her colleague, a local Ugandan woman, to take her place.

“This is what I wanted to see—for someone who is local and is going to be invested in these communities for a long time to take over the operations,” Deeny said. “The whole premise behind Staffable is to invest in local talent for social impact companies in local markets and give individuals job opportunities and training and development to advance their own communities.”

Now that Deeny is back in Colorado, her role at CiviCO allows her to once again encourage civic engagement in local communities.

And, she practices what she preaches. Deeny has volunteered with Minds Matter Colorado—an organization that provides mentoring to 10th–12th graders who will be first-generation college students—for the past two years. She is the program lead for the Montbello program in Minds Matter’s site at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College in Green Valley Ranch.

“I really encourage and think finding those opportunities to invest in the community is important to how you drive your day-to-day operations,” Deeny said. “There are so many wonderful nonprofits in our community and in our state. Whether you’re in business or you’re in the nonprofit sector, your work should be informed off of those community assets.”