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Surrounded by Success
A Smith Alumna's Experience in Social
For Christine Agbuya, a 2009 graduate of the Smith part-time
MBA program, the best part of working in a social enterprise?
That's easy-being surrounded by living proof of your social
“I'm constantly inundated by success stories,” she said of
her work at Spotlight Books, a social enterprise in southeast
Virginia. Her staff is made up of graduates of the
organization's job-training program, so she is very much a
witness to the impacts of her work each and every day.
Agbuya, who earned a Bachelor's degree in communication from
Old Dominion University, worked in online advertising before
entering Smith's part-time MBA program in D.C. She loved new
media and felt the degree would help bridge the gap in her
skills and allow her to transition into project management, she
While completing one of her last electives in
entrepreneurship, Agbuya started working with a local NASA
scientist to complete a business plan for a manufacturing
start-up-an experience she enjoyed immensely, she said, because
of the relative stability it offered in comparison to the
volatile world of new media.
At the conclusion of the engagement, it was a stroke of luck
that led her to a job posting on Idealist.org-an organization
looking for someone to manage a five year-old social enterprise
called Spotlight Books.
Spotlight Books' mission is to create pathways out of poverty
through on-the-job training, support services and employment
opportunities. It is operated under the portfolio of the Up
Center, one of the largest human services agencies in the
Hampton Roads area of southeast Virginia, which currently serves
approximately 10,000 people.
Agbuya's background in e-commerce and her dedication and
interest in social enterprise (she took social entrepreneurship
electives while at Smith and served as the Community Outreach
chair of the Part-Time MBA Association) made her a natural fit,
and she began working at Spotlight in early 2010. The role has
been at times challenging, but ultimately incredibly rewarding,
“There is a huge need in the Hampton Roads area,” she said.
“The barriers these individuals face are even higher now, and
there's a real need for services that Spotlight Books
job-training program provides.”
The role has challenged her to apply not only the hard skills
she acquired during her MBA-marketing, finance, operations-but
also soft skills like leadership and human capital management.
And, she's challenged to imbue in her trainees these skills as
“It's not just about teaching data entry,” she said. “We're
really building these individuals' soft skills. How do you
manage your time better? How do you communicate effectively?”
In December, Agbuya was promoted to Director of Marketing and
Business Development for The Up Center, a role that sees her
overseeing all communications for the center's portfolio. Her
biggest challenge now, she said, is in finding ways to
effectively communicate the tremendous social impact the center
provides in the area to its various constituents.
“Measuring isn't the difficult part for us,” she said. “It's
not so much that we can't capture the information on our social
outcomes, but more of how to package that information so that
it's relevant and provides a clear call to action. Volunteer,
donate, buy books - how do you go from here to there?”
She's excited by the opportunities presented by her new role,
“I get to put my entrepreneur hat on,” she said, “and look
for other opportunities to support the job training programs
beyond selling books.”
Working in social enterprise has given her unique
perspectives on what it takes to succeed in the field. For one,
she said, you really need to understand numbers.
“In nonprofit social ventures, it's incredibly helpful to
bring a data-oriented, results-based perspective,” she said.
“They are very lean operations with pressure to keep overhead
low, so a good understanding of financials and an ability to
prioritize is crucial.”
But perhaps even more, you need passion.
“Ultimately-and I say this both for myself and for my
trainees-it's not about learning data entry or cost analysis.
Really, it's about being dedicated to the job,” Agbuya said.
“You have to really believe in the mission to be successful.”
To learn more about The Up Center's job-training program,
Spotlight Books, please visit
you'd like to support the program, you can buy used books, CDs,
or DVDs at the social venture's eBay store