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Post your message of encouragement. support. love. hope. to Greg Dees

97 Guest posts

Debbi Brock Debbi Brock

Greetings Friends & Colleagues of Greg,

One of the most heartwarming elements of the postings about Greg is that we were all given his enthusiastic support for our work and the potential that lies within all of us. We were anointed by Greg Dees, who believed that our words, our writings, and our life could make a difference in the lives of others.

In 2003, I became the Director of the Entrepreneurship for the Pubic Good program at Berea College (designed with the vision of Greg Dees), I was blessed to hold this amazing program under my leadership. But I was an entrepreneurship professor without a clear understanding of how the public good could be served. As I struggled to find my own way in the field of social entrepreneurship, Jeanne Hibberd contacted Greg Dees and asked him to join us for our first summer institute. In front of me and my students was the man who I had come to admire for his work and his writings. I sat alongside my students learning from him to see the possibilities that social entrepreneurship could provide. When Greg invited me to the Colloquium on Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford, I questioned what could I possibly provide to this field when there were far more educated and dynamic people than I could ever aspire to. Greg continued to encourage me and as many of you said – he had this ability to make each of us believe we have something special to share.

Over the years, I wondered what could I possibly do to share with others, just as Greg had shared with me -- a belief that I mattered. In 2003, I created the Social Entrepreneurship Teaching Resources Handbook which was supported by Ashoka in 2008 and again in 2011. Inspired by Greg’s teaching, I developed a dropbox of teaching materials for new faculty in the field who were struggling to understand the field just as I had. This dropbox is available for anyone interested in this emerging field. Feel free to email me at [email protected] and I will share the dropbox of articles, teaching resources, powerpoints, and course activities. The only thing I ask, is what Greg asked of us – to continue to share, collaborate, and support one another in this field of study that captivated his heart.

All the best,


Christine Moorman Christine Moorman

“For it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it.”
(A. R. Ammons, “Gravelly Run”)

The last two times I saw Greg we were both on our way in and out of the Fuqua parking lot. We stopped and chatted. An hour later, we said goodbye. This was not unique. Greg had that effect on me. I wanted to know what he thought and to hear about his experiences. He had a singularity and equanimity of presence that appealed deeply to me. This is why I picked the Ammons quote to share. To be known by others for our deepest human truths is a gift that very people can give. Greg went instinctively to this truth and drew the world in around him. I experienced this personally, I see this in in all of your comments, and I witnessed it in Greg’s impact on the field of social entrepreneurship. Thank you Greg…. We will miss you very much.

Susie Camp Susie Camp

I was not a colleague or a mentee of Greg's, but a fortunate Fuqua staffer who had the wonderful opportunity to work with him and the CASE team during the past four years. My role as liaison between CASE and Fuqua's Development and Alumni Relations Department allowed me to attend advisory meetings and other functions which included Greg as a panelist, speaker or "active" observer. I learned a lot about the work being done in the social impact arena around the world, the work yet to be done and the challenges the field faces. I learned about scaling, and it had nothing to do with preparing fish for a meal.

My first one-on-one conversation with Greg was during the inaugural Social Impact Exchange in NYC in June, 2010. We chatted over coffee and dessert about the growing interest, on the part of Fuqua students, to make a mark on the world and find solutions to the world's most pressing problems. We discussed the need to fund social impact organizations, and I, wearing my development hat, thought he was talking about philanthropy. I was wrong. He told me about the work being done in the fledgling area (at the time) of impact investing, and the feasibility of it one day becoming an acceptable asset class. He suggested I could learn more from Cathy Clark on this topic, which peaked my interest given my first career on Wall Street. A year or so later, Cathy launched CASEi3, a CASE affiliated initiative within Fuqua, to establish resources and activities for MBA students and others to explore and support the field of Impact Investing.

Since that conversation in 2010, I often ran into Greg in the hallways of Fuqua. Knowing he was on his way to somewhere, I would say, “Hey, Greg,” expecting a quick hello in return. Instead, he often stopped and asked how I was doing. He gave me the chance to ask about a Fuqua project or program an alumnus or alumna was thinking about funding, and provided suggestions on how to tweak the idea to benefit students in a broader way. Thanks for stopping, Greg. I miss seeing you in the hallway. You opened my eyes to this field and taught me much. I guess I was a mentee after all.

Eva Csaky Eva Csaky

I have been reading the wonderful tributes and shedding quite a few tears. Greg was one of the main reasons I ended up at Duke and will always cherish the mentorship and guidance that I was fortunate enough to receive from him. I will never forget emailing him from my blackberry while traveling in rural Bangladesh, telling him about the incredible work BRAC was doing, an organization I first learnt about from Greg years earlier, and how he and his work were the topic of the conversation with the BRAC team on that long journey, guiding our thinking and work. He immediately responded with great enthusiasm, curiosity and support. He managed to always leave some food for thought even in the briefest e-mail; which is why the iphone probably did not save him all that much time. His gracious, thoughtful, philosophic essence was in every e-mail I ever received from him, no matter how brief.

Just like on the dirt roads of Bangladesh, I am convinced that social entrepreneurs around the world are keeping Greg’s wisdom alive. But his departure is leaving a vacuum for so many. I am one of those very fortunate but heartbroken mentees of his who will miss him tremendously.

Carla Javits Carla Javits

I posted a note here a while ago, but wanted to add the tribute from REDF's website today. We wish we could be there at the memorial and celebration of the life of the man who is truly the 'godfather of social enterprise'. We miss him dearly and will remember him always...and carry on our piece of the work he began.

Paul Bloom Paul Bloom

Greg’s passing has left me with an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Most of all, I’m sad that Greg’s last few years, and especially his last few weeks, were so difficult and painful. I wish he had been able to take more time “smelling the flowers” and hunting for 4-leaf clovers (one of his passions), and not to have had to spend so much time visiting doctors, therapists, and hospitals. While working with Greg the last 7 and one-half years, I always got the feeling that he was playing “catch-up” and that this was stressing him greatly, affecting his health. Many times I urged him to exercise more and have more fun, and not spend so much time and energy answering emails or trying to write a complex book. I remember suggesting to him that he buy an iPhone, so that he could answer emails with shorter messages, using the “Sent from my iPhone” signature as sort of an excuse for not providing a longer response. I think this worked for a little while, but I noticed that his email responses soon became lengthy again, since he was such a generous guy who didn’t want to shortchange anyone in the way he answered their requests.

Watching Greg’s health decline had a profound impact on me. It helped me decide to cut back on my academic endeavors last summer, a few years earlier than I had originally planned, so that I would have the time and health needed to pursue other passions (triathlon coaching and training) without having teaching obligations, grant deadlines, and campus politics hanging over my head. Having less and less opportunities to collaborate with Greg, because of his declining health, also took some of the excitement out of my academic pursuits. I originally came to Fuqua in 2006 with the intention of working with Greg, and we had some enjoyable collaborations, but they became less possible as time went on. Still, I am very thankful to Greg (and Beth Anderson) for inviting me to join CASE and for giving me the chance to have an “encore career” as a social entrepreneurship scholar for seven years, following up on a long career as marketing professor.

The postings here persuade me that Greg’s greatest contributions were in the advice, time, and encouragement he provided to others – and they far exceeded the impact of his writings (though they clearly had much impact!). Perhaps if Greg had understood this about himself, he would have been less stressed about wrapping up publications and more able to pursue healthy living and fun. There is now a gap in the lives of many that will never be filled.

Jeff Bradach Jeff Bradach

Greg was such a great friend and thought partner to so many of us – it is stunning to see all the tributes. I met Greg in the late 80s when he moved to HBS from Yale. When Greg came to HBS, I was a grad student in Organizational Behavior and I tracked him down and we became friends based on our common interest in social issues and questions of scale – and he mentored, coached, and collaborated with me in countless ways over the subsequent 25-plus years.

Not long after Greg arrived, HBS started the Social Enterprise Initiative, and Greg was an anchor to it getting traction. Over the subsequent years, Greg helped to build Harvard into a leading player in the social enterprise movement. Later, when he moved to Stanford Business School (and helped to create the Center for Social Innovation) and then Duke’s Fuqua School of Business (and helped to create the Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship), he built and left behind enduring institutions committed to social entrepreneurship and social change. And at the same time, along the way, he contributed hugely to the building and strengthening of countless organizations – places big and small –and he supported literally hundreds of students’ business plans in his classes, many of which later led to the creation of leading social sector organizations. It is stunning to see his fingerprints on so many careers and organizations as reflected in the comments here. Greg served on the Board of Bridgespan for the past decade, and in countless ways his influence shaped who we have become.

While extraordinary, I really think that the legacy of Greg is found less in the institutions he helped than in the thousands and thousands of individuals he inspired and mentored—and an astonishing number via direct conversations and work with them. In places like Harvard Business School, where the most popular student club was “social enterprise” but few faculty were focused on it, he as the “go to” faculty person for hundreds of students. He always had time for anyone seeking to make a difference – and he was not just supportive; he engaged deeply on your ideas and challenged your thinking. When the story of social enterprise is told in the future, the strongest theory of change explaining its spread won’t be found in a PowerPoint presentation with lots of boxes and arrows – it will be found in a simple picture of Greg smiling surrounded by a group of students. (The tributes on this website leave me wondering how Greg would make sense of the astonishing example of the “one man theory” of scaling impact – where a single, special person radiates ideas and impact that literally spans the globe and changes the sector’s thinking and action.)

My last direct conversation with Greg was at the end of September, when he and I were speakers at a Citizen’s Schools Board meeting. I was there in person and he was on the phone, unable to travel due to his illness but eager to contribute. My memory of the moment was vintage Greg – crediting Bridgespan, Citizen’s Schools, EMCF, and many others as being those from whom he learned – and then he proceeded to share “a few examples and ideas that might push your thinking.” Of course, we all furiously wrote down his examples of how certain ideas spread to achieve widespread impact – ideas like designated drivers, hospice, kindergarten, micro-finance, and Apple Computer. With his soft touch and thought-provoking way, Greg’s influence rippled through us all – as it will in me, forever more.

He will be so missed, but what a legacy.

Cathy Clark Cathy Clark

The tributes here are just amazing. It's wonderful to get glimpses of the personal interactions Greg had with so many. I realize I've been in a very special place, learning about and exploring the world over the past 6 years with a unique mentor and guide; a fact that I seem to have taken entirely for granted. I was the first to post here, when we were looking for pictures to stimulate Greg's memory, and I've been reading each post as it comes in, hungrily and tearfully, grateful for ways to replace the despair of the last few months with the much more powerful memories of a long lifetime of personal and global impact. Thanks so much to all of you for that. I thought I might be able to share my thoughts in person at the memorial event, but realize I am still too emotionally raw. Tomorrow we will talk about how Greg's ideas have influenced a generation, but I can share some more personal reflections here in writing.

In spring 2007, Greg and Beth invited me to guest lecture at his social entrepreneurship class at Duke. (Greg and I had met previously through Cynthia Massarsky’s Yale Social Venture Competition- huge thanks to Cynthia!) For the lecture, we discussed the topic briefly; I told him what I had prepared on it for my class at Columbia, which included some of Jed Emerson's slides on the spectrum of capital available for social entrepreneurs, and a short case study. Greg agreed to assign it to the students. He didn't know it yet but I was pregnant with my second child, and details were not my friend. I misjudged the length of the session, which was 30 minutes shorter than the Columbia class time, and realized right before the class that my class plan was not going to work. And, lo and behold, that is just what happened. I swear it was possibly the worst class of my life, ending before I got to the main point of the session. Imagine my surprise when Greg asked me to come back to teach his course at Duke. I started commuting south to Duke in the Fall of 2007, belly growing to hide the view of my shoes, often too winded to stand while teaching. Greg was traveling frequently, and monthly we'd get together at Fuqua and have lunch, where slowly, over time, we discovered we had almost completely different backgrounds, networks and experiences, but very similar views of the field of social entrepreneurship. And as we kept talking, I felt like I had come home. The take-away is this: he took a bet on me, from that first day on, and I hope we all remember what a difference that can make in someone's life. His generosity, patience and humility helped me build a dream into a career, and helped us build together the world-class research center CASE had become, with leadership and support from so many others (Joel, Sally, Ed, Matt, Erin, Paul, Ruth and Wendy, to name but a few).

But in the past weeks, what has come up most often are things I want to ASK him. Why didn't I talk to him about this idea or that? What did he really think of this development, that report, or this news? And wouldn't he think THIS was funny? Greg was a master at seeing through the cloud of entrepreneurial chaos that surrounds those working the hardest in our community as he would delineate, first gently and them robustly, the underlying elements that undergird their decision-making and strategy. He took the idiosyncratic and boiled it down to the universal, serving it back up so people could learn from others' mistakes and solutions. His frameworks from decades ago have stood the test of time, and I believe they always will. He was a natural cross-pollinator, happily connecting people from different sectors, working in different areas, on seemingly different problems. He was a successful intrepreneur himself, convincing Harvard, Stanford and Duke to integrate this new field as an academic discipline, and he understood and admired entrepreneurs intimately. And far from being the ivory tower introvert, he craved connection as well. Many of us laughed about the 3pm candy bar runs he'd invite us on, back when he was still eating candy, or the long chats he'd settle in for when wanting a break from the tedium of writing. He liked to find delight in personal interactions, learning a little from everyone along the way.

He was also, paradoxically, a stickler for language, definitions built carefully on the best theoretical writing found to date, and had no patience for people using others' ideas or time without giving them full credit. He was a painstaking wordsmith, as CASE staff can attest; very few memos went out from all of us that he didn't take a hand at redrafting. It was a tedious habit for the administration of a research center, but a very useful one for creating a field, where consistency of language is essential. I think back now to all of the enthusiastic puppy dog writing I did in the early days: here's an idea, and here's one, and here's another -- offering them up like bones to the master dog who had already stocked the pet store shelves himself. He never rejected them, or me, but gently redirected my energy and enthusiasm, letting me play around with more thoughts until there was something new or interesting and then gently encouraging that. I think he was more a mentor to me than I ever really knew, because he was so subtle and mid-western about all of it.

At the CASE 10th anniversary celebration last year, I admitted to him I was nervous before my Ted-style talk, as I had never given so personal a presentation before. He replied he wasn't nervous at all. How could he be? How many hundreds of talks and board meetings and interviews and panels had he done? But there was one he was nervous for -- I could see it. It was also one of his best performances ever -- at the interview we had with USAID. It was our final video-conference interview for the $10 million HESN contract, for which Greg was the co-principal investigator. He flew in from CA as he was visiting Stanford that term, and despite the first few minutes of audio difficulties for the video feed (that we finally solved by passing around a cellphone on speaker mode when one of us wanted to speak), he wowed them and us with his enthusiasm, insight and polish. We were a smooth team that day, all taking our lead from Greg, who stepped into the role of one institution courting another with panache and authority. We all looked at each other after the call ended, and our colleague David Robinson said, in a tone as much surprised as celebratory, "Well, I think we just NAILED that!" And indeed, we all realized, due to Greg, there was no doubt in our minds we had.

The last few years have been a whirlwind, and in so many ways, Greg was caught up in his own maelstroms. I question now so many little things - did I tell him I appreciated him enough? Was I supportive enough? I sat by his bed at one point in the hospital while he was sedated and told him all of it, whispering it while he slept with tears streaming down my face. But then, a few weeks later, when he woke up after having suffered several more medical challenges, it seemed horribly wrong to offer departing words to a man fighting to make sense of his path to recovery. Big thank you's were simply out of the question. I tried to give him a sense of peacefulness and continuity instead. I read him notes from friends, shared office gossip and told him I admired how much effort he was putting into his therapy, that I knew it would take time and that he should expect it to. I guess I wanted him to know we loved him just as he was - no pretense, no heroic effort required. I clearly either calmed him or exhausted him because he fell asleep while I was visiting. It's the last time I saw him, as I tiptoed quietly out of the room. If I was even a small part of helping this man feel at peace in the world he worked so hard to improve, I feel I did my part. Greg, we all love you so very much. Rest in peace.

Jess Harris Jess Harris

Greg Dees was a hero to so many. I think that's clear. I certainly entered Fuqua in awe of his public persona - his accomplishments, his students, and his work - and my admiration only increased during my time on campus. But as I got to know Greg a bit better, I think I was most impressed by - and learned the most from - his leadership and mentorship on a personal level. He spoke quietly and thoughtfully, always willing to meet with his students. He encouraged us to take the path less traveled in following their dreams. His impact ripples out and is so evident in the relationships that he has built. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to meet Greg, to talk with him about my future, and to be inspired to be kind, humble, and most of all, exuberant in my pursuits. We'll miss you, Greg.
Jess Harris, Duke MBA/MPP 2012

Wendy Kuran Wendy Kuran

Greg was inclusive. As much as he was brilliantly discerning, demanding the opposite of a fuzzy thinking, he had an intellectual and a personal bent toward the bigger tent. The ecosystem rather than the hero. In the definitional days of social entrepreneurship, many became focused on setting the highest possible bar for membership in the social entrepreneurs club. But Greg was less concerned about who makes the cut than about how people, ideas and institutions each play a role in scaling innovations to change the world.

In 2007, Greg invited me into that bigger tent when I didn’t even have a ticket, let alone a circus act. Because of a spousal move to Duke and an instinct on the part of the new Fuqua dean, I was presented to Greg—and Beth, who was moving on to TFA—as an “unusual” candidate for the next managing director of CASE. While I’d been reading SSIR cover to cover, devouring Matthew Bishop’s Economist articles and working with a slew of non-profits, there was no disguising the fact that I was, well, a corporate executive at a huge health care company. Greg, who being Greg Dees could have probably recruited any number of people from the strong and growing pool of mega-talented social entrepreneurs and those studying the field, said yes to me.

Greg invested a lot of time in me, to ensure that I could bring my best strengths to the job despite my obvious weaknesses (imagine following Beth Anderson in any role, let alone this one). He did the same for every member of the CASE team and related colleagues: discerning each person’s ability to contribute and working around our individual and collective deficits. He was inclusive in the collection and harnessing of talent.

As first I then he moved on to other roles at Duke, our working relationship opened up to a broad-based friendship. Looking back, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that every conversation touched upon one or another CASE-related colleague, with Greg citing how valuable she was, how much he’d grown, what she was contributing, but without shying away from concerns about where a person or the team may be struggling and inviting insights and ideas about how to help.

Because of his work and the quality of his mind, Greg attracted some of the smartest, most dazzling people in the world into his circle. He could easily have chosen to spend more time with the elites, and less with the competent mortals around him. But that’s not how Greg thought about things. He was inclusive, in very specific, discerning, Greg-like ways. That quality changed so many lives, including mine.

Brooke Atherton Brooke Atherton

Dear Greg,
You has such an impact on me as twenty year old senior at Stanford. I had big ideas and didn't know what to do with them. You taught me new ways to think about improving the world and helped me open my mind and be less binary in my attitudes towards "business" and the world of social change. Most importantly, you gave me confidence in myself. Over the last 15 years I have thought often of your confidence in my potential and it has encouraged me at key moments in my life. Many times recently I had thought to write an email and get back in touch and let day to day things get in the way. Now I am so saddened by the loss of you and that I didn't tell you what an impact you had on me. My thoughts go out to your family and friends. may we all continue to be inspired by your example and your big ideas.
Brooke Atherton, Stanford 2000

Peiman Milani Peiman Milani

Greg Dees was the main reason I chose Fuqua among the options I had to pursue an MBA focused on social enterprise as a key step in my transition from the private to the social sector. His very first email response showed me the degree of his dedication and caring for his students, on top of his stellar academic reputation. Two of the highlights of my Fuqua experience were attending his class and hosting him for dinner at home. His attitude was always one of encouragement, of helping us become the best we could be in discovering new and better ways to serve humanity. Humble brilliance, sincere seeking for knowledge and truth -- that was our dear Greg.

I keep a collage of pictures of my heroes on my desk, those who are an inspiration and example in whose footsteps I aspire to follow. Greg's kind and serene smile brightens it now, and will forever brighten it.

Kash Rangan Kash Rangan

When we founded the social enterprise initiative at the Harvard Business School in 1993, Greg Dees was among a handful of faculty members who took an immediate interest in what we were trying to do. Those were the days when even the term social enterprise seemed novel. Greg developed and launched an innovative MBA course called Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector (ESS), which at once moved the focus away from large nonprofits to small entrepreneurial organizations. He brought a spirit of entrepreneurship to social enterprise. He developed for the course a simple framework- a spectrum going from "philanthropy" to "market-based." He predicted that the social sector world would converge to a middle ground. How prophetic that he had defined the "hybrid" organization of today. Ever since, he has been like a missionary taking ideas and initiatives from place to place. From Harvard he first went on to do community economic development in the Appalachians, from there to Stanford and then on to Duke. He was a gentle (intellectual) giant. Polite and always smiling, but never yielding ground on ideas he deeply cared about. Greg's memories and contributions will be forever ensconced at HBS's social enterprise initiative. Greg my friend, we will remember you from those early, formative days, to the subsequent (alas not so frequent) meetings, including your last visit just over two years ago. We will miss you, but your ideas will stay with us forever. Thank you for all that you have done.

benje williams benje williams

Below is a post that I shared on my personal blog ( about Professor Dees.

--Professor Greg Dees: A life that bent history itself--

Robert Kennedy once said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events.” Although his life was cut short just a few weeks ago, Professor Greg Dees has undeniably bent the history of my own life and has radically changed more than just a small portion of events throughout the world.

During my first class with Professor Dees – "Social Entrepreneurship and Global Poverty" in the fall quarter of 2012 – he managed to introduce me to a very different side (perhaps the best side) of Stanford's Graduate School of Business. From the first day of class, he made it clear that this was to be an intimate community focused not only on critiquing development approaches – which is "what we are good at and trained to do" – but on "moving from tensions and problems into potential solutions, and re-framing the question in positive (action-oriented) ways."

Rather than discussing theories of change, he pressed us on what our own “personal theory of action” is, and personally encouraged me to explore launching a social enterprise in the education space. In one email, he wrote that "You are exploring an ambitious and challenging undertaking, but I have full faith in you.” I’ll never forget those last six words.

Professor Dees truly trusted and empowered his class. Despite his massive accomplishments – e.g., Business Week has called him “The man who defined social entrepreneurship” – he trusted us students to facilitate each (3 hour) class, without any guidance or input from him (unless we specifically requested it). He once told me over lunch (and reiterated several times in class) that he firmly believed “you should never do for people (including students) what they can do for themselves.” (An idea we are now trying to implement at Amal Academy in Pakistan).

Although Professor Dees is considered “the father of social enterprise education,” he was the type of person that was more concerned with “being interested not interesting.” For example, he was extremely quiet in class, but never failed to respond (at deep length) to my emails and coffee/lunch requests and would often send our class 2-3 pages long emails after class.

Author Maaza Mengiste writes that “Each of our stories pivot on a single moment; that short pause between what is and what could be.” Because of Professor Dees’ life of humility and immersion, I believe my story has pivoted several times.

The first moment was during my second course with Professor Dees, when he decided to compromise the class policy by allowing me to form a “team of one” (as he called it) so that I could explore the education sector in Pakistan. Professor Dees knew that this was an idea that I was passionate about and he believed in me enough to break his class policies (which he was typically super strict about). The second moment is when he helped Amal Academy get seed funding from the Center for Social Innovation, a program that Professor Dees helped launch in 1999.

Although his absence will be profoundly felt throughout the world, I find hope knowing that we are doing the work that he has inspired. And my prayer is that we can somehow find a way to bend history even in a fraction of the way that Professor Dees has (and still is).