Stephen Black, founder, President and Chairman of the Board of Impact America, was the guest CEO at the combined undergraduate business capstone and MBA class, “Strategic Leadership Through the Eyes of the C-Suite,” on November 15, 2016.
The mission of Impact America, and of the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where the organization is housed, is to assist college students in becoming good citizens who will help others. According to Black, it is crucial to develop students’ empathy, which can best occur if they are provided with opportunities to actually connect with others who need help in their communities.
Since its founding in 2004, Impact America has created programs in the following human services areas that allow for college students to participate in structured service projects:
• ensuring that pre-elementary school children in urban and rural communities receive vision care (FocusFirst);
• providing free tax preparation services (SaveFirst);
• teaching academic debate to high school students to set them on paths toward college (SpeakFirst); and
• mentoring high school students on foundation concepts in preparation for Advanced Placement coursework (CollegeFirst).
Black described the basis for FocusFirst, SpeakFirst, and CollegeFirst as the need to equalize the opportunities for attending college for all school children, including those from the poorest families. For example, he noted that when vision problems in young children are not diagnosed until elementary school, these children are far less likely to succeed in K-12 school and go to college.
In 2008, Black received the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award for his work with FocusFirst. This national award is given annually to individuals who demonstrate creativity and commitment in addressing society’s most pressing health issues.
A team of students who had studied the strategy of Impact America made a presentation to Mr. Black. The team asked Mr. Black how the organization has decided where to expand geographically. Describing the needs being addressed by his organization as “everywhere,” Black said that his expansion decisions have also been based on connections between people, in this case between community leaders in other areas and Impact Alabama’s supporters in Alabama. Impact America now operates not only in Alabama, but also in Tennessee, Florida, Philadelphia, and South Carolina.
“Strategic Leadership Through the Eyes of the C-Suite” is taught by School of Business professor Stephen Yoder, and features visits from members of the executive suites of public or other large complex organizations who discuss their organizations’ strategies and how they are developed and implemented.