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Social Responsibility — with Interest

A commitment to affordable housing and wealth-building in minority communities led Natalie Hunter (’20) to earn an MBA

Natalie Hunter’s (’20) interest in affordable housing began during her undergraduate days at Wesleyan University. While double-majoring in African American Studies and Spanish, she began to develop an interest in the causes of housing discrimination, redlining and other inequities facing minority communities. After graduation, she worked at J.P. Morgan on regulatory compliance, specifically, the Volcker Rule that emerged from the sub-prime housing crisis.

More and more corporate CEOs acknowledge an obligation to recognize the value of social responsibility while pursuing profits. “It doesn’t have to be a forfeiture of a potentially wealth-building career.”

“I started to think more about social impact investing and had to define what that meant for me,” Hunter says. She homed in on community development and affordable housing and began thinking about how she could make an impact in those arenas. “A lot of those jobs required graduate level degrees, so I started considering an MBA,” Hunter says. “I saw that Anderson specifically had the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate, and a lot of great resources through that. And that’s kind of how I ended up here.” Hunter enrolled at Anderson as a Consortium Fellow and has also become a Howard and Irene Levine Distinguished Fellow, awarded to second-year students interested in pursuing careers related to affordable housing and low income housing.

Hunter is effusive in her praise for the Ziman Center’s resources, especially the Levine Distinguished Fellows Program. “The program has been really great,” she says. In describing a recent connection she made through Ziman to Ayako Utsumi, an affordable housing consultant who moderated a panel at the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing (SCANPH) annual conference in 2019, Hunter’s enthusiasm is palpable.

“Her whole argument is that care coordination, including social services programs that help vulnerable populations really stay on their feet and manage all aspects of their lives, needs to be more coordinated. As [services] exist currently, they’re very siloed because of the way we’re reimbursed by the government through different programs,” Hunter explains. “So they’re trying to propose a more sustainable way of financing care coordination within nonprofit housing.”

“The Ziman Center is fully committed to addressing the issues surrounding affordable housing in California through dedicated curriculum, research and public education forums,” says Tim Kawahara, executive director of the Ziman Center. “Natalie has taken full advantage of these resources, including access to professionals who are working in affordable housing development. She’s shown a real dedication to making a difference in the community, taking the business skills she’s developed at Anderson and directly applying them in an effort to impact the biggest housing crisis the state has ever seen. She’s got the entrepreneurial spirit of Anderson and a desire to apply that spirit to a worthy social issue.”

Hunter’s desire to earn an MBA is rooted in an effort to learn more about the financial side of business, a complement to her undergraduate liberal arts degree. She chose Anderson not only because of the opportunities provided by the Ziman Center, but the chance to take courses at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. “I knew I’d be able to get the best of both worlds,” she says. “I knew that I wanted to strengthen my quantitative skills and felt that I could get the qualitative side from experience and from taking classes through Luskin.

“To be honest, a major incentive [to pursuing an MBA] was my Consortium fellowship. I have a full scholarship to attend the program. I really love the Consortium cohort, it’s been a huge support system to me here. We all come from different walks of life and have very different professional interests, but it’s been a really solid group,” Hunter says, adding that the support she’s received from the staff of the Parker Career Management Center has been a “huge help many times.”

What else has she loved about her time at Anderson? “L.A. in general — I really love that taco trucks are readily available.”

As more and more corporate CEOs acknowledge an obligation to recognize the value of social responsibility while pursuing profits, Hunter is forthright about her own career goals as she weighs a few options and opportunities in Los Angeles and New York City. “That [point of view is] becoming more and more common, which is great from the perspective of someone who wants to do well financially and also do well for the community,” Hunter says of a career focused on social reform. “It doesn’t have to be a forfeiture of a potentially wealth-building career, which is definitely something that I think about frequently, because building wealth — especially in minority communities — is something that’s really personally important to me.”

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