Grandma knows best. As a high school senior, Celeste Diaz Ferraro visited San Antonio for an aunt’s wedding. Her grandmother knew she was busy applying to colleges and preparing for interviews with admissions counselors. Secretly hoping her granddaughter would move to San Antonio and be closer to family, Grandma Ferraro mentioned Trinity was just down the road and would be good for a “practice” interview.
Heeding her grandmother’s advice, Diaz Ferraro visited Trinity during her stay. “She was so sneaky,” Diaz Ferraro says. “She knew what she was doing, and she was right. I walked onto campus and thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”
A first-generation college student, Diaz Ferraro came to Trinity planning to major in communication. She wanted to be a journalist, having read Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men “more than 47 times.” Like many Trinity students, her academic interests were broad. She studied sociology, political science, and economics in addition to communication. When the starting salary of an entry-level newspaper reporter deterred her from pursuing journalism as a new graduate, Diaz Ferraro turned to marketing and public advocacy as a way to create a more just and equitable world.
In a career she calls “nonlinear,” Diaz Ferraro worked in hospitality, Hispanic marketing, politics, and advocacy. After earning her MBA from Georgetown University, she transitioned to a career in international development working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector development arm of the World Bank. Diaz Ferraro helped launch the IFC’s first branding program to communicate leadership in global corporate sustainability and social responsibility standards. During this experience she was exposed to new concepts such as impact investing, microfinance, and social enterprise. At the IFC she came to understand how business “done right” had the “opportunity to transform the world and have a positive impact.”
As time progressed, the call of family pulled her back to San Antonio, and in 2007 she left the IFC and launched her own consulting firm, PaxMundi Strategy. Working with small social enterprises helped her “integrate my personal values and professional priorities.”
Her clients were small for-profit companies who incorporated environmental and social values and activities into their operations.
“I loved helping them grow their businesses,” Diaz Ferraro says. “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot resiliency, flexibility, and willingness to take on risk. These mission-driven entrepreneurs were my heroes and models for the kind of business that I would like to see more of in our communities. Businesses absolutely have a responsibility to the communities they operate in.”
Whether it meant advocating for solar energy or connecting homes with local farmers, PaxMundi supported micro-entrepreneurs with business planning and strategy, organizational development, and branding. For Diaz Ferraro, each client reaffirmed that business could and should be a positive contributor to society. During this time, Diaz Ferraro also taught entrepreneurship courses at St. Mary’s University. As a visiting lecturer, she saw the opportunity to instill an awareness of social environmental principles in students as they became “responsible and transformational business leaders.”
Later, after several years abroad working in different business environments, Diaz Ferraro shifted from supporting entrepreneurs to studying them. She was accepted to Pennsylvania State University, where she is now a Ph.D. student in management strategy and organization theory. Energetic and personable, Diaz Ferraro says that business, and even our idea of work, is on the cusp of radical change, led by forces such as technology, social inequality, and climate change.
“The faculty here at Penn State are inspirational and some of the nation’s best,” Diaz Ferraro says. “One of my greatest interests is where business intersects with society and the opportunities for business to have a positive impact on this planet.”
Midway through her first year, Diaz Ferraro is collaborating on research with her adviser about ethical norms in newly emerging industries such as genomics, while studying new forms of organizations such as sharing economy businesses and social enterprises.
“I love the faculty here and how we are looking at the transformation of what it means to be a business,” Diaz Ferraro says. “We are looking at the future of work. Right now is a good time to be philosophical about what we want our world to look like.”
Despite having landed at Trinity “by accident,” Diaz Ferraro says the University was an excellent place to build the foundation for her pursuit of a better world.
“Trinity gave me the opportunity to earn my education and cultivate an awareness of the world that has served me well my entire life,” she says. “Trinity stoked my intellectual curiosity, and I have been chasing it ever since.”
Follow Celeste on Twitter at @PaxMundi.