Melbourne Business School News This CEO uses her MBA scholarship to help people fall in love with the Earth again

This CEO uses her MBA scholarship to help people fall in love with the Earth again

Support from those who came before her is helping social enterprise leader Cinnamon Evans create a ripple effect in the community and the planet via CERES.

The inner-city suburb of Brunswick East is home to chic industrial cafés, live music bars and multicultural eateries along the northern stretch of Melbourne's famous Lygon Street.

It's also home to one of the city's most unique landmarks – CERES, pronounced "series", a 4.5-hectare environmental education centre, urban farm and social enterprise that features community gardens as well as a nursery, bookstore, cafe and organic grocery.

"Whenever I meet people in and outside of the park, and I tell them I work at CERES, everyone's got a story about how much they love it," says CEO Cinnamon Evans.

"They launch into their story about their connection with place, and with community, and their positive experiences of being here.

"And I love that. I love that Melbourne loves CERES."

One of the reasons everyone has a story about CERES is because its impact stretches far beyond the boundaries of the park itself.

More than 90 per cent of the organisation's revenue is generated by social enterprise, such as the cafe and grocery, which attracted more than 200,000 customers last financial year. Another initiative, Fair Food, delivered organic produce to almost 50,000 people across the broader city.

In the same period, CERES also taught more than 30,000 students about climate change, regenerative living, nature connection, food systems, culture, community and systems change through its School of Nature and Climate – and hosted 17,000 people at its events.

All up, the organisation reached more than 1.2 million people through a mix of online and in-person activities as part of its mission to help them fall in love with the Earth.

One person’s ripple effect

After a career devoted to environmental education, Cinnamon is now studying a Senior Executive MBA at Melbourne Business School to help the park's positive impact become even bigger.

For Cinnamon, it's an opportunity to deepen the business and leadership skills she's gained through practice, as well as form bonds with other CEOs and senior leaders from a variety of industries.

"To have formal business training has been invaluable," she says of the experience.

"I don't come from a business background... and yet here I am leading an organisation of this size and breadth.

"It's already shaped and changed the way I have conversations with my executive team and with my board, particularly around finance, but also around strategy and a whole variety of leadership subjects."

What made Cinnamon's MBA journey possible was receiving a scholarship established by students who came before her. To her, the impact of that gift reaches far beyond just one person.

"Although scholarships are granted to individual students, the ripple effects of those reach out into the broader community," Cinnamon says.

"In my case, helping me grow my skills as a leader of an organisation like CERES not only benefits me, it also benefits CERES. And in turn, that helps CERES generate impact for the wider community.

“Over the 40 years since CERES’ inception, we've been able to create more than 200 jobs,” Cinnamon added. “And I am incredibly proud of that because not only are we creating employment that is aligned with our purpose and our environmental purposes as an organisation. We're creating a well-being economy and an economy in which people and planet are considered in the course of normal business practice.”

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A lifelong passion for social enterprise

Cinnamon's involvement with CERES goes back three decades. Fresh out of university with an undergraduate degree in education, she began working at CERES as an environmental educator. Over time, she became leader of the education team, then took on increasingly senior management roles before becoming CEO.

"I started working in CERES in 1991, and so I've grown up in the for-purpose sector," she says.

"Firstly, as a teacher, and then as a manager, now as leader – and the organisation and I have grown together. In November of this year, I will have been here 33 years, so it's a significant part of my life, and I care about it deeply."

That passion helps to drive Cinnamon as a leader of one of Melbourne's most iconic social enterprises, in which profit is a means to achieving change in the community.

"Social enterprise is a form of business that has people and purpose at its heart," Cinnamon says.

"The majority of profits from a social enterprise are reinvested in the community benefit or the mission of the enterprise. So for CERES, that is reinvesting the profits from our trading activities into maintaining a public park."

For social enterprise leaders who are driven first and foremost by purpose, Cinnamon says opportunities to access formal business education are crucial.

"I think social entrepreneurs can come into the space through a couple of different doors," she says.

"They can come in because they are business leaders who see an opportunity or have a desire to make a difference, or they can be people who deeply care about a purpose and then want to achieve that purpose through business aims.

"I think for that cohort of people, business education is critical. For a social enterprise to flourish, it not only needs to fulfil purpose, but also needs to have a solid business foundation."

Expanding what's possible

In 2019, Cinnamon's passion for CERES led her to enrol in a for-purpose leadership program at Melbourne Business School to bolster the skills she had learned on the job.

"The opportunity to experience a program at Melbourne Business School seemed like a really fantastic opportunity to level up," she says.

"Having spent all my career in the for-purpose sector, obviously there's a lot of on-the-job learning, but I had never had any formal business training."

While she was at the School, Cinnamon's vision of what was possible became broader.

"I saw a wall of brochures advertising MBA courses," she recalls.

"I had never previously considered doing an MBA, but spending time at Melbourne Business School, I realised that there was a lot I was missing and a lot I could learn.

"I also really enjoyed the learning environment – the quality of the teaching, the quality of the hospitality, the ability to stay within the School and really immerse myself in the learning and the cohort of people who I was with.

"Those things together really inspired me to consider going on to do an MBA."

A scholarship that benefits the community and planet

With the support of the SEMBA Class of 2003 Scholarship last year, Cinnamon was able to join the Senior Executive MBA program to continue her studies – something she didn't previously think possible. Since it was established, the Class of 2003 Endowment Fund has supported a variety of initiatives, including providing MBA scholarships to leaders in the not-for-profit sector.

"Without a scholarship, I wouldn't have had an opportunity to do an MBA," she says.

"I've really enjoyed being lifted out of my everyday environment and into an intensive learning environment with a group of really inspiring, fellow students and faculty. It's provided direction in my life that I didn't expect, and inspiration professionally."

The opportunity is giving Cinnamon new energy to bring to her role at CERES, and to invest in its mission to benefit the community – and planet.

It's also one she hopes will be available for more leaders in the future.

"It's been transformative for my life. It's both affirming for me as a leader and also developing the skills that I need to do my work. It's been profound," she says.

"I would strongly encourage any other alumni or philanthropists out there to consider investing in the MBA scholarship fund, because scholarships really do change lives."

To donate to the Melbourne Business School scholarship fund, visit our Giving page.

Partner with us to unleash ideas and leaders for a sustainable future – create a ripple effect by giving the gift of a Melbourne Business School education. Make a tax-deductible donation today.