Notable Native: Jessica Droste Yagan

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Photo courtesy of Jessica Droste Yagan

Jessica Droste Yagan

By Sarah Martinson

Jessica Droste Yagan, CEO of Impact Engine, is all about changing the world.

Impact Engine is a tech company that helps startups earn a profit by solving environmental and social issues. In a 16-week accelerator program, Impact Engine connects startup founders with professionals in their industry and hosts lectures and workshops that help startups build sustainable businesses. 

Before working for Impact Engine, Droste Yagan was the director of sustainable supply for McDonald’s Corp. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in public policy from Haverford College, an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business and a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

The Chronicle spoke with Yagan about her career, Impact Engine and creating social impact. 

THE CHRONICLE: What led you to  work  at Impact Engine? 

JESSICA DROSTE YAGAN: I have been a supporter of Impact Engine since it started about three years ago. I have been an investor and a mentor and a big supporter of their work. Before I started at Impact Engine, I was working at the McDonald’s Corporate office doing sustainable sourcing work. I was looking for a new challenge, and I already loved what Impact Engine was doing, and the previous managing director, Chuck Templeton, was leaving, and I was glad to take the opportunity.

Did you always want to go into business? 

JY: No, I always wanted to make the world a better place. Along the way, I discovered in my career that using business and leveraging the private sector is a really powerful way to drive social change. 

How did you plan on changing the world when you were younger? 

JY: When I was younger, I was more focused on the government side of things. I majored in public policy as an undergraduate, and I had a lot of interest in political science, economics and public policy. I did internships in government while I was in college. 

Why did you make the switch from public policy to business? 

JY: I think I became disillusioned with politics and thought it trumped policy. I think that all the sectors and components are necessary of driving change in the world, but I think the private sector, the business world, is the most underdeveloped of those sectors in terms of its potential to make an impact. 

Why do you think it is important for organizations to make a profit from their work? 

JY: I think it is important because it can be a sustainable, scalable source of change. Profit is a very powerful tool to scale and grow impact. If a non-profit wants to serve more people, it has to raise more money. A for-profit company, if there is profit, they grow and do more naturally. 

What achievement are you most proud of? 

JY: While I worked at McDonald’s, I accomplished a lot of great work. What I’m most proud of is the behind-the-scenes part of that, which is the making sustainability a critical part of everyday decision-making in the business, so helping every decision maker who purchases those products understand why it is important for the business to make those decisions in a sustainable way. That’s what I am most proud of because that lives on. That becomes a part of how the business runs. 

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? 

JY: I am not the kind of person who has regrets. You can learn something from everything and sometimes you learn the most from the things that feel like failures or mistakes. I am glad everything happened the way it did because I am happy where I am now.