Rafael Alvarez ’90 says he is on a crusade to prove a successful business can also have a social purpose. He was recognized for those efforts Thursday when he was given the Entrepreneurial Leadership Award by the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at Mays Business School.
In his previous career, Alvarez was a corporate strategist. He used those skills 10 years ago to start Genesys Works, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that helps inner-city high school students land internships in the corporate world. This year, 800 students were served in Houston, the Bay Area, Chicago and the Minneapolis/St. Paul.
“Being in a nonprofit is not just doing social work, though that is an important aspect of it. It is also helping the less fortunate by helping them find opportunities in thriving corporations,” Alvarez explains. “It is something that can making a lasting impression on a young person and that will change lives for generations afterward.”
The Entrepreneurial Leadership Award honors a business leader who has been instrumental in the establishment and growth of a successful new venture — either a start-up or an entrepreneurial effort within an existing company.
While the primary purpose of the award is to honor a successful entrepreneur, the secondary purpose is to give students and faculty an opportunity to interact with and learn from the honoree. In addition to being honored at an awards ceremony, recipients speak to classes and host smaller roundtable discussion sessions while on campus.
Alvarez gave a lecture in the Ray Auditorium of the Wehner Building, then spoke at a luncheon in his honor. In the afternoon, he attended a roundtable with several students.
“There is a still a long way to go before my vision of Genesys Works comes true, but I take this award as a sign that I am truly on the right path,” Alvarez said before calling his wife Stephanie to the front of the room to join him in raising the glass statue. “She is the unsung hero who stays in the background. This is your award as much as it is mine.”
Genesys Works enables high school students to work in meaningful internships during their senior year in high school at major corporations where they discover that they can succeed as professionals in the corporate world.
Genesys Works’ innovative model has received wide recognition across the globe. Earlier this year, Forbes Magazine named Alvarez to the publication’s inaugural “Impact 30” list of the world’s top social entrepreneurs. When President Obama launched the White House Office of Social Innovation, Genesys Works was profiled as an example of social innovation that should be replicated across America. Alvarez has spoken about the Genesys Works model across the U.S. at universities, including Harvard and Rice, and has been the guest of government and educational leaders in Ireland to discuss solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues.
The Entrepreneurial Leadership Award, established at Mays in 2000, is named after the former president and chair of Conn Appliances, Inc. Carroll, Jr. and Dorothy Conn have made lasting contributions in the business and civic worlds, including support for the Conn Award through an endowment. The award honors those entrepreneurs who have the courage and the vision to launch companies that make a lasting impact on their communities and among their employees.
Past winners include L. Lowry Mays ’57 of Clear Channel Communications, Erle Nye ’89 of TXU, Pizza Hut co-founder Frank L. Carney, Administaff co-founder Paul J. Sarvadi and Jason’s Deli founder Joe Tortorice ’70.
The mission of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship is to provide education and assistance to entrepreneurs and Texas A&M students and faculty.