The Man Behind the Ballard Center

PROVO, Utah – Sep 24, 2020 –

When Todd Manwaring first heard the term social impact, he had no clue how much those two words would change his life. It was 1996 and Manwaring was searching for his legacy vocation after a successful information technology career. Now looking back almost twenty-five years later as the founder, director, and professor-of-practice of the Melvin J. Ballard Center for Social Impact at the BYU Marriott School of Business, Manwaring says the change in career was one of the best decisions he made in his life.    

So how did Manwaring found a center devoted to social impact? Like most teenagers and young adults, Manwaring he wasn’t particularly focused on making a difference, only attending an occasional service project. He admits as a youth he did not understand the global issues he now works so intently on.

All that changed, however, after he got married to his wife, Kristine. Kristine was passionate about, and shed light onto, different problems people around the world face, such as women’s rights issues in the Middle East. He credits her with getting him interested in social impact work. “She helped me recognize that these issues were currently affecting people globally. She helped open my eyes to see what was going on,” Manwaring says.

His awareness continued to grow after attending a fundraising breakfast in 1996 with his wife, where he heard the words social impact for the first time. Speaking at the breakfast was then future Nobel Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and civil society leader.

“That event gave me the perspective that not only were people working on social issues in a unique and innovative way, but they were also creating change in a way that could bring greater outcomes in the people's lives,” he says. Manwaring was so moved that he left his job at Sequent Computer Systems and began pursuing a master’s degree in organizational behavior from BYU Marriott.

While pursuing his degree, Manwaring co-founded a group called Unitus, one of the first global impact investing firms, or a group dedicated to investing in organizations in order to generate both a beneficial social impact and financial return. Manwaring says that Unitus and its investments have touched the lives of more than fifty million people through the various programs and services it provides.

Soon after Unitus turned four years old, Ned Hill, then dean of BYU Marriott, had a discussion with Manwaring about creating a center with a specific focus on social impact that could reach students all across campus; that conversation led to the founding of the Ballard Center.

Hill and Manwaring discussed how the new center would contribute to BYU’s mission as well as one of the Aims of a BYU Education: lifelong learning and service. Manwaring felt a key component to the center should be providing students with the opportunity to not only become involved with the center but to actually lead it.  

Today, the Ballard Center operates with three full-time staff members, a handful of part time staff, and approximately ninety student employees. Manwaring says students are the Ballard Center’s secret sauce to success. “We put a group of students in charge of one of our programs, such as the Peery Film Festival,” he says. “Then they ask, ‘How do we change this? How can we do this better? How do we approach this innovatively?’ The center is far different than if I would have sat down and planned it all myself. The center has a tremendous team of students that help make this work.” The result? Last year over 3,000 students from over 120 different majors participated in classes, internships, competitions, and research. Another 6,000+ students participated in one-time events like TEDxBYU, the Peery Film Festival, clubs, and information sessions. The center is the largest university-focused effort on social impact worldwide.

The students who work in the Ballard Center are more than simply employees to Manwaring, who speaks of them with endearment. While his responsibilities as the director of the Ballard Center include oversight of the center and raising money to fund the center, Manwaring’s favorite task is teaching classes. “I enjoy interacting with students and learning with them. The main class I teach is MSB 375: Social Innovation: Do Good. Better. This is the foundational course of the Ballard Center, where students learn a broad perspective of what social impact is and how to solve social problems,” Manwaring says.

For Manwaring, teaching about social impact did not stop once he left his BYU Marriott office at the end of each day. As Manwaring raised his four children, he made sure to incorporate social impact principles into their daily lives as well. In addition to daily lessons from their father, each of Manwaring’s children had an opportunity to participate in trips facilitated by the Ballard Center to implement projects designed to benefit underserved people in countries such as Ghana and Paraguay.

“The Ballard Center provides money to students who come up with social impact projects, domestic and abroad,” Manwaring said. “Sometimes it's an internship, sometimes it’s a team of people working on a project. From time to time, one of the leaders in the Ballard Center will go and participate with them.

"I tried to teach my children that serving others and making a positive impact on the world around us is natural and needs to be part of what we do," Manwaring continues. "I encourage anyone who wants to do good to ask what role they can play in making that happen and what social impact looks like for them. The Ballard Center provides a wonderful base for any BYU student trying to become more aware of the current conditions in the world today and we’re here to help them make a real, positive difference.”  

Todd Manwaring
Todd Manwaring
Todd Manwaring speaking at TEDxBYU.
Todd Manwaring speaking at TEDxBYU.
Todd Manwaring with the Ballard Center team in 2019.
Todd Manwaring with the Ballard Center team in 2019.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Madi Wickham