Passionate about garbage and eliminating solid waste pollution in the developing world, Ryan Caplin is not wasting his time. Now an Oxford Pershing Square Scholar, Caplin credits the Ballard Center for Social Impact at the BYU Marriott School of Business for giving him the tools to take on trash.
The 2015 Brigham Young University graduate grew up in St. George, Utah, and served a mission in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. While on his mission, Caplin hoped to find clarity for what he wanted to study in school. “But that didn’t happen right away,” Caplin admits.
Instead, Caplin explored several different options at BYU and found himself in a class on the principles of accounting. “I took that class and absolutely loved it,” Caplin says. “From there, I decided I wanted to go into business.” He ended up majoring in economics and minoring in business strategy.
As Caplin progressed through his undergrad, experiences from his mission kept tugging on him. In particular, he thought a lot about the large amounts of uncollected trash he encountered in Jamaica. Wanting to stay connected to the places where he served, Caplin looked for people working on projects in Jamaica and met Ballard Center faculty fellow Jason Fairbourne.
“Throughout that experience with finding Fairbourne, I felt God’s influence, and when I discovered the Ballard Center, it changed everything,” Caplin says. “Some of the best friends and best times I had were in the Ballard Center.”
Building on Fairbourne’s mentoring, Caplin centered his school projects around waste and recycling whenever he could. Reflecting on his journey, Caplin realizes, “It turned out my mission showed me exactly what I wanted to do.”
Caplin attended the first “Do Good Better” course at the Ballard Center and describes the experience as formative in learning about business models in social innovation. Caplin also worked on the Social Innovation Leadership Council at the Ballard Center.
“One of the most meaningful parts about my experience with the Ballard Center is that I have continued the work I started there,” Caplin shares. “The center is still so much a part of what I do and think about.” Caplin even credits the Ballard Center as one of the reasons he sought higher education at the University of Oxford.
Caplin knew he wanted an MBA after graduating, and the program at Oxford felt like the perfect fit for his research in waste management. After working for four years, he applied to the Oxford 1+1 MBA program, which includes a master’s degree followed by a one-year MBA. Caplin was accepted into the MBA program but rejected from the environmental change and management program.
Although disappointed by the rejection, Caplin moved forward but did not throw away his dream. He deferred his MBA acceptance for a year during COVID-19, which was fortuitous. During that time, Oxford launched a new master’s program in sustainability, enterprise, and the environment—which Caplin found to be a much better fit. “I applied to the new program and was accepted!” he says.
Now at Oxford, Caplin studies black soldier flies as they eat organic waste and become a high protein food source for animals. He researches how to turn this process into a sustainable method to manage waste in countries such as Ghana and Kenya.
Looking ahead, Caplin sees a path paved with opportunities to continue his work in sub-Saharan Africa and create waste management businesses that help countries sustainably manage their trash.
Written by Liesel Allen