2020 MBAs To Watch: Sophie Duncan, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Sophie Duncan

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

An empathetic critical thinker who is passionate about economic, social, and environmental justice.”

Hometown: Newton, Massachusetts

Fun fact about yourself: I once portaged a canoe through Toronto’s Union Station. I also speak Moroccan Arabic.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT – Bachelor of Arts

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Milton Community Youth Coalition, Milton, VT

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? During my internship at BEAR (Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman), I led a team of four researchers looking at the policy process and potential behavioural effects of the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide. This most recent version is a major revamp of previous food guides. We interviewed key people in the federal government, civil society, and academia in order to better understand how and why the food guide is created, how it is implemented, and how it affects the behaviour of end-users, the food and agriculture industries, and policymakers. Our final report will soon be published on the BEAR website, and we hope it will serve as a useful platform for further research on the role of Canada’s Food Guide in the food system.

Where will you be working after graduation? TBD

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: (Include school awards and honors)

  • Forté Fellow & Entrance Scholarship
  • Gordon F. Cheesbrough MBA Graduate Fellowship
  • Mary Verna Simmonds Rotman MBA Fellowship in Social Change
  • VP Careers and Diversity & Inclusion Rep at Rotman Net Impact, Lead Organizer of the 2020 Rotman Sustainability Conference

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Organizing the 2020 Rotman Sustainability Conference. I believe we put together an event that allowed students and other attendees to see many different ways to have careers with a positive impact and to feel the urgency of addressing issues like climate change and inequality. I am proud that we amplified the voices of folks we don’t often hear from in a business school and facilitated conversations about impact that were honest and critical, as well as constructive.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I was the manager of a town farmers market in Vermont, we increased total annual sales for our vendors by 120%. We also increased the redemption of federal low-income food benefits by over 170%. Though there was still a lot of room for improvement, I am proud that my work organizing and marketing the market contributed to higher incomes for local farmers and producers and greater access to fresh, local food for low-income community members.

I am also proud to be a contributing author to the forthcoming book from Behaviourally Informed Organizations (BI Org). I continued working with BEAR and their Behaviourally Informed Organizations project (BI Org) into the school year. BI Org’s goal is to learn and share how behavioural insights can best be embedded in organizations. I have had the opportunity to be a lead author on a chapter in their forthcoming Behaviourally Informed Organizations book, which provides practical advice to governments, businesses, and other organizations on how to use behavioural insights. My chapter, “A Guide to Guidelines, which I wrote with Melanie Kim and Rotman Professor Dilip Soman, will help managers use guidelines effectively to help end-users navigate complex decision-making environments, make informed choices, and overcome common behavioural tendencies. While we know that guidelines are limited, we hope this chapter will help managers create effective guidelines that are tailored to end-users’ needs.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professors Sarah Kaplan and Nouman Ashraf both teach classes that have shifted the way I think and helped me build new leadership and strategic change skills.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The speaker series put on by The Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) at Rotman, which has brought speakers like Thomas Page McBee and Dr. Jen Gunter to speak. To me, these events reflect the hard work that the folks at GATE dedicate to changing the conversations about gender that are had at a business school.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Rotman because of the diversity of its student body and the faculty’s emphasis on research.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Ask admissions to put you in touch with current students and ask them about their experiences.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Rotman has a reputation for being very focused on finance, which isn’t untrue. However, once you scratch the surface, you’ll find professors and students who are interested in a wide variety of things. You might be surprised at the number of professors who are working on social and environmental issues in their research, consulting work, and teaching.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have been my authentic self sooner and would have spent less time worrying about what other people think of me.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Daniel Cowen. Dan is unabashed about being true to his values in his personal and professional life. He treats other people with kindness and respect, is a great critical thinker, and brings a ton of enthusiasm and confidence to everything he does.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My childhood best friend’s mother does economic development work that I really admire, and she suggested that an MBA skill set would be both useful and a good differentiator for me in my career.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Help to build economically and socially vibrant and sustainable rural communities in Ontario and around the world.
  2. Collaborate with some of the friends and peers I admire—folks who have expertise in poverty reduction strategies, affordable housing, sustainability, and health.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope my peers remember me as a capable, smart, and kind person dedicated to social and environmental justice.

Hobbies? I love to cook, read, and spend time outside running, cross-country skiing, canoeing, and gardening.

What made Sophie such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Sophie came to Rotman with the goal of bringing a business lens to her work in food access and sustainability. During her time here, she has made incredible contributions to increasing the social impact lens of the Rotman community. Her dedication is evident through the activities she chose to invest her time and efforts in, including leadership in the Rotman Net Impact student club, the organization of the highly successful Rotman Sustainability Conference 2020, and her impactful work with the Behavioural Economics in Action (BEAR) research centre.

As a Consulting Lead at BEAR, she led a project examining the role of the food guide in the Canadian Food System. In this challenging project that involved many different stakeholders (industry, governments, and nonprofits) and navigating sensitive grounds at times, Sophie surprised us with her remarkable ability to effectively engage various stakeholders and deliver an insightful report that lays the groundwork on measuring the behavioural impact of guidelines. She has been an outstanding ambassador for BEAR and Rotman to the external community, enriching the work of partnering organizations by embedding human-centricity in their efforts.

While her outstanding accomplishments abound (from even before her MBA, when she spent time working with rural communities in Morocco on a Fulbright Research Grant), she is not one to claim all credit. As the lead of her summer project, she engaged her team (UofT undergraduate students) in all aspects of the project, creating a collaborative working environment respectful of diverse opinions. Finally, she is recognized as an exceptionally helpful and approachable colleague to her peers, often inspiring them to create a positive impact in their communities.”

Melanie Kim
Research Coordinator & Associate, BEAR
Dilip Soman, Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Science and Economics
Director, BEAR


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.