David Harkins is a social scientist who explores the human experience in systems and culture.
I am an assistant professor of social entrepreneurship at Belmont University, where I teach social entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship, and leading change with systems-thinking approaches. I am also the founder and Managing Partner at David Harkins Company, a socially focused management consulting company working with organizations, companies, and community leaders to solve pressing and difficult problems.
My current interests are exploring and understanding the human experience in systems and culture, be they family, work, or community. To this end, my research tends to focus on the human experiences of organizational culture, collective empathy, complex social systems, entrepreneurial thinking processes, leadership for sustainable change and social impact, and creativity in organizational problem-solving.
I have a passion for facilitating entrepreneurial mindsets for the power it has on the broader economy, and the impact it can have for social good. I believe entrepreneurial activity can spur innovation and improve those communities where changing demographics, cultural and societal shifts, corporate closures, challenging social issues, and access to education create barriers to employment and economic growth.
As a practitioner, my work focuses on strategic change, cultural transformation and leadership formation and growth through executive coaching. I endeavor to help deepen interpersonal connections and strengthen operational performance in corporate and socially focused organizations. I also have significant experience in developing successful earned revenue (social entrepreneurship) opportunities for nonprofit organizations.
I have earned a Doctorate in Organization Development and Change (D. ODC) from Bowling Green State University, a Master of Entrepreneurship (ME) from Western Carolina University, and a BBA in entrepreneurial and small business management from American Public University. I am also Certified Professional Coach.
I am an avid student of emerging—yet useful—technology, innovation leadership, cultural change, human behavior, and personal motivation. In my spare time, I consult, speak, write, hike, explore, and create art, not necessarily in this order.
Finally, it’s important to note that both successes and failures have marked my life and career. Along the way, I learned that my greatest strengths are a drive to create, a desire to build things and nourish people, and a passion for identifying workable solutions to seemingly impossible problems in business and life. These traits and my core beliefs that perspective defines happiness, a positive attitude enables success, and possibilities exist for everything form the root of all my accomplishments.
I was born in the capital city of West Virginia the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I cheered Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, watched solar eclipses through a color film negative, and listened to music on 8-Track tapes. I watched President Nixon resign his office, owned a first edition Sony® Walkman, and remembered my latitude and longitude when Harry Chapin and John Lennon died.
I grew up in the “other Charleston,” where I spent more than my fair share of time grounded in my bedroom, where I used that time to engineer and flight-test the most incredible paper airplanes from my bedroom window. Each one, elaborately decorated and bearing the phrase, “Help!!! I’m being held captive by a wicked witch!” which, upon reflection, was unwise since they all landed in the backyard to be discovered by my captor, who sometimes went by the name of “mom.”
When I wasn’t held captive, I survived walks through protesting parents during the Kanawha County Textbook Controversy, was interested enough to learn New Math, rose many mornings at 5:00 AM to deliver newspapers, and learned how to march and play the trombone at the same time.
I set off for college to become a dentist, but organic chemistry got the better of me, and a wise Chemistry professor encouraged pursuing a different career. A more thoughtful English professor suggested I consider becoming a writer. Unfortunately, my parents had no room in the basement for me to make a home, so I chose life in marketing and advertising—the closest fields I could find to writing that paid enough to allow me to get my own place.
Once on my own, I fell into a successful career leading marketing and organizational change for companies both small and large. I even became a serial entrepreneur and helped grow many other first-stage start-up companies.
I have worked in many industries and been fortunate enough to have held senior positions with, or advised, many well-known organizations, including Alzheimer’s Association (National), American Bar Association (National), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Boy Scouts of America (National Council), Cargill Ag Horizons, Disabled American Veterans (National), Girl Scouts of the USA (National Council), Geneer, Microsoft, National FFA, and Nykamp Consulting Group to name just a few.
In the summer of 2012, I had what I can only describe as, "a blinding flash of the obvious," and took the initial steps on a new career journey to what I believe is my calling.
If you've read this far, it's probably obvious that I said "yes" to all the job opportunities that have come along without any adequate plan for a future career. Curiosity and learning were my motivators, and when those motivators were exhausted, I moved on.
Most of my jobs lasted less than five years.
I spent most of my career with small businesses. When I wasn't learning to lead my own companies, I managed consulting projects, marketing, and product development for other early-stage entrepreneurs.
I've only worked for two larger organizations in my career: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, and the other, the Boy Scouts of America. At the BSA, I spent a little over a decade as an internal entrepreneur for the organization's retail division.
It was my work in the nonprofit sector that called me here. In a meeting with a summer intern in 2012, I had a flash of clarity that put me on the path to teaching part-time. I never thought I would earn a doctorate education or be on a tenure track, even then, but a decade later, here I am.
As it turns out, saying "yes" often can sometimes lead one to their calling. It certainly has for me.
My career, education, and current work in the social sector have led me to this last stage of my career, which I see as my calling.
I genuinely believe my lived experiences have equipped me to do what I'm doing now to educate, inspire and empower people to build stronger connections so that together, we can make our worlds — family, work, and communities — a little better place now and in the future