A native of Washington, D.C., Jeffrey Prost-Greene ’12 grew up in a diverse community near Rock Creek Park, a serene outdoor green space situated within the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital.
But as Prost-Greene got older, he recognized inherent disparities within the place he had always called home. While D.C. worked to maintain its longtime role as “the nation’s front door,” many of its everyday citizens were dealing with income inequality, unemployment, and policies that were detached from solving their everyday problems.
“That really set the tone, I think, in terms of my immersion and interest in the environmental sustainability and social impact space,” said Prost-Greene, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management. “I was able to better understand and identify the ability green space has to transcend racial and socioeconomic boundaries.”
Fast-forward, and Prost-Greene has developed his own ways to elevate sustainable practices for the benefit of communities—not only in his hometown but across the world. He co-founded Up Top Acres, a company that converted three acres of underutilized rooftop space in D.C. into farms that grow produce for a sustainable urban food system. These rooftop farms also hold workshops and events to better educate the community about sustainability and every citizen’s role in the local environment. By working with local government, developers, and communities, Prost-Greene was able to pass the first tax legislation for rooftop agriculture in the U.S and establish one of the largest rooftop farming networks in the country.
Prost-Greene has also spearheaded the creation of an impact fund with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth (SDSN Youth) that invests in young people working on socially and environmentally responsible companies.
Recently, he co-founded FutureProof, a community fund platform for impact-driven accelerators that has helped to democratize access to financing and trusted networks for entrepreneurial communities. As part of his work with FutureProof, Prost-Greene has been selected for UnleashPlus, an incubation program for young entrepreneurs worldwide working on solutions that contribute to sustainable development.
Like many students, Prost-Greene did not know what he wanted to pursue as a career when he enrolled at UMass. What he did know was that he had a knack for business and was interested in its ability to advance the common good; the side projects and mini enterprises he started focusing on addressing the problems in his hometown during summers and outside of school were evidence of that.
“I was always really empowered by the idea of being able to have ownership and autonomy over one’s life and interests,” he said. “I thought Isenberg provided an additional opportunity to build upon that entrepreneurial spirit, and that business in a more general sense was applicable across sectors, industries and programs within UMass.”
During his time in Amherst, Prost-Greene was encouraged to maximize his time on campus and in Western Massachusetts by his roommate of three years, Scott Newman, who, after graduating, was diagnosed with cancer and died at 25. Earlier in their friendship, Prost-Greene had faced significant health issues of his own that nearly led him to take a semester off—but Newman, he said, had helped him stay the course. “Had it not been for Scott encouraging and supporting me, along with his desire to be my roommate, I may have never completed my Isenberg degree and graduated from UMass,” Prost-Greene said.
During his junior year, Prost-Green studied abroad at the University of Cape Town’s Bertha Center for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where he excelled academically in business courses such as Entrepreneurial Strategies, Business in Context and Experiencing Entrepreneurship. He was active in campus life and with the Social African Sustainable Development Initiative, where he worked with the Cape Town City Council to launch social impact programs that delivered new pathways to uplift communities out of poverty in townships throughout the country.
“My experience attending the University of Cape Town’s Bertha Center for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship shaped my trajectory to the present day, of really focusing on social impact and using business as a vehicle for environmental and social good,” he said.
For students who are interested in sustainability, Prost-Greene said there are classes offered in Isenberg that explore the topic. He cited marketing professor Cynthia Barstow’s as inspirational for his future career, as her courses challenged him to create green products and services as part of a lean business model for the sustainability sector.
Prost-Greene also encourages students interested in sustainability to study abroad if they can, as exposure to different cultures can help build a more well-rounded worldview. But someone doesn’t have to go to a foreign country to gain a better understanding of the systems that make up our world, he said. Students can find opportunities close to home, whether through joining clubs, spending time in nature, or immersing themselves within the communities they’re based, that allow them to see how everything is connected from a higher level.
“Part of making the most of your experience at a university or wherever you are in life is getting out there and being proactive about how you can use what you’re learning, and apply it in a practical way to better your community,” he said. “People need to look outside of their classroom and go above and beyond, sometimes.”
The next generation of entrepreneurs, according to Prost-Greene, are uniquely positioned to upend how business is traditionally done. He said it’s up to young entrepreneurs to align how they do business with their own values and how they want to serve the public.
“Business as usual is a practice of the past,” he said. Prost-Greene believes that to create transformational change, the interconnections between policy and business to incentivize different business models, different business practices, and different ways of thinking, will spur more environmentally and socially responsible actions.