Alumni collaborate to address issues of homelessness

Posted 6.1.2016

In 2011, Dale Hartz, MPOD '10 and DM '14, and Phil Cola, PhD '15, joined the Doctor of Management/PhD 2014 cohort as strangers. Over the course of the program, the two became friends and have recently collaborated on a new research project. The ethnographic study will be used to evaluate the impact of an entrepreneurial program designed to enable high potential individuals who are living in homeless shelters to become social entrepreneurs. Through a training/education and business loan program, the individuals receive help to start for-profit businesses that they can build and ultimately own.

During the summer of 2015, Hartz began an initiative called “Lunch with a Stranger.” Along with another friend, Hartz met with individuals at the local homeless shelter in Canton, Ohio and took them to lunch periodically. During these interactions, Hartz was struck by how some of the people were high functioning individuals who did not fit the common societal stereotype of homeless. He began to inquire whether entrepreneurial training might suit some of these individuals better, even proposing a micro-lending program to help “high potential homeless” start B Corp businesses rather than merely providing job re-training. He felt that the people he encountered were worth more to society and could contribute more as social entrepreneurs beyond being employees earning $10/$11 an hour.

Hartz engaged a small team of supporters and created a 501c3 nonprofit organization called Better Future Facilitators (BFF). As a Practitioner Scholar, Hartz not only wanted to execute the mission of the organization but felt that it was important to collect data to support his hypothesis that the proposed entrepreneurial program would have a positive impact on individuals who participated. He knew that in order to tackle this job right and ensure that the research was going to contribute to the body of academic and practitioner knowledge of homelessness, he should enlist a colleague with a practitioner scholar background. His obvious choice was his friend and program colleague Phil Cola, with whom he had collaborated during the Doctor of Management (DM) program. 

While there is significant research on the homeless population, the primary focus is on “deficit based” homelessness - the physical and mental health problems that are most prevalent in this group. The current BFF ethnographic study is different in that the initial research question is, “How and to what extent does behavioral change occur with homeless women and men when they are presented a potentially life changing opportunity?” While diminished cognitive capacities and significant drug and/or alcohol addictions are certainly precursors to events precipitating homelessness for many, there are a subgroup of individuals that display personal strengths and capacities that do not fit the stereotypical homeless description. 

Hartz and Cola presented a conceptual poster on the underlying problem of practice driving their research last month at Research ShowCase, an annual scholarship event at Case Western Reserve University. Later this year they will present preliminary results from the study as a paper at a national management conference sponsored by the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA). Additional information about their research collaboration, as well as about the BFF program itself can be found on the BFF website at, on Facebook and on Twitter @BFFBusiness or by contacting Hartz at


Dale Hartz completed his DM degree in 2014. He is also an alumni of the MPOD (Master of Positive Organization Development and Change) program at Case Western Reserve University. In addition to his work with BFF, he is a management research consultant with Mathew Selker & Associates, an Adjunct Professor at Walsh University, and a Research Advisor in the DM program.

Phil Cola graduated with his PhD in Management in 2015, during which time he developed a survey instrument to measure relational capacity as it relates to individuals thriving in their work environment.  He is currently working on numerous publications in the management field that will introduce results from this scale as empirical data on various aspects of relationship building in the management context. Cola is Vice President of Research and Technology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine and Management at Case Western Reserve University.

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