Social Sector Solutions from the Undergraduate Perspective [1/3]

Social Sector Solutions, S3, is an experiential learning class that allows diverse teams of students to help nonprofit clients craft tangible solutions. Each team usually has three MBA students, one student from another graduate program, and one undergraduate student.

Spandi Singh, Richard Lui, and I are three of the eight undergraduate students who joined this semester. You are about to read what will become a three-part series documenting the journey of undergraduates collaborating with MBA and graduate students to solve real-world problems for nonprofit clients. In this mini-series, I will cover our individual motivations for joining the program, our struggles throughout the project, and tips for future applicants who may want to take this unique course.

What motivated you to join S3?

Spandi: I always had an interest in policy and was initially drawn to the Center for Social Sector Responsibility at Haas. Unlike most undergraduates on the team, I’m double majoring in Development Studies and Media Studies with a particular interest in social impact and policy, so I thought this nonprofit consulting class would be different from my standard courses. I also wanted to be challenged, and I definitely felt the challenge when I joined my team. MBAs have more experience, and they are trained with the relevant skills that I didn’t have, given my major. I knew that they would be really smart, and I wanted to be in an environment where I could learn and grow.

Richard: I’m going to be an investment banker after graduation so I wanted to use this last semester to do a lot of things I won’t be able to do in the foreseeable future. I did consulting work on campus before, but the S3 experience is structured differently. It’s an actual class- half lecture and half teamwork session. More importantly, you get to work with MBA students who are more experienced. As a senior of undergrad, I am often expected to carry the group; however, with this team, I will be the youngest member of the group, so I am looking forward to playing a different role in the team. Moreover, clients are paying money for these projects which demonstrate their commitment.

Sammy: I was first drawn to S3 because of it’s experiential learning style of teaching. I’m definitely a hands-on person so I am naturally more engaged in this type of class. Moreover, I will be going into consulting for full-time upon graduation so this would be a perfect opportunity to “get my feet wet”. But most importantly, I think being in a class with MBAs was the real draw for me. You always walk into Haas seeing the MBAs, so this was the chance to actually meet and work with them. I thought that was pretty cool.

What is your project and role?

Spandi: REDF is a social enterprise that does venture philanthropy and provides grants to other social enterprises in the country to access employment. They want to create a certification program for social enterprises so that they can win preferred contract from the government in terms of procurement. Certification programs are already established in the UK and Australia, and REDF wants to explore what the program would look like in USA.

Last semester, I worked on Twitter’s Public Policy team, and I wanted to further explore how policy was integrated with other businesses. For this project, given my background in policy, I played the role of navigating through the government and legislation possibilities in establishing the certification program. With that said, although my expertise is in policy, it does not mean that it is exclusively all I do. If I wanted to learn financial modeling, my team would be flexible and say, “you can work with me on this and we can learn it together”. So while we have specific roles, we are able to explore new areas and learn more about those.

Richard: Sanville Institute is a master’s-level psychotherapist program that provide interactive learning to students that want to develop their skills to practice as clinicians, supervisors, teachers, researchers etc.

As I have an investment banking background, I’m more or less the finance guy so I’m in charge of the finance workstream. Nonetheless, I was happy to contribute to where I was needed. Most of the other team members on my group partners to work with in their workstream.

Sammy: The Berkeley Food Institute seeks to empower new leaders in the food system to cultivate diverse, just, resilient, and healthy society. They want to help expand access to affordable food and promote sustainable and equitable food production.

My role on the team is to become the expert in our client. My workstream is more frontloaded in the sense that I need to understand BFI’s capabilities and resources in order to evaluate the feasibility of our recommendation in relation to BFI’s constraints. I’ll be doing this by conducting mainly interviews with the core members of BFI, in addition to its affiliate staff and faculty and their executive committee.

What has been something you’ve learned thus far?

Spandi: Working through the workplan was very interesting for me because there were only two people that had prior consulting experience, so it’s was a great learning opportunity for the rest of us to see the process.

Sammy: My team consists of people who come from design and consulting, so we have really been working on integrating design into the consulting frameworks. My team is big on post-its and ideation workshops so it’s really cool to see the bridge between creativity and strategy.

What do you hope to achieve for your project by the end of the semester?

Spandi: In terms of the project, it’s a very complex issue so I would be very happy if we can get a good grasp of the problem and to make appropriate recommendations. From doing research in the past few days, I realized that there is so much information out there, so to narrow down the research would already be an achievement. Personally, I want to pick up more hard skills. I think I like consulting enough so it’s nice to build upon skills outside the policy realm; for example writing the business plan and learning financial modeling.  

Richard: I want to get a good set of financial projections and to give the client a deliverable they will be happy with and truly execute the recommendations. Financial sustainability is something they struggle with so I want to help them build a sustainable set of financials which is challenging for non-profits that  just don’t have huge revenue streams.

What has been a highlight so far?

Richard: Our team got to fly to Los Angeles to attend the Sanville Convocation. When we got there, we were able to interact with the students pursuing PhD in psychotherapy. We were able to conduct interviews, ask for feedback about their problem, and chat with alumni and faculty. This facetime with our client made us feel so much more invested in the project when we came back.

Sammy: After the kick-off with our client, my team lead initiated a social afterwards. It was very nice right off the bat to get the chance to meet my teammates and Mckinsey coach offline because I think that definitely got me more comfortable with my team. I think that it’s helpful to have done this because I came in kind of worried about where I would fit on the team and this social really made me let my guard down and just naturally find my place in a team of MBAs and graduate students.

What has been a struggle?

Richard: Time is a struggle right now. You have to come in knowing that you will need to dedicate a lot of time in this project. I sometimes feel like I struggle with the financials since I’m alone on that workstream, but asking for help from my team lead has definitely been helpful in this regard.

Sammy: I think this is a personal struggle but I dealt with some confidence issues in terms of questioning my competency in leading my own work stream; however, those feelings quickly subsided with my team’s continuous encouragement and confidence in me. MBA students really are just students, so if you’re applying, don’t be intimidated by working with people that come in with a world of experience. They’re also here to learn!

What’s your team dynamic thus far?

Spandi: It’s a very open and fun work environment thus far. We have snacks every week. Our team lead has done a great job in bringing people together and ensuring that everything is submitted on time. He maintains good dynamic in the team: open, funny, and willing to hear new ideas. He’s sets a good tone with the team, maintaining balance between the personal and the professional.

Richard: It’s very balanced. There is equal working opportunity for every single member of the team, so just because you’re an undergraduate student, it doesn’t mean that you do all the grunt work. There are no powerplex at all. Our team lead doesn’t treat us any differently from the MBA and graduate students. He’s good at making everyone comfortable in their role after asking us what we wanted to achieve.

Sammy: I love my team. Like I said before, while I was excited to meet a room of such knowledgeable students, I was also intimidated by their qualifications. The team lead is really carefully selected by Nora and Paul to make sure that everyone is having fun, feeling like their work is meaningful, and has help when needed. Your teammates truly see you as an equal and they will emphasize that your opinion is just as valuable as theirs. I’ve never been in a more supportive team.

Make sure to subscribe at the top right to stay updated on life at Haas and this three-part series!

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