Bye Bye Summer Slide

The achievement gap in the United States is the persistent disparity between the academic performance of under-resourced communities and their better-resourced peers. This gap is perpetuated by the summer slide, or the regression of students’ academic progress due to lack of practice and learning during summer months. Researchers have found that two-thirds of the achievement gap among high school students can be traced back to the effects of the summer slide from the students’ elementary school career. Because school-aged children spend 75% of their waking hours outside of the classroom, there is plenty of opportunity to begin to close this gap through a more purposeful use of this time.

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Source: Springboard Collaborative

I had the privilege to serve as one of Springboard Collaborative’s program managers this summer, overseeing the implementation of their exceptionally effective literacy program across several schools in New York City. As I explained earlier, there is an amazing opportunity to leverage students’ non-classroom time to help combat the further perpetuation of our nation’s achievement gap. While summer school provides a ripe opportunity for students to engage in necessary academic work beyond the traditional 10-month school year, these programs don’t typically lead to significant growth or sustained impact. Seeking to improve upon this, Springboard offers a comprehensive summer program that not only provides academic opportunity to students but also trains the school staff in transformative classroom practice while readying family members to be at-home reading coaches for their children. By addressing the needs of students, their teachers, and their families in one program, a community of learning and engagement is created unlike any I have seen in my career in education.

 

Teacher development

Before summer program started, I helped provided professional development opportunities to each school’s staff on literacy instruction, assessment practice, and data-driven planning. While teachers are no strangers to professional development, the training provided by Springboard was tailor-made for each school, rooted in research-proven methods, and was rigorous in design. As a former teacher, I wished I had had Springboard in my school, as these pre-summer trainings truly provided the staff with concrete practices they could leverage to be as effective as possible in the summer and for the rest of their teaching careers.

Springboard’s model limits class sizes to 15 students per room, allowing teachers to really focus their energy on the individual needs of their students. While it is often overwhelming and seemingly impossible to incorporate new learnings into an overflowing classroom of 30+ students, the small class sizes allowed the teachers to try out these new strategies in a much easier environment. Additionally, teachers were provided ongoing professional development through weekly meetings, classroom visits, and coaching conversations. I was humbled by the teachers’ willingness to improve their practice, try new techniques, and receive and incorporate feedback.

 

Student investment

Because of the summer slide, students from high and middle-income homes tend to continue their reading growth during summer months, whereas lower-income students often see their scores decrease by the time they return to school in September. To remedy this, it is important that the summer be used productively for lower-income students. Springboard wants to do one better than just provide a productive program that puts students on pace with their peers. Instead, they seek to outpace students from middle and high income families, making a much more substantial dent in the achievement gap in one short summer.

To accomplish this herculean task, teachers develop individualized student action plans, giving clarity of purpose to the work students are performing both in and out of the classroom. To sweeten the deal, Springboard also provides incentives to students should they reach or exceed their summer goal. If students meet their growth goal, they receive a backpack filled with school supplies and books. Should they exceed their reading goal, they also receive a tablet pre-loaded with reading software. Back when I was a teacher, I saw amazing focus and determination when I incentivized my students with 15 minutes of extra recess. I can’t begin to describe the laser-focus I saw from students when they learned they could receive a tablet!

 

Family engagement

What Springboard has really fine-tuned is the way it engages families to become partners in the learning process of their students. Before the program began, teachers made home visits, which allowed teachers to meet their students, their families, and begin to build the bridge between home and school. It is often easy for school staffers to overlook how intimidating it may be to enter a school – even for an adult. The home visits sent a clear signal to the families that the teachers cared deeply about them, as they were willing to literally go the extra mile to create that personal connection.

Each week, families were welcomed into the school and their child’s classroom for a workshop on reading strategies they can use to help their children at home. Families sat with their children as teachers taught them strategies for choosing a “just right” book, asking questions while reading, and what to do when you get stumped by a difficult word. These strategies can be used at all levels during a student’s school career, so building the capacity of families to help in this way will have lasting effects on these students. But what I found most amazing was the sense of community fostered during these workshops. Each week, families would share what worked well and what was difficult about implementing the previous week’s reading tip. For the family, the classroom was transformed from an intimidating place where they sat for parent-teacher conferences to a place to connect with their neighbors and engage in learning with their children.

 

My summer working with Springboard Collaborative was incredible. It allowed me to utilize what I had learned in my management classes to help lead the program to its successful outcome: During our 5-week program, students in New York City had made an average of 3 months of reading growth! Compared to what would have happened with the summer slide – losing 2 months of growth – the net result is a 5-month improvement, the equivalent of half a year of progress. For these students, that result will be transformational, as they will be much better prepared to enter their next grade. Moreover, teachers will be more effective in their literacy instruction and students’ families will be able to continue to serve as at-home reading coaches, extending the impact of the program long past the summer.

Uncurving the duck

A wide swath of people – politicians, news commentators, policy-makers – often decry the growth of renewable energy, saying that it will destabilize the electrical grid.  Many of them are motivated to do so out of party loyalty, or in support of traditional fuel sources, or from simple misunderstanding.  And they often end up muddying the waters around a rational discussion of renewables and the grid of the future.  But, thing is, they make a very good point.  Integrating renewables into the grid will be no easy task.  For the past century or so, the architecture of the grid has been designed to accommodate certain forms of power generation (namely central power plants transmitting over high-voltage power lines at medium to long distances), to anticipate a fairly steady and predictable growth in demand, and, importantly, to be sized so as to meet peak demand.  (See “Acronym Soup”, below, for a quick primer on peak demand.)

The second assumption – that of steady demand growth – no longer holds true.  In many areas of the country, even in those with booming economies and increasing populations, demand growth is mostly flat or even declining.  This is largely due to the often unheralded success of energy efficiency measures, both those mandated by regulation and those undertaken voluntarily by homes and businesses.

But the other two assumptions are increasingly shaky as well.  Two of our major power sources – coal and nuclear – are moving, respectively, toward a rapid death and what looks to be a slow decline, and are largely being replaced by wind farms and solar installations.  This leads to huge problems with intermittency: when the wind doesn’t blow, turbines don’t produce electricity; and when clouds cover the sun or night falls, photovoltaic panels sit idle or useless.

And, at least to date, the incentives for installing renewables haven’t aligned with the need to produce at times of peak demand.  The goal of keeping power production and consumer electrical needs carefully balanced thereby becomes more and more challenging.

If more renewable energy is to make its way onto the grid, these problems will have to be solved.  And given the massive growth in renewables, they’ll have to be solved quickly.

These two problems have found their apotheosis in the famous – well, famous to any energy geek – problem of California’s “duck curve”.  The typical demand curve in California looks like the back of a duck, thusly:

Duck Curve

Frankly, it doesn’t look much like the back of a duck to, well, to just about everybody, but the name has stuck regardless.  Here’s how it works: a good deal of the state’s daytime consumption is met by solar production, both rooftop and utility-scale, so the demand for power from coal, gas, and so on remains lower.  But just as demand ramps up in the early evening, the sun is starting to dip below the horizon, and the production from solar panels is declining precipitously.  What’s going to meet that demand?  For the most part, peaker plants, the old, dirty plants that are incredibly expensive to ramp up so quickly.  So the introduction of more solar energy on the grid isn’t necessarily leading to a proportional reduction in prices or carbon emissions.  The challenge then, is to find a way to smooth out that demand curve, to shave that duck’s back until it starts to resemble something a little less extreme.

I’d heard about the duck curve quite a bit, but it was a pleasant surprise when my boss at Joule Assets, Mike Gordon, a veteran of the demand response sector, dropped a duck curve problem right in my lap.  Pacific Gas and Electric, one of California’s major utilities, had issued a request for NWA (non-wires alternative) solutions for a substation in Huron, a small town in the Central Valley.  The substation and the local grid were soon going to be overloaded with the amount of solar electricity produced by local solar farms and rooftop installations, and might even experience “reverse flow”, where power flows the wrong way and, well, something bad happens.  I don’t know what that is, honestly: at least in my imagination, transformers explode, cables fly, sparks rain down everywhere?  Whatever it is, it must be bad, because PG&E would normally solve the problem by investing upwards of $20 million in the local grid and substation to prevent it.  Rather than investing all that capital, and then rate-basing the investment so as to recover it from consumers, PG&E was seeking out NWAs that would (a) potentially be easier to implement, and (b) cost less.

This is a textbook duck curve problem: solar overproduction during the day with rapid ramping in the evening hours.  Unfortunately, the RFP had just been offered to Joule, and I had about a week or so to respond.  I set about furiously researching everything I could about Huron, and quickly discovered it wouldn’t be an easy target.  It’s an economically depressed agricultural town with the lowest median income in the whole state.  It contains almost no large- or even mid-scale commercial facilities that could provide big chunks of evening demand response.  It has fairly low homeownership, due to a population that doubles during growing and harvesting season due to migrant labor, which also means little easy targeting for DR.  And much of its demand, both evening and daytime, derives from agricultural sources, likely largely irrigation pumping, on-site processing, and the like.  These might be great opportunities there for shifting usage from one segment of the day to another – known as load shifting — but Joule doesn’t have expertise in agricultural DR.

Huron, CA

It felt a bit like trying to squeeze juice out of a dry lemon.  I spent hours and hours poring over Google StreetView images of the town, scanning rooftops and storefronts, hoping against hope that there might be a magic bullet or two I could work with.  I spent time in the weeds of slightly more arcane solutions like ice storage, a fascinating new technology that involves chilling a large block of ice during nighttime hours, when energy is cheap and clean, and then using it to run daytime AC, when energy costs more.  (Keep a close eye on ice storage: my guess is that it’s on the cusp of becoming a feasible and easily-scalable product at both residential and commercial levels.)  We considered wading into the waters of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, where the batteries in electric cars can be used both to soak up the excess power from solar overproduction and feed back into the grid during peak times.  But V2G is still is in infancy, and many of the technological, regulatory, and financial kinks have yet to be solved.  The solution I settled on was a combination of residential DR and small-scale distributed battery storage, both proven technologies that, with a nimble back-end platform, could work together as a combined resource when necessary.

When we think of clean energy, we often think of wind turbines, solar panels, or maybe something new and fancy like tidal power.  But at the end of the day, the only way we’ll be able to integrate them at massive scale onto the grid is to find ways of (a) storing some of that energy for use when it’s needed later, and (b) shifting usage so that demand curves smooth out.  I felt pretty lucky to be tackling that challenge in a small and discrete way.  It felt surprisingly, and delightfully, like developing a case solution for a class at Stern, but with this difference: it mattered, not only to Joule’s bottom line, but to the development of the clean energy grid of the future.

Gideon Banner, MBA ’18

An Education in Uncertainty

Explaining what I did this summer has been fun. Working for a Social Impact Consulting firm (Inspiring Capital) as a consultant for a Healthcare Startup  (Savvy Cooperative) to develop a patient insights platform designed to aid the development of better patient-centered solutions. I normally get a barrage of questions. What’s social impact consulting? What’s a Cooperative? What is your role? And what do you want to do afterward? How does it compare to your previous work as an Engineer? To be honest, it took weeks before I had coherent answers for these questions. I’ve done and learnt a lot this summer. Both on the job, and through the 140 hrs of training that Inspiring Capital provided. But more than anything, I was grateful for the space to be introspective.

As an Aerospace Engineer, the decision-making process was always highly quantifiable. Yes, there were tradeoffs, (and vested interests), but there was always data available when evaluating options. And in most cases, the data spoke clearly. Which solution weighs more? Which is faster? By how much? What is our margin of error? This ordered decision-making process is rarely present in business, and even more rarely present in Social Enterprise startups, where you have to consider profit, mission, personalities and practicalities in a data-poor environment. And often in a new market. Making decisions under such uncertainty was a huge challenge for me. And to be brutally honest, before starting my MBA, and before embarking on a summer internship, I thought that Business and Social Enterprise would be easier than Engineering. In one way it is: Porters Five Forces, the 4 P’s of Marketing, even microeconomics are certainly not as complicated as Fluid Dynamics or Orbital Mechanics. But as an Engineer, you exist in a world mostly governed by physical forces described by equations, not market forces with intangible demand curves. I learnt a lot about myself and the nature of Social Enterprise in grappling with these differences.

Jen Horonjeff founded Savvy Cooperative to solve a problem she identified first-hand. Jen grew up with a form of Rheumatoid Arthritis, and has long been deeply engaged with the patient community. She got her PhD and became a healthcare researcher, and her direct connections to patient communities have led healthcare professionals, market & scientific researchers, product designers, and other professionals to ask for her help in recruiting patients for studies, trials, and connecting with their end-users. Recognizing how cumbersome today’s solutions are, Jen thought of a better alternative. Savvy Cooperative connects the Savvy Crowd (healthcare consumers, patients, and loved ones) with Savvy Partners (healthcare professionals, recognized market & scientific researchers, and other professionals). Savvy is a two-sided platform, allowing Healthcare Professionals to post both Clinical Trial and Consumer Research/Insight opportunities for patients to participate in.

One of my tasks as a consultant was to perform a comprehensive analysis of both the Clinical Trial Recruitment and Patient Insights markets. Sizing, identifying trends, needs, willingness to pay, and then providing a go-to-market strategy – which market to target and how. I only had 2 weeks to make this decision, before moving onto a 3 year growth plan and financial model. Clinical Trial Recruitment is the best quantified, has the clearest path to entry, and is the more established of the two. But Patient Insights is newer, more exciting, more mission-aligned, arguably has the higher upside potential, but is far less well understood or quantified. There’s a high possibility that it is growing faster, but given its early stage, there was no reliable way of quantifying this. I was challenged, within a two week period, to decide between two markets that both had things going for them, without any way of reliably quantifying risk, or ‘expected value’ of the entry outcome. The limited data we had was helpful, but ultimately the decision to enter the Patient Insights market was made qualitatively, and under a huge amount of uncertainty. The final decision then became secondary, and of primary importance became an iterative strategy to deal with this uncertainty moving forward.

This phenomenon is fairly common for startups entering new markets. I learnt a lot about Hypothesis Testing, Customer Discovery, and Lean Methodology, and learnt to embrace that iterative process. Make hypotheses, test them, move on. In Aerospace Engineering you cant flight-test or iterate. There are huge costs to launching something into space, failing and trying again. You spend years beforehand running contingency after contingency, making decisions based on a wealth of data. Working with a Social Enterprise startup gave me an amazing insight into a different decision-making process. One that is harder, but has more room for error and iteration. I will always be very logical and yearn to quantify things, but I now have a much healthier relationship with uncertainty.

-Adam Green, MBA ’18

I stand with refugees

There are 65 million displaced people in the world today, forced from their homes by violence and disaster. That’s more people than live in all of the UK. In the time it will take you to read this blog post, 100 more names will be added to that list.

This crisis is not new, but it is growing. At the same time, our current administration is choosing to turn its back on these individuals, who need our help the most. It feels like a particularly relevant time to be working at the International Rescue Committee.

After I decided to join the International Rescue Committee (IRC) for the summer, I was surprised to learn how few people had ever heard of the organization. The IRC is a humanitarian aid organization that helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future. Founded by Albert Einstein, himself a refugee, the IRC now employees over 12,000 staff in 191 field offices across 40+ countries and 28 US cities. In 2016, more than 26 million people benefited from IRC programs and those of its partner organizations.

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I have worked on a number of projects with IRC’s internal strategy team (here in NYC) this summer. One of my first projects was to help the US programs address the realities of the current political climate. Since the election of Trump we have witnessed significant reductions in the number of refuges admitted to the United States, from 85,000 to 50,000. The latest information suggests that there will likely be further reductions to 20,000 or perhaps even lower in the coming years. The IRC’s US offices are primarily funded by grants that provide a dollar amount per refugee, which translates to a critical drop in funding. Closing offices is a likely reality, but given that agencies are only allowed to serve refugees within 50 miles of their physical offices, maintaining the IRC’s geographical footprint (currently spanning 28 cities) is important. Taking a proactive approach to restructuring the operating model of the IRC’s US programs is the best way to mitigate the negative impact of a decrease in refugee arrivals. We developed a viable plan that reduces cost with the potential to maintain program quality and maximally maintain program reach. But let’s be honest, no one wants to have to restructure their team, and on some level, it feels easier to wait until your hand is forced to left staff go. The verdict on this work is still pending, but I give the senior leadership at the IRC a lot of credit for keeping calm, staying clear about the long-term vision, making sure all staff are heard, and ultimately being willing to make hard choices.

i stand with refugees

Another project I worked on was designing a strategic management process for the global fundraising team (from department level annual planning to standardized project management practices). This had a different set of challenges. In big organizations like the IRC, coordinating all the various team processes can feel like playing a game of Tetris when you already have 10 messy rows built up. Plus, while planning has clear long-term benefits, in an environment where being responsive to the news cycle and the interest of individual donors is an asset, it can feel like a frustrating drain on time. This is exacerbated by the lack of funding available for infrastructure like project management staff or software that would streamline the work. Such is the constant struggle of organizations that are primarily grant funded, and it’s why unrestricted funding is better than gold.

Internal strategy is a tricky balancing act. There is a desire to provide structured thinking to help teams solve big ambiguous challenges without getting too much in the weeds. The “outsider” view is half the benefit, but the devil really is in the details and can render even the prettiest of decks completely worthless. One main lesson I learned is that the most important component of any project is how carefully you think through the change management process.

The strategy team at the IRC is only two years old, but the impact they have is significant. They drive conversations about big decisions. They focus the organization on critical priorities. They design strategies to test theories of change. They improve organizational efficiency. They are a smart bunch and have had to prove their worth over the past two years since the team was formed, but it speaks volumes to the IRC as an organization that they are dedicating resources to focus on improving the long-term strategy. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from them. It helps that the team is a kind, funny and generally awesome group of individuals.

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At times it has been frustrating to work in headquarters and feel disconnected from the field and the people we serve, particularly given that my projects have mostly been US based (despite most of the IRC’s work being in conflict zones abroad). Still, I chose to work at the IRC for four main reasons and found the experience rewarding on all four points.

  1. I deeply believe in our duty to stand up for the right of every human being to live a life of equality, dignity and opportunity.
  2. I was curious to learn about the operations of a large multinational organization.
  3. I respect the IRC’s focus on innovation and their commitment to ensuring all their programs are either evidence-based or evidence-producing.
  4. I hoped to learn a range of skills from the internal strategy team, made up primarily of former consultants.

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I started my internship late and thought that when August came I would be wishing I was done like most of my classmates. September is now upon us and it is hard to imagine leaving at the end of the week. How can you wish to be done when you know there are 65 million people who need your help?

-EvaRose Dwyer MBA ’18

www.rescue.org

 

 

 

“DBI Zambia”

Before the summer began, and before I had been officially offered my position on the Business Development team for Fenix International, I was asked to create a “Terms of Reference” with two lists: One with the duties and deliverables I would be expected to take on in my ten weeks, and the other was a list of all of the things I intended to learn from the internship.

This was the first time Fenix was hiring an MBA summer intern. I was the guinea pig, and I had to take an active role from (even before) day one in shaping the scope and substance of my work.

Reflecting on this document now, having completed my time at Fenix, I can see a stark contrast between the two lists. Many of the deliverables I had written down turned out to be irrelevant, over-ambitious or timed incorrectly, and I also ended up working on many projects that I wasn’t able to initially anticipate months before. Ultimately, this was mostly a good thing, as we stayed flexible in response to delays. Our super lean staff structure also allowed me to take on considerably more responsibility than I originally imagined I would.

The list of learning elements, however, ended up being pretty spot-on. Here is what I put down in April:

Intended Learning Elements:

– A working understanding of all departments in the business and how they interact with one another
– Practical experience solving operations problems using data collection, measurement and analysis
– An understanding and experience working with base-of-pyramid customers and communities in Africa
– An improved familiarity with financial/operational models and useful ways to apply them for optimization purposes
– A greater understanding of the energy industry in Africa via Fenix’s relationships with government agencies, utilities, strategic partners and other stakeholders
– The challenges of doing business in a country with under-developed infrastructure and legal/regulatory institutions
– A birds-eye view of the pay-as-you-go solar industry in Africa and the challenges and opportunities facing the sector
– How to build strong collaborative relationships with co-workers and a wide variety of different clients in diverse settings
– A greater personal understanding of my strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes regarding potential future roles, tasks, and responsibilities in a business

I really do believe that I’ve profoundly deepened my understanding on all of these points. It was amazing to see the direct impact of our products on customers and also the indirect impact of our business on the entire economic ecosystem.

Fenix is a hard-nosed, profit-oriented company offering a service that actually changes lives, not only through energy access and financial inclusion, but by altering the dynamics of the entire telecommunications and digital services industry. In Uganda, this is evident. As more households are being electrified by Fenix, we create more mobile money users and more loyal telecommunications customers. Our product fundamentally changes the customer’s relationship with their mobile phone, and this helps allow the big telco companies to provide new and improved services as their revenue base grows and valuable user data is generated.

The fuzziest of the above learning elements to really declare success on is the final one – learning more about myself as an employee. I was fortunate to have a very balanced internship in more ways than one: I spent about half my time “in the field” and half doing desk work in Lusaka. I spent a good portion of time tackling open-ended strategic questions, and also a good portion of time crossing tangible things off the company to-do list as we opened up our Lusaka office and planned commercial launch. I was able to get deep into the weeds of the business model and also had to look at long-term industry trends. I had to constantly deal with uncertainty in our operations and with suppliers, but we had an amazing team at HQ in Uganda and elsewhere ready to support whenever needed. While I can’t fully express what I learned about myself, I know that I loved working for a company with social impact so deeply ingrained and with passion for the company’s mission so widely and enthusiastically shared.

What I ended up really enjoying was establishing relationships with potential distribution partners and negotiating memoranda of understanding on the company’s behalf. It was also fun drumming up interest in rural communities for our products and finding influential mobilizers to leverage for pushing sales once business is launched. It was rewarding to be able to hand those relationships off to the commercial team and I can’t wait to see the business in Zambia flourish, knowing that I had a hand in setting it up.

– Zack Karson, MBA/MPA ‘19

A corporate affair, kind of…

Non-profits really do have the same challenges as public corporations. That, and more…

I was expecting my consulting work with Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) this summer to fit the iconic non-profit stereotypes: everyone’s hands get dirty dealing with the nitty gritty of whatever needs to get done. While that was true to some extent, I was surprised at how “corporate” things felt at the SEO office, both in terms of location, office space, and dress (business casual) and the nature of the work (process opportunity, technology procurement, system integration).

I was certainly surprised at how “large” SEO felt, but in retrospect, I probably should have known. SEO was founded in 1963 by Michael Osheowitz, an investment banker who envisioned a world where intelligence and ability determined success, not zip code or skin color. Since then, SEO has grown into a respected international organization, with more than 10,000 alumni and 350 employees, making it one of the largest educational non-profits in the region. The organization provides free academic programming, career counseling, and business exposure to underserved and underrepresented high school students, college students, and young professionals. SEO is focused on training and development, building character, and developing candidates with genuine aptitude and motivation and, above all else, evokes in students and young professionals a feeling of comfort and dedication.

An amazing organization with a tremendous mission and rapid expansion…why could they need our help? More expansion! A good problem to have! SEO recently received a large increase in donations that allowed them to double the number of students they support, with the goal of doubling service again in the next five to ten years. However, internal organizational and operational infrastructure have not changed and are not poised to accommodate or sustain such growth. Employees are strained and overworked; the lack of process, inadequate staffing, and inefficient, manual execution methods only make morale worse and further reduce the possibility of hitting deadlines.

So, Inspiring Capital asked my undergraduate intern, Cameron, and me to provide a comprehensive overhaul of the operational model. At first, our workflow plan intended for us to review the current operational and organizational state, perform a competitive analysis detailing productive models in the market, and culminate with writing new processes, policies, and handbooks.

We did not get too far in this work plan.

Upon interviewing 20 employees during the first few weeks of the fellowship, we quickly learned that significant infrastructure changes needed to happen before we could begin to write new policies and procedures for the organization. The biggest piece of this need was purchasing a Human Resource Information System (HRIS). SEO lacked cohesive, robust, and efficient systems and there was a clear ask from employees at all levels and in all departments for a holistic system that could tackle many of these birds with one stone. Installing an HRIS would deliver robust and complete financial reports and employee data, provide performance management and training opportunities, and offer an applicant tracking database. Qualitatively, an HRIS system is expected to improve employee morale, increase productivity and efficiency, and evoke a renewed sense of motivation towards the mission.

Cameron and I set out to identify SEO “wants” versus “needs” in a new system, and then entered a long research period where we learned more about HRIS technology than we thought possible. We started with broad research, identifying 30 systems that could possibly provide solutions, documenting features provided for each system. Based on this initial assessment, we then identified 13 systems that could provide as much of an extensive solution for SEO as possible, which we then contacted via phone calls and in-person meetings with system sales representatives. Finally, we ranked systems based on prioritized needs and compatibility with SEO culture and mission.

While we were in the midst of intense HRIS research, we simultaneously realized that, although not ideal, we did not have enough time to recommend a new system and see it’s integration through during our fellowship. As such, the second half of our time with SEO pivoted from implementation execution to developing a change management and implementation plan. We worked to develop an assessment of the current organizational state and desired future organizational state; from there, we identified what needs to happen in the “gap” period to get from current to desired state and clearly laid out an execution plan for process and system implementation, including a timing and action for all key deliverables.

You might be thinking this sounds very corporate: it is. This assignment tackled process, people, and technology enhancement and implementation, a true operational renovation. We could have done this anywhere, but performing this work in collaboration with the SEO team was more rewarding than I could have expected. I know that our material will be valuable and life-changing for the employees there. And more importantly, for the students that are soon to be supported from a sustainable expansion.

-Candice Arner, MBA ’18

A Detour to Cambridge

Gabriel Ng – MBA/MPA 2019

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, one of the best perks of working at the Bingham Centre has been attending the various events hosted by the Centre. From high profile talks, such as the Grotius Lecture by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, to more intimate affairs, such as listening to a South African law professor speak about the judicialization of politics, it has been a privilege to learn from such interesting speakers. Towards the end of my internship however, I got the chance to attend an outside event because it was directly related to the research we were conducting.

The event in question was the 2017 Annual Conference of the African Commercial Law Foundation. Despite the name, the conference aimed to go well beyond just legal matters, bringing together a mix of consultants, academics, and entrepreneurs to supplement the lawyers. I was there to gain some valuable context, and contacts, for our project on the regulation of FinTech in Kenya and South Africa.

A side-benefit was that the conference was held at the University of Cambridge, where I had studied as an undergraduate. Hosted at Murray Edwards College (New Hall, back in my day – an all-women college, so obviously not the one I attended!), which is right next to the student housing where I lived for two years, the trip provided a gentle meander down memory lane: Cambridge is just as beautiful as I remember, although there does seem to be considerably more trendy restaurants in town.

Back to the conference, it really was a wonderful experience. We heard from speakers such as William Day, Sustainability Advisor to PwC, and Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell and Anglo American. Karim Anjarwallah, the managing partner of a leading law firm in Kenya, explain his experience as a lawyer in East Africa, while Paddy Docherty, CEO of Phoenix Africa Development Group, spoke of his investment in a rice farm in Sierra Leona as an import substitution play. In the breaks, I spoke to a lawyer at AgDevCo, a social impact investor that focuses on agriculture and related infrastructure systems, and my old constitutional law professor.

On the train back to London, I took the time to reflect on what I had learnt that day and more generally, from my internship. In that sense, this conference served as a microcosm of everything I gained from my time at the Bingham Centre. I absorbed enormous amounts of substantive knowledge about fields in which I had very little prior experience, and at the same time, spent time talking with incredibly interesting people with diverse areas of expertise. A day, and a summer, well-spent.

Consulting for Turtles

As I reflect on my internship with the National Park Service from the comfort of my Brooklyn apartment, I think about just how lucky I was to spend the summer out in nature, while also developing some great skills for a career in business. I completed the program just over a week ago, and wanted to take this time to reflect on the second half of my summer down at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

As with other consulting projects, my program culminated in a final presentation. As is more typical in government, it also included a final deliverable in written form. To put this all together, my co-consultant and I spent many weeks writing and re-writing, creating slides, and arguing (politely) over the particulars of our various recommendations. With the bulk of our data analysis and interviews completed by the program’s midpoint, this refining and editing process encompassed much of the summer’s second half.  In the final weeks, we also ran a series of meetings with key project stakeholders. We were proposing significant changes to the park’s commercial services program, and we hoped to gather commitment from management and maximize the chances our recommendations would be enacted. Luckily, park leadership was pleased with our proposals, so we entered our final presentation confident in our work.

The final presentation itself went smoothly. It lasted about 90 minutes, with my co-consultant and I laying out the details of our strategy and implementation plan to the park’s Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, Administrative Officer, and Business Management Specialist. Very roughly translated to the private sector, these roles are similar to the park’s CEO, COO, CFO, and the head of the program we were analyzing. A few days later, we gave an abridged presentation to the same group, along with the chiefs of various park divisions (Law Enforcement, Natural Resources, Facilities, etc.). I feel lucky to have gotten such great presentation experience this summer, which I know will serve me well as I move forward in my career.

Outside of the presentation, I spent a lot of time this summer analyzing data, interviewing stakeholders, working through laws and regulations, and generally synthesizing a vast collection of information from a range of different sources. It was valuable consulting experience and great exposure to the world of government.

While the work itself was rewarding, I was also living in a National Park! Because we had worked so hard in the early part of the summer, my teammate and I had a lot of time to explore the park and surrounding area as our summer came to a close. On our last day, for example, we went out on a kayaking trip with some of the park’s volunteers – a beautiful way to spend my final day in Florida!

Earlier that week, some of the park’s facilities team took us inside some of the historic forts and batteries scattered throughout the seashore. While we had been living in close proximity to these buildings all summer, most of them were locked and closed to the public. These forts date back as far as the Civil War, but many were built and used in the first and second World Wars. We walked through these dark, damp structures, flashlights in hand, trying to envision the soldiers stationed there, while also keeping our eyes out for the venomous snakes known to live inside.

One of the definite highlights of my summer was the morning I spent on “Turtle Patrol”. Five of the world’s seven known sea turtle species have been found at Gulf Islands, and the area is an important nesting ground. Every morning, biologists and natural resources staff patrol the different park zones, looking for signs of hatchings, new nests, and other turtle activity. They do this by patrolling the beach at sunrise on off-road vehicles, driving along the dunes and looking for tracks. One morning, I was invited to join this patrol, and took off with a biologist on our hunt. It was beautiful to be up that early and watch the sunrise turn the ocean purple; it made me appreciate the work that I was doing to help manage this land. Most exciting for me, however, was finding a new turtle nest. This is relatively rare, and I watched as the biologist pointed to a seemingly random point in the sand, dug down with his hands, and confirmed that this was in fact a nest. We then cordoned off and marked the area with signs to prevent visitors from going near it. I even got to mark the signs with my initials, and I look forward to my update if and when they hatch!

Living in and working for a National Park has a unique set of challenges, but the summer was ultimately memorable and fulfilling. I enter my second year at Stern with more refined skills and a new perspective on business and government. I feel honored to have been included with such a unique program, and I look forward to sharing my experience with Sternies in future years!

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Francis Murray, MBA 2018

Disruption in Southeast Asia

The word disruptive has come to be almost sacrosanct. We love what disruptive technology can do. If we’re lazy, we can zap things to our bed. If we’re in a rush, we can tap a button and a black car will drive us to our destination. If we want to travel cheaply, we can stay in a stranger’s home. In the United States, disruption occurs when somebody takes a functioning service, and makes it cheaper, or better, or faster.

However, in the Philippines and other emergent economies, disruptive has very different, very impactful implications. It’s not just about providing a more convenient service, but in many cases, about providing that basic service.

And I suppose part of me was a little jaded with an overcrowded tech world. So many new apps, developers, entrepreneurs, deep-pocketed VCs, and other lemmings, are all trying to solve problems that don’t really exist. They monetize their businesses based on how many more clicks they can get their advertisers, until really, at the end, I feel exhausted.

I feel as though us consumers are almost mined dry; there is only so much advertising value, only so many fractions of pennies, that Snapchat or Instagram or Twitter can dredge from us.

In the Philippines, the status quo is usually zip, zilch, nada, so disruption occurs when somebody makes that functioning service.

This summer, I was able to inhale a deep breath of fresh air, like I had just broken through the surface into a world where disruptive meant providing financial services to millions of unbanked, or vital medical care to far-flung people.

Endeavor, the company I interned at, is a non-profit that helps countries develop by supporting their local businesses. We help CEOs scale their companies. We provide mentorship to small fish from big kahunas. We fly entrepreneurs out to international pitching sessions, where they can meet other entrepreneurs or new investors. We develop an ecosystem, forcing you to drink the Kool-Aid that a rising tide carries all ships.

One of my roles this summer has been to make a comprehensive map of the Philippine startup ecosystem. It’s a vibrant community—one that international VCs and incubators and accelerators are starting to take notice of.

The first rule of thumb is that no business landscape is alike. The possibilities and limitations that startups in the Philippines face are far different from those that startups in Silicon Valley face. There is less funding in Manila. The support systems are less mature. The entrepreneurs are less experienced. The infrastructure isn’t up to par. But what the Philippines has in spades is potential.

The government and formal institutions have, for the past forty years, failed the people of the Philippines. Public infrastructure crumbles. School systems are abysmal. Hospitals are over-crowded and underfunded. Banks have excluded many, and their services are minimal. And it’s under these conditions that disruption takes on a much more significant, much more impactful, definition.

Ayannah, one of our clients, won Best in Show at the Fintech Finals in 2017 in Hong Kong. The company is changing the banking and credit landscape in the Philippines. Last year, the country only had a 3% credit card penetration among adults. Banking, and therefore loans, are still the province of the wealthy, since many poorer Filipinos are trapped in a vicious cycle: They lack credit history, and therefore can’t apply for credit cards or loans, which continues to prevent them from creating a credit history. Ayannah is changing all of that, by tracking down people’s payment history for utilities as an alternate form of credit history. They are banking the unbanked.

Picture 1: Ayannah CEO Mikko Perez accepts the award for Best in Show at HK’s Fintech Finals in 2017

The Philippines also has an inadequate healthcare system. Part of the problem is a lack of dominant pharmacies: Instead, the landscape is filled with smaller ‘mom and pop’ pharmacies that often lack the tools to operate efficiently. mClinica, one of Endeavor’s clients, recently raised a Series A of $6.3M. They’re using technology to connect healthcare professionals, pharmacies, and patients, in order to optimize supply chains and provide insightful data around policy reforms.

Picture 2: Research gleaned from mClinica’s data shows how health in the ASEAN region can be improved

In the future, more unicorns will arise in countries less associated with billion dollar evaluations: Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines. Companies that understand the intricacies and needs of the region and their people will be more competitive, and will be able to provide more valuable services. 500 Startups recently opened an office in the Philippines, and VCs from around the world are making sizable investments in local companies. Government policies are also being reimagined to support startups and entrepreneurs. Two years ago, Endeavor opened their first satellite office in the Philippines. Now, we support dozens of companies; one—Xurpas—even had an IPO as the first Philippine tech company. Disruptors are coming to the ASEAN region, and with them, the unleashing of productivity.

 

-Christopher Blackett, MBA/MPA 2019

Ready, Refresh, Reset: A Summer in Education

We all have heard (and experienced) how different the job market and career paths are today as compared to that of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Almost everything has changed. In high school and college, pivotal years in determining “what you want to do with the rest of your life,” I cannot count how many times friends, colleagues, and family members told me that “figuring out what you want to do is the hardest part of starting your career.” I used to take this at face value. These are smart people, my closest friends, those that know me best. Plus, it makes sense. Making such a big decision, a choice to pursue a certain career path in a particular industry, is undoubtedly life-changing, and something that generations of past just did and never looked back.

But it’s not true.

I was surprised to find myself thinking about this daily during the first part of my summer internship. See, to me, what actually matters is staying connected to the WHY, not losing sight of the emotional drive that leads to decisions.

This has hit me from a lot of angles this year, and especially this summer. Applying to business school is quite the task: stressful, detailed, requires certainty. And then you are accepted and swept up in the excitement of going back to school, being able to sleep in on a weekday, and finding new friends. And then things get tough. Group projects, exams, late nights, working on the weekends. During these less-than-stellar times, it is easy to question what you are doing. Why did I willingly decide to pay more than I would like to admit to go back to school in my late 20s? I fought off this questioning for a year and managed to carry on just fine.

But then my internship with Inspiring Capital brought me back to reconnecting with who I am and why I have made the decisions I have. Inspiring Capital provides training programs and consulting services to help organizations pursue profits and purpose together. This summer, we have a group of 18 MBA fellows and 7 undergraduate interns, all paired with a nonprofit organization for a 10-week consulting project. Before I get into my actual project assignment work, it is important to note the impact that Inspiring Capital alone has had on my journey. Being around others equally as motivated to do good business is inspiring, but we were challenged to go even further to dig deep into our “why.” After identifying what attracts our heads and hearts, the team challenged us to think creatively about how we can appease both of these criteria. Most of the summer fellows are graduate students that have already made the choice to pursue a career pivot. But in the chaos of a summer internship in NYC, what we have all pushed aside is why we chose to do this. Being asked to write down what we love, what skills we have, and how we want to marry those things together was incredibly reinvigorating simply because, as I mapped out the literal words, I found that I am on track.

Cue: relief.

The hardest part is not making the decision to make a change, it is being able to keep the reason you had to make a change at your core. It is: remembering why.

This personal journey has been refreshing, and has come at the perfect time. Not only for me, but for my client as well. This summer, through Inspiring Capital, I am working with Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), an educational nonprofit in NYC that provides free academic programming, career counseling, and internship search support to low-income and underrepresented high school students and young professionals. Their four programs (Scholars, Career, Law, Alternative Investments) have been incredibly powerful and have propelled SEO to be one of the most successful and largest educational support institutions in the area. SEO is entirely funded through donations and recently received such a large increase in funding that they doubled the number of students they support, and set a goal to double service again in the next five to ten years. Incredible!

The less-than-rosy side of this equation is that internal organizational and operational infrastructure has not changed since business has expanded and the organization is not poised to accommodate or sustain such growth. Employees are strained and overworked; the lack of process, inadequate staffing, and inefficient, manual execution methods only make morale worse and further reduce the possibility of hitting deadlines. I interviewed numerous employees in different departments and at different levels, and they all wanted one thing: to get back to why they are there. Employees do not work at SEO for the money or the title; they work there for the mission. The passion. The message. They want to get back to remembering that, to feeling that every day, and not being bogged down by process, policy and execution. Now I am also inspired to help them refresh and reset. They are ready for it, and Inspiring Capital is going to help them get there.

There are logical decisions and there are emotional decisions and sometimes those criteria merge together, and those are the most powerful decisions. They make sense and they mean something. They are strong not because of their rationality, but because they are intrinsically important, evoking a visceral response as well. This is what matters. And this is what I have reconnected with this summer through Inspiring Capital and SEO. I am so thankful for this opportunity to help others get to the same place.

My internship is wrapping up in just a few weeks. Much more to come at that time regarding my actual assignment work including assessment, strategy, deliverables, and challenges. I am so energized about these next few weeks and am thankful that Inspiring Capital has given me the opportunity to work with the humbling SEO to improve their operations so they can continue to improve others’ lives.

-Candice Arner, MBA 2019