Discovering Pain Points vs. Differences in Business-as-Usual

At the beginning of the summer, I was given two challenges: 1) determine how Caribbean Craft can expand its operations throughout Haiti, and 2) find ways to improve the company’s efficiency. NYU Stern prepared me to approach these problems in many business situations, but what I soon learned is that I struggled distinguishing company pain points from what is business-as-usual in Haiti.

IMG_0916From the time I touched down in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, I was exposed to a way of life different from what I have ever experienced. During my summer, I lived an upper class Haitian lifestyle that approximated a normal way of life in the United States, despite the need for a driver, bottled water, and industrial generators and batteries to combat intermittent electricity service. As a company, Caribbean Craft faced the challenges of an ineffective customs agency, illness caused worker absenteeism (due to chikungunya spreading through the country), and dealing with cultural differences between themselves and their U.S.-based buyers. In order to succeed in my internship, I needed to learn what was changeable versus the way of life in Haiti.

IMG_0921To learn, I asked questions. At one point, my boss/house host warned guests that I would undoubtedly ask them a lot of questions. I spoke with anyone that would talk with me, which was a challenge due to the language barrier, and if no one was available to talk, I observed. By the end of the summer, I had a better picture of what the future of Caribbean Craft could look like. I also learned a very important lesson—consulting in a developing country is more about understanding the people, the culture, and the country than working with the company. To successfully develop business in an emerging market, I need to distinguish between what needs to be changed and what is just a different culture.

IMG_3327I enjoyed my time in Haiti and dearly miss my house family, my coworkers, and everyone else that helped me understand the Haitian way of life. I am grateful to the NYU Stern SIIF Fellowship donors for enabling me to have this experience, and I look forward to building business in developing countries in the future.

— Jonathan Cook

Fueling Educational Equity & Excellence

This summer has flown by!  I’ve wrapped up my summer project as a SIIF and Education Pioneers Fellow within the Strategy, Innovation and Organizational Development (SIOD) team at Teach for America (TFA).  As an Education Pioneers Fellow, throughout the summer (outside of my day-to-day role at TFA), I participated in multiple full-day workshops focused on various topics and challenges facing the education sector.  These workshops covered: (1) Foundations (2) The Opportunity Gap (3) School Systems (4) Technology in Education and (5) Human Capital.  These settings provided valuable venues to build my knowledge on these issues as well as my network with current education sector leaders and my fellow Education Pioneers Cohort members.

These types of Education Pioneers programming opened my eyes even further to how my summer project at TFA will help to strengthen the education sector.  Specifically, throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to contribute to multiple SIOD workstreams focused on evolving TFA’s operating model to better fuel local movements for educational equity and excellence.  Through my primary project, I led the development of TFA-wide pulse-check tools and communications and engagement recommendations.  Through my work, this summer was the first time that TFA had developed or implemented a way to gauge the org-wide perception of major organizational change initiatives.  My analysis and recommendations will continue to be used to gauge and strengthen a united, “One TFA” culture throughout the operating model shifts. Moreover, this work will help to ensure that TFA, as the largest education non-profit in the country, will be better set up to strengthen educational equity and excellence in our nation.

I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to be a SIIF Fellow and pursue the summer internship that I had set my eyes upon when applying to Stern.  The knowledge and experiences I gained this summer contributing to the education sector far exceeded my expectations, and I am excited for all that is to come!

— Shannon Schmidt

The Summer Has Flown By!

Over the last ten weeks, I have had the incredible opportunity to work with The Bootstrap Project – a non-profit social enterprise partnering with artisans in the developing world to sell their handcrafted products here in the U.S.

Although The Bootstrap Project is a non-profit, its core activity is its retail operations. We work with artisans in six countries to sell home décor and fashion accessories on our website and through the e-commerce retailer Zady, our sister organization. As a result, my internship was part social entrepreneurship – how can we successfully scale a social enterprise – and part fashion – how can we build a retail brand that is exciting, stylish, and relevant to our target consumer. During my summer with Bootstrap, I’ve worked on every aspect of growing a small business: conducting market research, developing branding materials, fine-tuning business and strategic plans, designing new products, and building relationships with new artisan partners and suppliers. From quality control to shipping costs, I’ve learned firsthand the challenges inherent in scaling an early stage social venture and doing business in developing economies.

The experience has exceeded all expectations, and I plan to continue working with The Bootstrap Project part-time during the school year. We have lots of exciting developments in store for the fall – new product lines, a website redesign, and new artisan partners. I remain incredibly grateful to SIIF for allowing me to have this opportunity and such a rewarding and enriching summer!

— Johanna Peet

Money is no longer evil…or getting less so

The old trope that money is the root of all evil is losing its relevance as I learned this summer at Imprint Capital, an impact investing advisory firm with nearly $400 million under advisement. I spent the summer working with and diligencing investments into growing companies and private equity firms that are incredibly dedicated to creating not only monetary returns for their investors but also and more importantly social or environmental returns. These firms have wide-reaching aims from development and support of the garment industry in Southeast Asia to financial inclusion technology venture capital throughout the Frontier Market.

While this sector of finance is relatively nascent, it is growing at an incredible pace now that investors have begun to understand that social returns do not necessarily hamper fiscal return. In fact, they can sometimes reinforce one another. The goal of impact investing is to create sustainable empowerment and conservation of areas of the world previously only supported by philanthropy and government programs whose funding often dries out before the system they are supporting can support itself. While philanthropy and government programs are vital throughout the world, impact investing can help alleviate the overwhelming financial burden placed upon these support systems while also bringing in fresh, sustainable capital. It is my hope that as the impact investing arena matures, we will be able to develop impoverished and needy parts of the world through self-sustaining business and infrastructure development.

I came to Stern to explore impacting investing further after coming from a more straight-forward finance role and was fortunate to spend my summer doing exactly what I set out to do last year, which I am astonished at how fast flew by. Without the generosity of the SIIF program and its donors, I, along with the other SIIF recipients, would never have been able to pursue our passions. For that, I cannot thank them enough.

— Shay Murphy


Leveraging the Artisan Sector to Eradicate Poverty

This summer, I am working with The Bootstrap Project – a non-profit social enterprise empowering individuals to overcome poverty and revitalize heritage craft traditions. Founded in 2011, The Bootstrap Project currently operates in 5 countries – Zambia, South Africa, Nepal, Tajikistan, and Turkey, with 20 artisans and 5 partner organizations. Our model is simple but powerful: We partner with artisans across the developing world to produce beautiful, handcrafted products that are then sold in U.S. retail markets. With an emphasis on modern design, The Bootstrap Project gives consumers an ethical alternative that is accessible, affordable, and stylish – all through revival and growth of the artisan sector.

The need for an organization like The Bootstrap Project is significant. Over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, and across the developing world, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Hundreds of millions live without adequate shelter, safe water, and access to basic health services. Moreover, within the artisan sector, many individuals are unable to find sustainable employment due to limited channels of distribution; they simply do not have access to the retail markets in developed economies. They also face a lack of consistent demand for handcrafted products in domestic markets as products become commoditized and manufacturing of cheap goods moves overseas, often to China. As a result, cultural traditions from suzani embroidery in Tajikistan to handloom weaving in India, now find themselves on the brink of extinction.

At the same time, demand for unique, handmade goods is on the rise in the United States and Europe. Just look to the tremendous success of Etsy and the Maker Movement here in the States. The Bootstrap Project aims to fill this gap. Through increased access to global markets and revitalization of the artisan actor, we are providing meaningful job opportunities to individuals, empowering themselves and their families to end their own poverty. We are also providing consumers in the U.S. with a beautiful, handcrafted product and the story behind it. In each country, The Bootstrap Project works closely with a local non-profit to provide vital resources, business training programs, and fair income to artisans. We also connect our artisans with emerging artists and designers in the U.S. who provide design assistance and innovatively combine traditional techniques and modern design and aesthetics. The result is a collection of unique, handcrafted products that are both high design and high impact.

I’m thrilled to be working with such an amazing organization this summer and want to say a big thank you to the Stern SIIF community for making this experience possible!

— Johanna Peet

Learning Which Tools Are Used to Engage Community Stakeholders

For my SIIF internship, my major project was to conduct a survey of industry professionals within the mining, oil and gas, and agribusiness industries to understand market needs in regards to measuring social performance. In each of these industries, improving social performance can be a key driver of success because it can enable companies to properly manage risk while simultaneously improving the lives of the stakeholders that they touch.

Although these industries have a far way to go in mitigating their negative impact on society, the survey results do show a growing understanding that conducting “business as usual” is no longer socially or financially acceptable. For my final post, I would like to share the results of the survey.

The purpose of the survey was to understand what tools companies utilize to engage community stakeholders. The survey provides a snapshot of existing stakeholder engagements tools professionals use, how they rate their effectiveness, and what improvements practitioners would like to see.

Key Insights

1) Stakeholder issues frequently interfere with operations at site level

  • 60% of respondents have faced work stoppages (ie. protests) over the past year due to stakeholder engagement issues. 15% of the respondents reported that they faced more than 5 work stoppages this year alone.

2) Efficient communication with stakeholders is easy – or hard

  • 20% of professionals responded that communication with stakeholders is “easy”, while 35% stated that it was “difficult” or “very difficult”. This shows that methods exist that enable efficient stakeholder communication, but suggests those methods are not standardized or applicable in every environment.

3) Wide Breadth of Technology

  • Respondents reported that companies currently use a wide spectrum of technologies and methods to engage with communities. At least half of respondents reach out to communities via social media, email, radio, and television. 23% utilize mobile text or voice data.

4) Improvements are necessary in a number of fields

  • Responding professionals would particularly see improvements in tools for the following tasks:
    • Community Social Investment and Shared Value Initiatives- 80%
    • Map Local Vendors/ Distribute Procurement Opportunities- 75%
    • Survey of Local Skills and Advertise job Opportunities- 75%
    • Community Grievance Collection- 65%

5) Mobile tools are be useful, but doubts exist

  • Skepticism exists within the community in regards to utilizing mobile text or voice data, with only 56% of respondents stating that they would like to use that technology in the future. However, respondents see mobile tools as a useful method for “Collection and Market Research”, “Polling” and, “Employment and Recruiting”.

Although much work is needed, the high level results of the survey do show that companies within these industries are beginning to understand that their social performance and interaction with community stakeholders needs to improve drastically. It is the hope that with this realization, companies and communities will be able to better co-exist and move toward a shared value model.

— Brendan Murphy

The Millennials Are Coming

This summer, I devoted a large chunk of time to market research. Specifically, I analyzed the psychographic behavior of millennials within the context of consumerism. How and why millennials shop for clothes is important. It is estimated that millennial spending power will reach $3.39 trillion by 2018 (surpassing that of the Baby Boomer generation) and that millennials will become the principal generational segment in the luxury consumer market between 2018-2020. Importantly however, millennial consumers are snubbing the status symbols of their parent’s generation. In the minds of millennials, the term “luxury” is perceived as a shallow tool used by marketers to falsely justify high prices as opposed to a descriptive term used to indicate quality and value. The Internet and social media have engaged millennial consumers in global incidences of economic downturn, social turmoil, extreme poverty and polarizing wars unlike any other group of young people. Consequently, millennials often reject products that aim to signal wealth as conventionally defined by older generations. Instead, they desire products that deliver deep, resonant experiences fueled by transparency and social responsibility. Consequently, we are beginning to experience major shifts in the product assortments of even the most prestigious global luxury fashion brands. For example, must-have bags splattered with designer logos are quickly become a thing of the past.

It is thrilling to be building a fashion brand at a time when consumer preferences are shifting so dramatically towards what I am passionate about. Because of SIIF, I’ve been able to dedicate an entire summer towards the progress of my company. I look forward to building upon this strong foundation in the fall.

— Olivia Fay

When the What Answers the Why

I decided to go to business school because I had a very specific plan for my future. But like others may have experienced, the path to fulfillment is often fraught with doubt. This summer affirmed my radical change in career trajectory to impact investing. My experience as a SIIF Fellow at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the development finance arm of the U.S. Government, gave me the chance to participate in the critical mechanisms that drives capital to innovative companies solving the world’s most challenging problems. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at OPIC; its organized internship process, the caliber of talented people I was working with and the vast opportunities to learn and develop my skill set in the impact investing space.

Because OPIC relies so much on the work of its interns, internships are very streamlined and full of unique learning opportunities. The organization arranged lunches for interns to speak with the heads of different groups or to talk through the top initiatives within the organizations. Interns were also invited to a number of key events associated with the African Leaders Summit – a three day multilateral conference with African heads of states and government to help strengthen ties and promote progress in the one of the world’s fastest growing regions. We played a critical role in the summer softball league and almost – almost – beat the staff in the annual staff versus intern game. We even had a roundtable discussion with Elizabeth Littlefield, the President, and heard her perspective on development finance, politics and OPIC’s future.

Working on a deal team for the summer, you never really know what projects might be available or how far they will progress while you’re there. I was really fortunate to see a number of different types of transactions that were at various stages over my ten weeks with OPIC. From introductory meetings to screenings to due diligence to approval, I was able to see the entire process in segments through my different projects. I mentioned a microfinance deal and a solar lantern company in my first post – I had the incredible opportunity to present both of these to large approval committees. Beyond these deals, the second half also brought on board some really interesting new deals, including a cookstove company, a carbon credit fund and a financial inclusion intermediary in East Africa. The variety of transactions and the research each required to understand the sector and geographic context kept me very busy and constantly challenged.

It seemed too soon that I had to say goodbye to clients I had fostered relationships with, team members I’d worked with all summer, projects that I was so invested in. But I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity this summer at OPIC. I am more passionate than ever about my prospects in impact investing and can’t wait to put my future in this space in motion.

— Humaira Faiz

I want YOU for US National Park Service

Ok, so the famous poster of Uncle Sam actually says “US Army”, but the sentiment holds true for the National Park Service (NPS) as well. The internship I have with the NPS this summer, called the NPS Business Plan Internship (or BPI), has something called ‘special hiring authority’ which allows the NPS to hire people who have done the BPI.

In a world of MBA internships targeted at careers, I know that the above statement is a little confusing. If you can’t get a job with an organization, why intern with them? The reality is, most government position openings are put out through what is called a ‘competitive hiring process’. More details can be found here ( ) but the essential effect of the process is that doing an internship doesn’t guarantee a leg up when recruiting for a full time job in the federal government. You have to apply with the rest of the world and cross your fingers.

The NPS BPI is different though – Congress actually passed legislation that allows the Department of the Interior (DOI) to hire interns who successfully complete a rigorous internship, like the BPI, at any point up to two years after their date of graduation. (Of course, all this does is put the BPI on par with other internships – an offer isn’t guaranteed! It is also unique in that the offer isn’t presented at the end of the internship; it just allows DOI to hire a former BPIer at some point in the future.) This ‘special hiring authority’ is actually very rare and few parts of the federal government possess it. DOI was granted the authority as a way to strategically bring in needed skill sets. In the case of NPS, these needs fall in the business and administration function, encompassing analytical skills in areas like business, administration, and policy. At this point in time, it is one of the simpler ways to get into government work, provided you have these skills and have done the NPS BPI internship. For me, the hiring authority is especially great due to the time delay built into it. Since I’m graduating in May 2016, I’ll have until May 2018 to try to use the special hiring authority. If I end up wanting to go straight back into the NPS, that option is there. But if I want to try something else out for a year or two before trying to rejoin the NPS, that option is there as well. Either way, the DOI special hiring authority is a great perk to the internship and the internship itself has been an awesome opportunity to try out working within the federal government.

– Luke Douglas

Corrections: An earlier version of this post mixed up some language concerning legislation, regulation, policies, and processes. There was also some confusion about whether the DOI or NPS BPI possesses the special hiring authority. These have been corrected in the text above. Lastly, the NPS requested additional language clarifying the nature of DOI’s hiring authority. This has been added to the text above.

My Time at BSR

It’s my last week at BSR. Since June, I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects ranging from human rights to sustainable procurement to a sustainability hackathon. I’ve learned a lot about where corporate social responsibility (CSR) stands in different industries and at different companies. I’ve even been a part of an organizational change project (the topic of my final presentation). But the most valuable thing I learned was that this is exactly what I want to be doing after graduation – helping companies do what they do in a more responsible way.

I feel lucky to have found something I’m passionate about and believe in, and I think the other SIIF Fellows share that sentiment.

I’ll be continuing this internship in the fall, working on some of the same projects I’ve been working on this summer, including a sustainability hackathon that will take place in New York in November. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn about what sustainability looks like operationally and thinking creatively about how companies can incorporate sustainability practices into their core operations.

— Alicia Miller