On May 16, 2022, with a mind full of questions, a heart full of hope, and a suitcase full of island clothing, I boarded a plane with four of my MBA classmates. Destination: Belize City. This wasn’t the start of a “hot girl summer” vacation trip (though we made sure to fit in some much-needed beach time!). Our purpose in Belize was to conduct field research with The Nature Conservancy and the Belize Women Seaweed Farmers Association – two organizations at the forefront of the growing sustainable seaweed mariculture industry in Central America – as part of our Team Consulting Project (TCP).
Instead of a thesis or practicum, Heller’s Social Impact MBA program culminates in a summer-long capstone project where MBA students form groups and provide consulting services for a client organization looking for support addressing a real-world management issue. This process started months before our plane departed Boston Logan Airport. It actually began mid-way through spring semester when the MBA Administration, headed by Carole Carlson and Larry Bailis, reached out with a survey asking for us to indicate industries and organizations of interest. What started off as a 50+ long list has been whittled down to 5 TCP groups serving 5 dynamic organizations. The selection process officially began with the TCP Fair, a two-hour evening event where organizations pitched themselves and their specific management challenge. From there, our cohort talked amongst ourselves, set up small group meetings with clients of interest, and obsessively monitored our ever-shifting “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet (created by the lovely Laura Burroughs!).
My experience in the Heller Start-Up Challenge and in the SPARK Business Incubator program inspired an interest in working with early-stage entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color. As a result, I originally gravitated toward the Boston Impact Initiative. At the same time, my prior experience working with Syrian refugees and job-seeking immigrants piqued my interest in the Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Then again, as an RPCV and current student in the dual Social Impact MBA & MA in Sustainable International Development programs, I was eager to use this capstone project to further my experience working with local organizations in emerging markets. I was pulled in so many directions!
Around that time, I learned about a group of (at the time) second year students who had met with their TCP client, a women-owned coffee-centered social enterprise called Chica Bean, on the ground in Guatemala the prior summer with the support of funding from the Heller Enrichment Funds and the Office of Graduate Student Affairs. I was excited to learn that this was a possibility, but was unsure of what international organizations might be a feasible option.
As the weeks went by, potential teams formed, collapsed, or reshuffled. At times, I felt super excited and hopeful about the upcoming TCP experience. Other times, I felt lost and overwhelmed by all of the options. Sometimes I was anxious. Would I make the right decision? Would I choose poorly and have an awful experience? I knew I had to be strategic, but did that mean prioritizing a project in an industry I had experience in or branching out into something new? I wasn’t sure if it was possible to have it all- the best team and the most epic project – so I zeroed in on identifying solid teammates.
As I mentioned earlier, that spring I was also participating in weekly workshops with SPARK, an on-campus business accelerator for students who successfully pitched prize-winning start-up concepts at the SPARKTank competition. I was really impressed with the creativity and thoughtfulness of the five MBA cohort members who had also earned a spot in this incubator program. It was easy to imagine conducting a successful TCP project with (some combination of!) these classmates. However, based on our sprawling “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet, each of these classmates was interested in a different organization. Would there be a way for us to come together and agree on a project that suited everyone?
Tune in to my next blog post to see how our team finally formed and how we chose an organization to work with!