Tag: Working to Change the World

Andy’s Team Consulting Experience Part II

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

The first time I heard about The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Belize and their partnership with the Belize Women’s Seaweed Farmers Association (BWFSA) was during the presentations at the TCP Fair. I lingered a bit in their breakout room during the Q&A portion of the event. As the President of BWFSA addressed our questions, I was immediately drawn in by the focus on female entrepreneurship and alternative livelihoods within the regional context of Central America. The immediate surge of excitement I felt was followed by abrupt hesitation. As much as I recognized the value of having a TCP option that complimented my professional focus in international development, I did not have an agriculture or environmental science background. I wondered, was it wise to take on a project outside my area of expertise? How would this project be relevant to my future career path? Would I have the right skills to contribute? At the end of the event, I decided to pursue my interest in other organizations, but The Nature Conservancy was always in the back of my mind. 

That was back in mid-March. Fast forward a month or so later and, at this point, it’s deep into Spring semester. I’m fully aware that the weeks left to choose a TCP team and commit to a TCP project are rapidly dwindling. 

There wasn’t really one moment that made my decision clear – it was the accumulation of several moments, both big and small, that reinforced one another. As I sat in class one morning, I reflected on these moments and realized I already had all the information I needed. I decided I couldn’t go wrong leaning into the incredible relationships I’d built here at Heller, and I knew I would regret not taking advantage of the space to explore and stretch myself professionally. Right there, at the start of our 10 minute break, I opened the “TCP Orgs” spreadsheet and wrote “Andy (1)” in the fourth space next to “The Nature Conservancy.” With now the minimum number of students signed-up, TNC Belize project was officially a TCP team! 

Like the Chica Bean TCP Teams before us, our group was able to secure funding to conduct field research and begin building relationships with our stakeholders in person. On May 16th, our team traveled first to Caye Caulker, one of Belize’s offshore islands, where we spoke with local entrepreneurs and professionals in the ecotourism industry. These conversations gave us an important perspective on the current business environment in Belize as well as the challenges facing marine conservation efforts. Next, we headed to San Ignacio, a town near the border with Guatemala. There we interviewed entrepreneurs who helped us understand the extent of Belize’s reliance on foreign imports and the implications this has on the production and sale of seaweed products in markets outside the country. In Belize City, we met with Saleem Chan, a Mariculture Specialist with The Nature Conservancy who is also serving as our primary facilitator. We met Saleem at the headquarters of the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), whose staff are dedicated to the management of marine reserves. Saleem sat down with us and described the history of seaweed agriculture in Belize as well as the current landscape of stakeholders involved in the industry. After leaving Belize City, we headed to Placencia, where the BWFSA members live. We spent a week meeting with several of them and getting a better sense of the culture in Placencia. Our fieldwork culminated with a trip to Hatchet Caye, where we saw the seaweed farms firsthand and learned the basics of farm maintenance. 

Now, it’s summer semester and we are officially moving full-speed ahead with our project! I am so grateful to be working alongside my brilliant teammates Gabi Rufo, MBA/SID’22, Beck Hayes, MBA/SID’22, Douglass Guernsey, MBA’22, and Shiko Rugene, MBA/MPP’23. All of us bring a unique set of skills and a nuanced perspective to the project. Thanks to the generosity of the Heller Enrichment Funds and the Office of Graduate Student Affairs, we have already laid significant groundwork for this project. We’re confident that we will come out on the other side with useful and relevant recommendations for the BWFSA and an unparalleled experience for our professional growth.

My Team Consulting Project Experience

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID'23

Andy Mendez, MBA/SID’23

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!

Life After Heller: Sami’s Job Hunting!

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Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

Heller’s 2021 graduation ceremony was such a blast to participate in, and I can’t believe it was just a few weeks ago! Now that final projects and papers are all turned in, it’s time for me to begin the job hunt. Searching for a new job can be very exciting, but it can also be totally terrifying. Here are a few tips and resources that I’ve found helpful to make your search for a job less overwhelming and much less scary.

Perhaps the hardest step in finding a new job is knowing where to start. Luckily, there’s a number of sites that list jobs relevant to many Heller students’ interests. I love the website Idealist.com because they have opportunities both within the United States and internationally. Their site makes it easy to search by location, job type, or subject matter. ReliefWeb and GlobalJobs.org are two other excellent sites for job hunting in our fields. These sites also list opportunities abroad as well as domestic positions.

The Career Development Center at Heller is an amazing resource that you should absolutely take advantage of during your time in grad school. From helping you write a cover letter, to providing interview tips, to posting available jobs and internships, Heller’s Career Center staff are available to answer all sorts of questions you may have. Every year, the Career Development Center also hosts treks to New York City and Washington, D.C. These treks are excellent opportunities to connect with individuals working at the organizations you may want to work with after graduation. I attended the NYC Career Trek during my first year at Heller, and was thrilled to meet with Program Directors at the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

Making connections is one of the most important aspects of landing the job that you want. Be sure to network among your Heller peers and maintain connections with your professors. This is another reason why the Career Treks are so meaningful. They provide a valuable opportunity to personally connect with the people you actually aim to work with in the future. Heller professors and staff also have a lot of connections, so it’s important to network with them as well. Of course, networking can feel awkward at times. But you can leave an enormous impression on someone by simply conveying your passion, knowledge, and ability!

Most importantly, keep a positive outlook! The job hunt can sometimes feel exhausting. But your hard work writing cover letters and resumes will certainly pay off. Don’t let yourself feel discouraged! You made it to Heller, and you’ve done all the hard work of graduate school. You’ve come this far, and you deserve to feel excited about taking the next step towards your career.

Virtual Internships During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Man in plaid shirt smiling at camera

Doug Nevins BA ’11, MPP ’21

A key feature of the MPP program at Heller is a summer internship between the first and second year. This was one of the selling points for me – the chance to take on a totally new professional challenge and learn in a hands-on way as a complement to my coursework. As Heller has strong connections with non-profit organizations, think tanks, government agencies, and research centers, I was excited by the prospect of finding an engaging summer opportunity.

The career center at Heller plans lots of great events to help students connect with alumni, organizations offering jobs or internships, and fellowship programs. I attended many such info sessions last fall, and in the spring I visited Washington, DC and New York City for Heller career treks. I was hoping to spend the summer in one of these cities, and I applied mostly to non-profit advocacy and research organizations.

As fate would have it, my summer looked very different than that. I had not pinned down an internship plan when the semester ended, and many internship programs had been canceled or moved online. It was challenging for many Heller students to transition to remote classes in the spring and to feel like we might miss out on opportunities we expected to have over the summer.

That said, remote internships were still an option, and I was lucky enough to be connected with a Heller alum in a city workforce development office through the help of one of my professors. I’ve been working part-time since July on a project looking at the transition of adult workforce training programs to remote service, a project which involves interviewing program staff, researching the sector overall, and assisting with presentations and reports to stakeholders. This has been an excellent opportunity to practice skills that I learned in Heller classes, such as conducting a literature review, editing an interview guide, and coding interview transcripts. I’ve become more knowledgeable and passionate, about workforce education, particularly around issues of inclusion and access. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated underlying inequities in resources and access to services, and it feels meaningful to work on immediate policy challenges at the local level. I’ve definitely developed a greater interest in city-level government and policy, and have a much better feel for the policy and non-profit spaces in the Boston area than I did previously.

As challenging as graduate school during COVID can be, working on policy issues where they directly impact people and communities was exactly what I hoped to do when I applied to Heller. I am grateful to the MPP program and to my internship host agency for supporting me, and I hope that my work will make a real difference!

 

 

 

 

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary Part 2

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

I’m working with Shadhika this summer as a Project Intern. Shadhika is a women’s empowerment organization based partly in Denver, and in various sites throughout India. Our goal is to increase the agency and autonomy of women and girls through comprehensive education projects. Now that I’m about a month and a half into my internship, I’m noticing the pace of my work speeding up as my responsibilities expand and evolve. I am currently working on a project to monitor and evaluate Shadhika’s programs from a human rights-based perspective. A regular day for me looks like this:

7:30 am – I meet with my supervisor via Zoom. She is located in Pune, India, and since there is a nine and half hour time difference, we generally speak early in the morning.

8:45 am – I grab another cup of coffee and a slice of toast, and dig into Shadhika’s records to analyze grant reports from 5 years ago. Since I can’t be at our project sites in person, these reports help me get a better sense of our programs.

10:00 am – I hop onto Zoom again for a staff meeting. We’re a small staff of seven people, so we have the opportunity to chat and catch up before getting into work-related discussions. I also give a short presentation on what I think are key takeaways from analyzing the reports I read earlier, and I’m excited to receive feedback from the rest of Shadhika’s staff.

11:50 am – Unexpectedly, I see an email from the Executive Director of Shadhika. She’s read the document I wrote and offered encouraging feedback and thoughtful questions. I feel great that she takes the time to dive deep into the work I’m doing!

12:35 pm – The “what am I going to have for lunch?!” debate begins…

2:00 pm – After grabbing one more cup of coffee, I respond to my ED’s comments and questions on the document I produced. I feel confident about the work I’ve completed and grateful for the constructive feedback I’ve received so far.

3:15 pm – I take a much-needed break and take my dog for a walk in the woods. It’s a beautiful Summer day!

3:45 pm – I begin the next step in my long-term project and start gathering research on other programs using similar human rights-based frameworks.

5:10 pm – It’s been a long day, but a fulfilling one. I call it quits and move on to some Netflix-ing while my dog snoozes next to me on the couch.

At this point in my internship, I feel more focused in my goals and more engaged in the work Shadhika is doing. Although this internship has often been challenging, I find myself learning and growing more with each challenge I tackle. I appreciate that despite being many miles away from all of the other staff members, I feel connected to and supported by my supervisor, my Executive Director, and everyone else working at Shadhika.

Working to Change the World: Sami Rovins’ Internship Diary

Woman in glasses smiling at the camera

Sami Rovins COEX/MS ’21

This summer I’m interning with Shadhika, an NGO that strives to empower women and girls through holistic education initiatives in various parts of India. As Shadhika’s Project Intern, I’m using a human rights framework in order to re-visit and re-tool the organization’s theory of change. My role involves primary and secondary research, and ongoing communication with Shadhika’s partner NGO’s in India. Today, I’ll be walking you through a typical day at my internship.

8:00am – I get my coffee ready and hop on an early Zoom call with my internship supervisor at Shadhika. She is in Pune, India, so our calls tend to be during my morning, and her evening. We catch up with each other before discussing my work from last week and my action plan for the coming week. She and I will chat again during tomorrow’s meeting with the rest of Shadhika’s staff. There are 7 of us total, and I love that the organization feels like a tight-knit group.

9:00am – After taking my dog for a long walk, I grab a slice of toast and another cup of coffee before getting back to work.

9:51am – I’ve been reading grant reports from Shadhika’s partner NGOs in India to get a better sense of the organization’s programs since I can’t be there in person. There’s a lot of material to get through, and I’m beginning to feel the stress of getting everything done in time. I remind myself to breathe deeply; I’ll get it all done.

11:35 am – I’m already starting to daydream about lunch.

1:15 pm – Finishing up my notes on the different grant reports, I start to compile and analyze the common indicators of success across the partner programs. This task is challenging for me, but I’m enjoying gaining a better understanding of Shadhika’s goals and activities.

2:30 pm – I want to reach out to my supervisor to ask a few questions, but instead, I’ve got to be patient and wait until tomorrow. It’s late in the evening in India now, and I definitely don’t want to wake her up! Yet another challenge of interning virtually, and across time zones.

4:20 pm – At last, I finish up my work for the day. I feel relaxed and confident after completing the task of mapping different indicators of success across Shadhika’s partner organizations. Time for another long walk with my dog and my favorite podcast. Now, I’m starting to daydream about dinner…

Working to Change the World: Elizabeth Nguyen on her Team Consulting Project

Woman in patterned shirt smiling at the camera

Elizabeth Nguyen, MBA/SID ’20

The MBA Team Consulting Project (TCP), or the MBA program’s capstone project was one of my favorite parts of Heller experience. Over the summer, teams of 3-6 MBA students work with an organization to help with a proposed management challenge. What’s unique however, is that organizations pitch proposals to the students, who are then asked to form teams around their preferred choice. I wanted a project that combined both my MBA and MA in Sustainable International Development degrees, and was excited when Oxfam, a well-known international organization, was one of our choices. The Oxfam team that was formed included three other classmates with international development, corporate social responsibility, and supply chain experiences and expertise that made the group ideal for this project.

We worked with Oxfam’s Private Sector Engagement division on their “Behind the Brands” initiative to pressure the supply chains of the ten largest food and beverage companies in the world. While consumers recognize names such as Unilever, Nestle, or Coca Cola, the agribusinesses who supply to these companies are less visible and less pressured to improve their environmental sustainability and human rights practices. Our goal was to provide our client with a toolkit of resources for future conversations with these agribusinesses in four key areas – land, climate, gender, and transparency and accountability.Three students stand in front of a board with sticky notes

We examined the agribusinesses’ current Oxfam scorecard results, analyzed where they fell short, and researched policies, commitments, and best practices that could be referenced for improvements. The project allowed us to pull from MBA classes such as “Managing the Triple Bottom Line” and “Strategic Management” through analyzing how to make the business case for corporate social responsibility and developing a sweet spot analysis and a theory of change.

Teamwork for this project was a challenging learning curve. Early on, we identified our individual leadership styles and communicated how we work in groups. We also established ways to destress, such as having lunch together or walking around campus. This helped us step away from our work and remember that despite our disagreements, that we were all still friends.

Chart with various projects outlinedThis project was high stakes, with months of team meetings, stakeholder interviews, and research culminating in final presentations in front of the Heller community and Oxfam stakeholders. In preparation for the presentation, I memorized and recited my lines over and over again. At one point, I apparently was even reciting my part of the presentation in my sleep! Our presentation was visually appealing and well executed, showing all of our expertise, research, and analysis. When my cohort finished presenting our TCPs, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief – we were doneFour students smile in front of an Oxfam America sign! Our client, who flew in from DC for our two presentations, was happy with our deliverables and hard work over the summer.

The overall experience of completing the MBA Team Consulting Project was incredible and when I think of all of our final presentations, I am still amazed at how much the teams have been able to accomplish in just a few months!

 

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