01 Oct 2002

Making a Difference

Social Enterprise Summer Fellows Pursue Career Interests

It's not often that an MBA student's research involves a helicopter drop-off to survey glaciers or tracking wolves to gain a better understanding of their migratory patterns. But that's just what Josh Haacker (HBS '03) did, in addition to strategic planning and numbers-crunching, as an HBS Summer Fellow at the Alaska Conservation Foundation, which placed him in Denali National Park.

Haacker was one of more than seventy HBS students who participated in the HBS Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship Program, which gives financial support to MBA students who choose to work in the public and nonprofit sectors during the summer months.

Sponsored by the Initiative on Social Enterprise and funded by the School and alumni donors, the program aims to expose students to the rewards and challenges of the public and nonprofit world, while providing the communities and organizations they serve with the benefits of their HBS training. It attracted more HBS students than ever in its 21st year, with MBAs dispersing across the globe to put their skills to work on issues related to the environment, education, the arts, health care, poverty, and economic development.

In the United States, fellows worked in diverse organizations such as the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Public Broadcasting Service, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Teach For America. Fellows also did their part for organizations and governments in several other nations, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Canada, and Singapore.

A former operations manager at Procter & Gamble, Haacker loves the outdoors. His goal at Denali was to explore a potential long-term career in environmental conservation and to get a sense of how nonprofits and government agencies work. “Everybody tells you that working in private industry is like night and day compared with working in a nonprofit,” he remarks. “I wanted to see for myself how different or similar they really were.”

Haacker's excursions across the six-million-acre park enabled him to spend time with the park's managers and scientists. “It helped me to learn what park personnel do and what their frustrations are,” says Haacker, who worked closely with the Research and Resource Preservation Division to improve its strategic planning and cohesiveness in the face of dwindling resources.

Tapping his work experience and HBS training, Haacker designed a plan to help managers maintain the park's mission of preservation and access. “That's been the biggest similarity between private industry and the nonprofit world,” he observes. “When you get down to it, everyone's trying to address the issues without enough people, money, or resources.”

Jennifer Dimas (HBS '03) made a similar discovery as a fellow at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Working in the nonprofit art world is “far more complex than I thought it would be,” says Dimas, a former planner at Sotheby's who holds both a bachelor's and a master's degree in art history from Columbia University.

“At Sotheby's, it was the profit motive, pure and simple,” she notes. “At the museum, it's more complicated. There's a legacy to think about, multiple constituencies, and competing priorities. Everything has an impact on everything else. They have to work in an increasingly competitive environment for money, time, and resources.”

Dimas's project focused on creating, analyzing, and implementing a visitor survey to learn more about how the museum could enhance its programs for a wider audience. The fellowship has helped her decide just where in the art world she'd like to pursue a long-term career. After previous experience in both the commercial and the academic sides of the arts, her summer at the Gardner has convinced her that her future lies in museum work.

“At the end of the day, I just feel proud that I'm doing some-thing I believe in, something good for the community,” Dimas states. “This past summer has shown me that there is a lot of room to make a difference and that it can be very rewarding.”

— Margie Kelley


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