01 Dec 2001

Reaching Out

Re: Jonathan Hodgson (MBA 2002); Ipsita Dasgupta (MBA 2002); Bob Halperin (MBA 1982); Nat Foote (MBA 1981)
by Garry Emmons and Julia Hanna


HBS alumni often describe the MBA Program as a transformational experience. That observation especially rings true for students such as Meredith Weenick, Neera Nundy, Abdu Mukhtar, and Jonathan Hodgson who participate in the Nonprofit and Public Management Summer Fellowship Program. Through their work, nonprofit fellows contribute to and witness transformations in the lives of others — with lasting effects on their own lives as well.

One day last August in rural Kharagpur, India, Neera Nundy (HBS '02) accompanied a middle-aged bakery worker named Suchismita on a life-altering mission — Suchismita had resolved that she was going to open a bank account.

"That morning," Nundy recalls, "Suchismita spent hours in preparation, bathing and dressing up as if for a wedding. As we drove to the bank, she told me it was the first time she'd ever been in a car. When we arrived, she literally started shaking. Banks don't want to serve poor women as customers, and Suchismita had asked me to go along in part because she was afraid. But she also knew that without a guarantor, the bank would turn her away.

"At first," Nundy continues, "the officer would not address Suchismita directly. But I asked him to do so, and the more she answered his questions and talked about her money, the more she straightened up in her chair and the more confident she became. It was wonderful to see — a moment of empowerment happening right there. Now Suchismita — who has a fourth-grade education — is handling all the bakery's finances."

For her part, Nundy, an intern in the HBS Nonprofit and Public Management Summer Fellowship Program, was equally energized by her experiences during her twelve weeks of service in India. She spent the first six weeks performing a financial analysis for Women's World Banking, a global institution devoted to expanding low-income women's economic access, participation, and power. The second half of her summer was devoted to fieldwork with ImpactPartners, a venture philanthropy organization that assists nonprofits in India. "This was an 'off-track' summer for me," says Nundy, who has a background in nonprofit service and worked as an analyst at Morgan Stanley before coming to HBS. "The fellowship gave me the confidence to try something completely different."

"The summer internship program is a great way for students to test their interests in a fairly low-risk way, with significant rewards," says Stacey M. Childress (MBA '00), director of the School's Initiative on Social Enterprise (ISE), which coordinates the fellowship program. Childress, herself a former fellow who worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Boston, explains, "One of our overall goals is to offer MBA students a range of possibilities for interacting with the social sector, both inside and outside the classroom. Participating in the program provides students with the opportunity to build their general management skills and explore an area that interests them while experiencing the deep satisfaction of applying their learning to a problem about which they care a great deal."

Funded by the School principally through generous alumni gifts and supplementing what employer organizations can pay, fellowships enable students to earn a summer salary closer to what they would receive in the private sector. Founded by two enterprising students, Robert R. Halperin (MBA '82) and Nathaniel W. Foote (MBA '81, JD '82), the program, which has had more than 350 participants, recently marked its twentieth anniversary, with many former participants attending a celebratory dinner hosted by Dean Kim B. Clark on the HBS campus in October (click here). This year's fellows numbered 53, the highest participation level in the program's history. While the business community's commitment to the nonprofit sector is well established, Childress observes that the past ten years have seen a growing shift in the way society at large views the role of nonprofit organizations and their management. "There's a growing willingness to work together across the nonprofit, business, and government sectors to build systemic solutions to problems," she notes, citing the participation of businesses with nonprofits in job training programs associated with the government's 1996 welfare-to-work program and IBM's education initiative as examples of this model. "We still have work to do, but there's been some breaking down of the suspicions and negative stereotypes between sectors. For some of our biggest challenges, we need to have everyone around the table.

"The current generation of MBA students is thinking about global citizenship in a completely new way," continues Childress. "They've grown up in a world that is very connected, where almost anything seems possible if you have the right people working on a problem." The burst of entrepreneurial activity that occurred throughout the 1990s has also stimulated innovation in the social sector, she notes, and unprecedented wealth creation has forced people to recognize the widening gap between the world's wealthiest and most impoverished populations. "Many people want to spend their productive years doing something that they care about, and one way to do that is to work through the social sector on issues that markets alone don't always address," Childress says.

A Two-Way Street

While MBA student interns bring significant skills to a nonprofit organization, they do so with the full expectation that the experience will further their own development, both personal and professional. When Meredith L. Weenick (HBS '02) arrived at HBS, she had seven years of full-time experience in the nonprofit sector. "I'd headed programs, served on a board, and given out grants — I wanted to add something new to my skill set," says the Texas native. As an intern at The Home for Little Wanderers (HLW), a New England agency that serves at-risk children, their families, and communities, Weenick worked with the organization's vice president of finance to analyze budgets for HLW's dozens of programs. She also created a revenue-forecasting model for its residential services. "Finance is an area that interests me no matter what sector I go into, so it was a good way to get direct, hands-on experience right from the beginning," she says.

"It was also interesting to see what it was like to work in a big, established nonprofit," Weenick notes. "I had all sorts of stereotypes in my head about how a larger, older organization would be run, but I learned that it's possible to create significant internal change from within an organization." Over the course of the summer, Weenick recalls, one of HLW's program directors gradually began to use some of the "business-y" vocabulary she had introduced concerning issues of quality and efficiency. "It was instructive for me that it was not an 'ah-ha' moment," she says. "As time went on, his orientation changed naturally. That's what you want."

Abdu S. Mukhtar (MBA '01), who worked for the National Kidney Foundation of Singapore (NKFS), became a nonprofit fellow the summer after he graduated from HBS, an unusual but not unprecedented move. He agrees that avoiding the role of "b-school expert" is a key factor for an internship's success. "It's important that people see change as their own idea," he says. "In dealing with people from another country, I try to be open-minded." Mukhtar, who was born in Nigeria, attended medical school and practiced as a doctor in his native country before completing a Ph.D. in pathology and molecular biology at Boston University's School of Medicine. Intrigued by his experience with pharmaceutical companies and the role of business in drug delivery, he enrolled at HBS one month after finishing his doctorate.

Once he had earned his MBA, his HBS classmates urged him to take a well-deserved vacation, but the indefatigable Mukhtar found the opportunity to work at NKFS too good to pass up. "With its seventeen state-of-the-art dialysis centers, the organization is the largest nonprofit dialysis provider in the world," Mukhtar says. "Relying wholly on public donations, it raises more funds per capita than any other nonprofit in the world — one out of two Singaporeans contributes to NKFS." In part because it is already so successful with its marketing and management of treatment programs, NKFS is focusing more on kidney-disease prevention. This approach is particularly interesting to Mukhtar, based on his experience as a physician in Nigeria, where medical treatment is essentially unavailable or unaffordable for much of the population.

"One cohort in Singapore that is highly susceptible to hypertension and diabetes — and subsequent renal problems — is taxi drivers," Mukhtar notes. "They are typically an older group, and their occupation by its nature is a sedentary one." The drivers' diet is poor (too many irregular junk food meals consumed on the go), working conditions are stressful (traffic jams, grumpy passengers), and the hours are long. After researching the issue, including spending the better part of two days riding in taxis as an observer, Mukhtar came up with an idea. With drivers compelled by law to take their cars to special inspection centers every six months, his plan was to place informational brochures and videotape loops in the waiting rooms where drivers sat until their cars were ready. Better yet, while their cars were getting the once-over, drivers could be given blood and urine tests.

"It's been a terrific success," says Mukhtar. "Awareness among the drivers has increased tremendously, and they're spreading the word to their families, friends, and customers. It's quite amazing when such a simple concept can have such a big impact."

The reordering of mindsets and attitudes toward life can work both ways, interns find. Neera Nundy is a Canadian citizen whose parents, both engineers, emigrated from India in the 1960s. Nundy attended boarding school in India and later worked there during college summers. Her years in India have caused her to reexamine her priorities. "For me, closing a billiondollar merger transaction between two large corporate clients is no longer as satisfying as working for a social mission and helping underprivileged people," Nundy explains. "Once you get a taste of that, it's hard to feel fulfilled doing anything else. I see myself working in the nonprofit sector for the long term." (For graduates who want to make a full-time commitment to social enterprise, an endowed loan-forgiveness program was created in 1992 to ease some of the immediate financial challenges posed by the relatively lower salaries paid by nonprofit organizations.)

Prior to her enrollment at HBS, Nundy, along with a colleague at Morgan Stanley in New York, founded ImpactPartners, a fund that has invested in six nonprofit organizations around India. Nundy spent the second half of her summer internship with these groups, which are involved in issues such as mental health programs, education, and outreach to street children. It was at one of these organizations, Disha ("Direction"), an education and microenterprise program for poor women and girls founded by Nundy's mother, that Nundy met Suchismita, whose successful trip to the bank became the talk of her village.

While some fellows elect to enter the private sector after graduation, the ISE's Stacey Childress notes that a significant number of those who do take part in the nonprofit sphere in some capacity, frequently as a member of an organization's governing body. "Students who participate in the program become better board members and philanthropists as alumni because they've spent some time on the ground — they have a clearer understanding of the issues a nonprofit can face," she observes. "Even though it's not a full-time position, governance is a critical piece of the nonprofit landscape.

"Whatever one's involvement with a nonprofit might be, it quickly becomes apparent that trying to create social change with limited resources is hard to do," Childress continues. "There isn't a single, focused goal, such as net income or earnings per share. However, those very challenges — working on the multifaceted issues that face nonprofits, in a less well-defined performance space — can create better overall managers down the road."

As Jonathan W. Hodgson (HBS '02) discovered, an internship in the nonprofit sector can indeed offer a valuable perspective on private-sector management challenges. Hodgson, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, native, worked with Common Good, a venture philanthropy organization based in Waterville, Maine. His work at two of Common Good's partner organizations — Stone Soup Foods and East End Kids Katering, both in Portland, Maine — focused on evaluating new business opportunities and developing marketing plans to maximize each program's cash flow. "Working in the nonprofit sector develops your ability to think about more than one thing at a time," says Hodgson, who held positions at Deloitte Consulting and Nextera Interactive before coming to HBS. "There's a balancing act involved between the bottom line and the social mission which isn't as prevalent in the private sector," he adds.

Hodgson plans to enter the private sector after graduation, but intends to continue his involvement in social enterprise. "Participating in the fellowship program," he says, "has convinced me that I can have an impact in the nonprofit sector, even if it's not a full-time job." Adds Abdu Mukhtar, "It's one of the best things I've ever done. I learned that a well-managed nonprofit can do a lot of good. Ultimately, I'd like to be involved with a nonprofit, probably in Nigeria, perhaps devoted to the fight against AIDS."

"The internship experience opened up a huge range of possibilities for me," comments Meredith Weenick. "It was really rewarding to walk into an organization and immediately start using skills I'd learned in school, while also making a direct contribution to HLW's operations and strategic planning." Neera Nundy agrees: "I would recommend being a fellow to everyone. If HBS is about leadership and making a difference, these experiences either change your beliefs or cause you to reflect on why you believe what you do. It makes you a richer person."

For further information about the Nonprofit and Public Management Summer Fellowship Program, call 617-495-6421 or e-mail se@hbs.edu.

Full Circle

Now in its twentieth year, the Nonprofit and Public Management Summer Fellowship Program has come full circle as its alumni take advantage of the opportunity to employ interns from the current generation of HBS students. Jessica D. Porten (HBS '02) spent her summer working with former fellow Dan Katzir (MBA '91), director of The Broad Foundation, a Los Angeles–based venture philanthropy organization that funds innovative efforts to improve governance, management, and labor relations in large urban school systems.

Both Porten and Katzir share a passionate commitment to K–12 education. Before he attended HBS, Katzir worked on a pro bono education project at Bain & Co. "I found it fascinating that the business skills I was learning at Bain were so applicable to public education," he recalls. "I wanted to come to HBS to build on those skills and continue to work on the issues facing education today." Katzir spent his fellowship summer interning at the newly founded Teach for America and joined the organization after HBS as its first COO. After working with other education management programs, he was tapped for the top spot at The Broad Foundation when it opened its doors in 1999. Porten's interest in The Broad Foundation stemmed from her own commitment to education, coupled with the desire "to work with an organization that was really trying to change things." Her internship included working in the field with some of the Foundation's grantees, as well as developing an internal system to evaluate their success and that of the Foundation as a whole.

Highlighting the mutually beneficial arrangement that characterizes the relationship between nonprofit organizations and HBS fellows, Katzir states, "We needed help evaluating the success of our grants and the Foundation's overall portfolio. Our goal was that an intern would take away a sense of how strategic philanthropy works in education, in addition to feeling that she was part of a fun, hardworking start-up organization committed to improving K–12 public education." By all indications, Porten's experience was just that. "It made a big difference to me that Dan went to HBS," she remarks. "It was amazing to watch him in action and learn that an organization can maintain a social mission while managing its day-today activities in a businesslike way. He made it easy to feel that what I was doing was having a significant impact on society."

20th Anniversary Dinner Marks Milestone

In October, dozens of nonprofit fellows from years past returned to HBS, joining many of last summer's fellows for a gala dinner celebrating the program's twentieth year. In photo at left are Professor Regina Herzlinger, an early advisor to the program's founders; John Whitehead (MBA 11/'47), provider of initial funding and ongoing support for the Initiative on Social Enterprise (ISE); Robert Halperin and Nathaniel Foote, who together started the program while HBS students; Stacey Childress, director of the ISE; and Dean Kim Clark. In photo at right are nonprofit fellow Ipsita Dasgupta (HBS '02), who worked with Women's World Banking last summer, flanked by her fellowship's donor, Fred Weintz (MBA '51) (at right), and his son Karl (MBA '96).

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2002, Section D
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Class of MBA 2000, Section E
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