Big Data, Bigger Mission: How FareStart uses Data to Learn and Grow – Alex Kasavin, Yale School of Management

Every Friday afternoon, the adult culinary training program at FareStart  holds a graduation ceremony for participants who have completed the 16-week curriculum. During the ceremony, students have the opportunity to share their stories. While they all face different barriers to employment, students leave with a newfound sense of capability, pride in their new skills, a sense of their own value, and—more often than not—a job. Every student also receives a set of chef’s knives. This gift is practical, but it’s also a symbolic reminder that they are professionals and deserve tools worthy of their skills. As FareStart has grown beyond the original restaurant and the adult training program to encompass multiple programs across restaurants, cafes, and catering, the programs team realized that they too needed better tools to understand and manage their work.

FareStart worked with A.J., a prior Farber intern, to expand their program portfolio. Now they needed to make sense of the data flowing through their organization: the software that employment specialists use to manage their caseloads; the restaurant management systems that social enterprises use for inventory and staffing; the spreadsheets and planning tools that the finance team uses for budgeting, and so on. They needed the tools, the strategy, and the supporting culture to make data accessible, comprehensible, and useful. I was able to build a dashboard prototype in Tableau, generate a set of recommendations to advance this work, and provide a cultural barometer to accompany this growth.

The REDF Farber Internship, FareStart, and this project were perfectly aligned with my goals for the summer. Prior to business school, I worked at data-driven companies like Google and advised on data initiatives for the New York State Education Department. The challenge of helping FareStart make sense of its data was an exciting one. More generally, the Farber internship was an opportunity to learn about social enterprises as a model that can provide the jobs, the training, and the supportive services that help people get on a path for a better future. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on and refine the skills I had started to acquire during the first year of my MBA, and I was able to spend the summer in Seattle (a city I had admired from afar) while learning about its social and economic imbalances.

Everyone at FareStart opened their doors (and their meeting calendars!) to me, and I was able to dive in and learn about all aspects of the organization and the challenges that different teams faced. I sat in on a meeting of employment specialists as they grappled with supply constraints in hygienic products that students needed. I toured the state-of-the-art kitchen facilities that Amazon had donated on its corporate campus. Most memorably, I joined two chefs and two other colleagues on a Friday afternoon “shelter run,” delivering fresh, nutritious meals to hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and shelters around Seattle. And, every Friday, I had the privilege of attending the graduation of FareStart’s striving students, and learn a lesson in hope and humility.

The other Farber interns provided an amazing community as well. REDF gathered us for formal sessions three times throughout the summer, but our weekly video conferences and our 24/7 chat group helped bridge the distance across organizations and time zones. Not only were we a great resource to each other, I felt that we truly became a part of the REDF family that our on-the-ground insights were deeply valued by the organization. Since returning to Yale SOM, I’ve talked nonstop about the Farber internship to first- and second-year students alike. I look forward to staying a part of the REDF Farber community and seeing the contributions that future Farber Interns make.