From Advisor to Practitioner, Vantage Points on Scale – Kelly Greenwood, Techbridge

I’ve been thinking a lot about scale lately – both personally and professionally.  In addition to “scaling up” my family with the addition of our first child a couple months ago, I also started a new role as Chief Growth & Strategy Officer of Techbridge last fall.  Our mission is to empower girls to realize their dreams through science, technology, and engineering.

As someone who had spent her entire career advising companies and nonprofits, last year I was itching to find a position in which I could roll up my sleeves at an organization at an inflection point in its growth (Techbridge has a proven, data-driven model that has existed as a program for 14 years, but has only been an independent 501(c)3 for about two).  I also wanted to focus my energy on one area that I was deeply passionate about – women’s and girls’ issues – rather than being an eternal generalist.

Techbridge’s innovative after-school and summer programs inspire 5th through 12th grade girls from underserved communities to change the world, providing girls with hands-on projects and career exploration through our curriculum, role models, and field trips.  Techbridge girls also build confidence, problem-solving skills, perseverance, and public speaking abilities that will serve them well in any career.  Our professional development efforts give us a national reach through trainings and resources for role models, educators, and families.  Techbridge will embark on a national expansion of our after-school programs from the San Francisco Bay Area to three more cities, beginning with Seattle in fall 2014.  This, among other projects such as strategic planning, is what I was hired to lead.

My summer as a REDF Farber Intern at Juma Ventures was my first step on the path to my role at Techbridge since I was essentially an internal consultant for this social enterprise that trained and employed low-income youth.  In fact, my project was to develop Juma’s national expansion plan for its ballpark concessions business.  I intentionally served my time as a for-profit management consultant before business school with an eye toward gaining the skills that I could later apply to the social sector.  REDF was the perfect bridge to a full-time role in the nonprofit world since not only did it value my business background, but it also provided a supportive environment and tight knit cohort as a springboard.  From there, I worked as a consultant at Bridgespan and then as a Principal at the Skoll Foundation, where I sourced, selected, and provided strategic advice to a portfolio of social entrepreneurs from around the world.

Some say that I’ve taken a backward route with my career since many people start off in direct services, learn the tricks of the nonprofit trade, and  then advise others.  However, I’m happy to have taken this path since I’ve now seen the best (and worst!) practices of so many different organizations and am curious to see whether I can take my own advice!  That said, I am already realizing why organizations hire consultants to help with strategic planning and scale-up efforts and why many of my past clients never seemed to have time to read our decks in advance of meetings.  Being in an operating role inherently means that there are seemingly countless competing priorities that preclude the luxury of thinking about the work versus doing it.

Many ideas about the pros and cons of different methods of scale-up abound given the buzz around expansion.  Others question whether scale is a worthy goal and feel that providing quality service to a very targeted population and geography is sufficient.  Techbridge is currently on the smaller side in terms of numbers of girls served, but our outcomes are extremely strong.  At the end of our program, 91% of girls try harder to overcome a challenge and 93% are more interested in working in technology, science, or engineering because of role model visits and field trips.  While we seek to grow to attain a certain critical mass, the perennial question of breath vs. depth looms large.  By proving that our program works in different types of cities, we hope to be an effective demonstration model that others can replicate and from which we can influence the public discourse and policy agenda.  We know that we can’t do it all by ourselves.  I look forward to distilling all that I’ve read, heard, and learned about scale over my career to think about how Techbridge can most successfully achieve its mission.

Kelly Greenwood is the Chief Growth & Strategy Officer at Techbridge, a nonprofit that empowers girls to realize their dreams through science, technology, and engineering. Previously, she was a Principal on the Portfolio Team at the Skoll Foundation, a nonprofit and foundation strategy consultant at the Bridgespan Group, and a REDF Farber Intern. She has also been a strategy, process, and operations consultant at A.T. Kearney and Accenture. Kelly graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke University with a BA in Psychology and Spanish and a minor in Women’s Studies. She holds an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, where she was a leader of the Social Impact Club.

This is part of REDF’s Farber Blog Series.