Candles that Illuminate Opportunity for Young Women – Meredith Lynn McKay, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

I spent my summer working for Bright Endeavors, a social enterprise that serves New Moms, a nonprofit on Chicago’s west side. New Moms is dedicated to serving young women from disadvantaged backgrounds in Chicago and Oak Park who are new or expecting mothers by providing parent education resources, housing, and the opportunity to work at Bright Endeavors. The theory of change at Bright Endeavors is that working as a candle maker, paired with mentorship, ‘executive skills’ development, and assistance overcoming barriers to work (housing, childcare, etc.), will enable young mothers to find and keep a full time job once they graduate from the program.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to join the New Moms team because I believe in their mission of empowering women by providing supports for all facets of their lives and was excited to serve my community in Chicago. I remember the sense of pride and independence I felt during my first job, and I want every young woman to be able to have that same sense of confidence, especially those who are raising a family. Working with the team at Bright Endeavors was the perfect way for me to give back and learn more about Chicago while applying many of the skills I had learned during my first year at Kellogg and as a strategy consultant.

The first half of my project was dedicated to helping Bright Endeavors grow their candle making business while reducing costs. I investigated which products in their portfolio were most profitable and researched ways their existing products could be redesigned or repriced to capture more margin. On the cost side, I reviewed the candle-making process and identified the steps that would most benefit from adding automation. Overall, I recommended that the Bright Endeavors team reallocate its resources to producing and promoting its most profitable products while phasing out less profitable business lines.

The second half of my summer was spent exploring new social enterprise models that New Moms could pursue. Based on social, operational, and financial criteria tailored to New Moms’ needs and ambitions, the team narrowed the focus to investigating businesses in medical billing and in-home healthcare. Looking into both business models I discovered that the scale and efficiency required to run a social enterprise that could be expected to reach breakeven would be difficult to achieve in the context of the population New Moms seeks to serve. Despite the attractiveness of these industries overall and the skill set that they would provide to program participants, both ultimately will be out on the shelf in the short term.

Overall, working with New Moms and Bright Endeavors was an amazing experience that exposed me to the challenges and the well-deserved successes that social enterprises face every day. I am so thankful for the support and mentorship that I received this summer. Serving as a Farber was the perfect way to spend my summer and I’m confident that this experience will be tremendously influential on my future career path.