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A Summer of Impact & Connections – Ryan Baker, McCombs School of Business

I wanted to spend my summer ingrained in an organization making a direct social impact. Coming from consulting prior to business school, I was looking for an experience that would blend business and impact, and quickly realized that working in social enterprise would be the most rewarding way to do this.

During my Farber Summer Fellowship, I worked with Goodwill of Silicon Valley (GWSV) on two projects aimed at increasing revenue and contribution to the bottom line in a summer where all businesses have been fighting their way back from nation-wide shutdowns. GWSV had shut down all locations for safety precautions and as they approached the summer, building back their cash reserves and hiring back more of their employees was the priority. My first project was a cost-benefit analysis of  GWSV’s sorting operation. GWSV wanted to know if it was better to sort through and price donations they receive at the store where they’re collected, or to transport all donations to a central location for sorting and pricing, and then distribute them to all stores. I developed a cost model by meeting with employees from across the company to understand and estimate all the cost drivers in the operation and developed different scenarios quantifying the benefits of sorting centrally or within each store. My second project was a profitability assessment of GWSV’s e-commerce goods. GWSV typically sells their highest quality donations or certain items that sell well, like Legos and guitars, online. By again developing another cost model, I estimated the profitability of each product line that GWSV sells online, and identified 18 product types that had negative margins and others that had room for growth. Finally, I identified other product types that could be sold in bundled boxes through e-commerce, a concept that another Goodwill had already seen some success in. Through this work, I I was able to add business analytics skills to my toolbox, and seeing my recommendations be implemented by GWSV during my summer was incredibly rewarding.

GWSV’s leadership team embraced me from day one and integrated me into the team. I learned so much by joining the leadership team calls every other morning and meeting regularly with the CFO, Head of Retail, Head of Marketing, and a business analyst. I worked closely with CEO Mike Fox who shared with me career and leadership advice from his time in the private sector and his over 10 years as Goodwill’s CEO. It’s these relationships and seeing first-hand how a business makes decisions that will be one of my biggest takeaways from my summer.

I also got to see the impact that GWSV has on the people it employs. I was blown away by how many people it impacts including at-risk youth through after-school programs, veterans experiencing homelessness, people with Autism, and individuals re-entering the workforce from jail or prison. A highlight for me was meeting with the Re-Entry program Director, Pablo Gaxiola. Pablo himself was a GWSV participant after being released from prison, and now leads the program working with returning citizens. Pablo’s vision for not only GWSV but social enterprise in general inspired me and showed me just what employment social enterprise can do to help the lives of its participants (see for yourself here). Being exposed to GWSV’s numerous programs and meeting former participants who were working at the Goodwill stores over the course of my summer motivated my work.

Ryan met up with some 2020 Farbers for a socially distant hike in Berkeley, CA.

While my project experience was even more rewarding than I could have imagined, the REDF staff also did an amazing job at helping us foster connections virtually and delivered on the continued learning I hoped to gain this summer. I am happy to say that I have 10 other Fellows that I can connect with and who are equally motivated by a career in social impact, and even got to meet with a few other Fellows located in the Bay area for a  hike during my time in San Jose! REDF brought an incredible slate of speakers throughout the summer including social entrepreneurs, REDF staff, and CEO Carla Javits. During these sessions I learned so much about the field of social enterprise, and I feel like I got a free class over the summer – Social Enterprise with REDF 101 (bonus – no homework!). I will always be grateful for the work that the REDF team put into making these sessions interesting, valuable, and interactive in our virtual summer!

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