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Farber Program Forges Ahead Virtually

When COVID-19 shut down offices and travel across the country this spring, it also created a unique challenge for summer internship and fellowship programs, including REDF’s Farber Program for MBA students. Now in its 23rd year and with over 180 alumni, the Farber Program enables REDF to provide a summer’s worth of dedicated business consulting services to our social enterprise partners, and the opportunity to make a real impact on the aspiring social entrepreneurs who participate. Pandemic or not, REDF’s commitment to our social enterprise partners and Farber Fellows, remains unwavering. 

Like so many other aspects of our lives, this summer, the program has gone virtual. We “zoomed” in with Christina Gilyutin, Director of Leadership Programs, to hear how Farber Summer Fellows and social enterprise leaders are collaborating and why continuing this year’s program is more crucial than ever. 

The Farber Program was started over 20 years ago. Why does it remain such an integral part of what REDF does? 

Farber Summer Fellows and our social enterprise leaders alike reaffirm that the experience and partnership is invaluable – the shared learnings and outcomes consistently exceed expectations on both sides. Time and again our partners say how much they appreciate the Farber Program since finding interns of this caliber on their own would be challenging due to the time and effort required to recruit and compete on business school campuses. And unlike having a consultant work on a project, Fellows are completely dedicated to the social enterprise for the summer and can dedicate all that mindshare to one organization’s challenge. As one Social Enterprise Director shared, “living and breathing what we do and providing fresh perspective makes all the difference in both the work product itself and impact the Farber Summer Fellow can have on our operation.”

What types of projects will this year’s Farbers work on? Have there been shifts due to COVID-19?

COVID-19 has certainly thrown our social enterprise partners a curveball and required flexibility and creativity on everyone’s part. Many of the Farber projects have changed to focus on updating business models due to COVID-19, a recession, social unrest, and a different economic reality. Our social enterprise partners are also adapting their employee support and training programs to be successful in a virtual environment, so some projects reflect that shift.

How have our social enterprise partners responded to having virtual Farbers this summer?

We gave all the social enterprise hosts the chance to ‘opt out’ which would be completely understandable given the circumstances. Ten of the eleven organizations originally slated to host a Fellow said something to the effect of, “absolutely not, we need a Farber more than ever!” And they have all committed to learn with us as we figure out how to best support the Farbers virtually and create an engaging and enriching experience even from a distance.

How have the 11 new Farbers responded to having a virtual experience?

While they are of course disappointed that they won’t be on-site for 10 weeks, the Farbers have been enthusiastic to work on projects that are arguably more important to our social enterprises than they originally were when the Fellows signed on with us. For MBA students looking to make an impact this summer, there is no better time than now. It’s also been great to see how they are figuring out how to support each other virtually both from a project perspective and in building long-term relationships as a cohort.

What adjustments will you be making to move to a virtual program? How will we help facilitate the bonding/sense of community that is so central to the Farber experience? 

We’ve had to let go of our standard ideas of what this program looks like and we’ve reframed the situation to recognize all the new opportunities. With everyone remote, and no travel schedules to coordinate between our Farbers, REDF staff, social enterprise leaders, Board members, and other guests, we have more options for content delivery and programming than we’ve ever had!

As we always do, we’re asking the Farbers for input on what and how they want to learn this summer and are curating the experience based on those requests. We are tapping social enterprise leaders and expert facilitators to support programming and host a number of social events on Zoom, like team trivia and scavenger hunts.

We are also finding moments to create “real life” experiences that complement our virtual content. When we kicked off orientation earlier this month, we sent out welcome packs with REDF swag and each day the Fellows unwrapped a unique social enterprise gift to use and discuss with the group. We will continue to exercise our own creativity to make these connection points throughout the summer. So far, they appreciate the effort we’ve put into designing an engaging, enriching, and valuable summer. And we’re certainly going to do our best to keep it up!

The Farber Program officially launched earlier this month. What has been most encouraging so far?

All the Farbers brought great energy to orientation and the first happy hour and have been really proactive in building relationships with each other and with REDF, which makes the program better for everyone. It’s been a group effort to try and build those initial relationships via Zoom and we’re grateful that they are diving in to be part of that effort.

It’s been pretty great to see the dedication of our social enterprise leaders to welcome the Farbers with “open screens” when we know they are busier than ever and, similarly, to see the Fellows’ willingness to dive in with such fervor despite the circumstances. At REDF, we’re lucky to get to support such passionate, resilient, and all-around amazing people – this summer is certainly no exception.


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