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Lessons in Resilience – Emily Lapham, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

“You’re working with a nonprofit? During a RECESSION?”

This was a common refrain from family members and friends afraid of how pandemic uncertainty and an economic downturn may impact my summer experience. However, if my background in emergency management taught me anything, it is that resilience does not come from a specific business model – it comes from the soul of a person or organization. My summer with Chrysalis and REDF highlighted many key lessons in resilience.

Arriving at Haas School of Business last fall, I intended to explore career paths in the social sector, and the REDF Farber Summer Fellowship provided an incredible opportunity to test my skills at an employment social enterprise, meet impact-minded MBAs from across the country, and learn from REDF staff and stakeholders. I was thrilled to be placed with Chrysalis – a social enterprise in my native Los Angeles – for my internship this summer. Chrysalis’ mission is to change lives through jobs, and it does so by operating staffing agency, street beautification, and freeway maintenance businesses that provide transitional employment and career support for its clients throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Lesson in Resilience #1: Community Relationships Matter

I learned during my first week on the job that despite some challenges early on, parts of Chrysalis Enterprises were actually growing during the summer months. When city and county leaders needed a surge of workers for initiatives established almost overnight to protect the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19, they sought out trusted partners like Chrysalis to staff these projects.

My own work at Chrysalis had multiple components with a common thread around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about these salient areas while helping the organization implement its DEI strategic plan. The first part of my work focused on determining how Chrysalis could further align recruiting, hiring, and onboarding with its DEI goals. The second part of my work explored mechanisms for shifting current procurement practices to grow relationships with diverse suppliers.

I enjoyed my projects immensely in no small part because they touched almost every part of the organization – both the enterprise and direct services sides – and provided me with an opportunity to speak with a diverse set of stakeholders. Over the course of 10 weeks, I spoke with 30+ staff members, countless DEI and human resources professionals, and multiple REDF subject-matter experts. I learned about the tough but necessary conversations required to achieve results in DEI, whether related to human resources, supply chain, or other practices. This extensive research laid the groundwork for developing 3-5 concrete recommendations in each area that were impactful, feasible, and scalable for Chrysalis. At a time when much was uncertain, I found myself grateful to be supporting the organization’s work on these important topics.

Lesson in Resilience #2: Priorities Matter

Throughout the summer, one overarching theme emerged: Chrysalis’ dedication to serving its clients in the most effective and supportive manner possible. I coordinated closely with stakeholders to identify how these initiatives will support their teams at Chrysalis and their direct service to clients. Though responsibilities, project deadlines, and communication mechanisms shifted for everyone this year, organizations still had to make decisions around priorities. Chrysalis’ commitment to continuing and growing its DEI work during this time highlighted the recognition of the positive impact it would have on staff, volunteers, and clients.

Lesson in Resilience #3: Adaptability Matters

My favorite way to think about adaptability is that as long as you keep your overarching objective in mind, you can take a number of different paths to get there. REDF and Chrysalis aimed to provide a valuable and educational internship experience, and though it looked different than in years past, they certainly achieved that goal. At the end of the summer, I had identified even more potential career paths aligned with my interests and skill set, and I’m excited to take what I learned forward through my second year of school and beyond.

In terms of learning and professional development, Chrysalis and REDF provided a virtual internship experience that exceeded expectations. At Chrysalis, I had the privilege of sitting on steering committees, presenting during organization-wide meetings, and building long-lasting relationships with colleagues I only ever met through video chat. Furthermore, REDF ensured that our group of Fellows received the full benefit of trainings, outside speakers, and networking with one another despite a fully virtual internship. From our orientation week trivia competition, to hearing from incredible social entrepreneurs across the country, to presenting to REDF staff and other Farbers, I learned more than I ever anticipated and had an incredibly enjoyable time doing so.

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