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My Farber Summer: An Eye-Opening and Rewarding Experience – Ineza Mutimura, Duke University Fuqua School of Business

Last year, I attended a REDF information session where a Farber alum described the experience as one that “changed her life.” I’d heard numerous students recount their internship stories, but rarely with so much enthusiasm. Instantly, I knew this is where I wanted to spend my summer. 

Of course, being an MBA student, I did my due diligence. The more I learned about this unique program, the more excited I became. I was thrilled when my application was accepted, and then…Covid-19 hit! In addition to being fully immersed in the work of an employment social enterprise, the other aspects of the program I was looking forward to were the orientation, midpoint gathering, and the closing celebration. I wanted to meet my Farber cohort and bond with them, and I wanted to connect with the REDF staff who worked so tirelessly — and I wanted to do that in person! I was also so excited to see San Francisco. As an international student from Rwanda, this was going to be my introduction to working in the United States.

Despite the change in plans that the coronavirus demanded, REDF and the Farber program exceeded my expectations. The team rose to the occasion and designed a remote program that was interactive, informative, and so much fun. The three Farber cohort gatherings were adapted to the new environment and were exceptional. We had weekly Zoom happy hours, webinars on impact lending and double bottom line accounting, learning lunches with REDF executive leadership and the KKR board, panel discussions with Farber alumni, and interviews with some outstanding social entrepreneurs. 

I was placed at UTEC, a social enterprise in Lowell, MA that employs proven-risk youth in transitional jobs. I worked primarily with UTEC’s woodworking business on an expansion project to grow its woodshop. As I did research and analysed historical and market data, I realised that any initiative to maximize the woodshop’s revenue would compromise additional training of the young adults. If we were to grow rapidly, we’d train fewer young adults. If we optimised young adult training, the woodshop would likely remain grant reliant for the foreseeable future.  This really brought home the delicate balance between profit and purpose that is at the heart of running an employment-focused social enterprise.

For three days during my Farber fellowship, I had the opportunity to travel to Lowell and experience UTEC in person. This was by far the highlight of my summer. As much as I’d learned by that point, it didn’t prepare me for the energy I witnessed at the UTEC offices (while social distancing, of course). I met the dedicated staff who do outreach to youth, called “street workers,” meeting them where they are, whether that’s on the street or in prison. I attended a kitchen design class and sat in a “circle session” where young adults had a space to share their perspectives on various life topics. I also had the privilege of meeting some of the team working on changing expungement law in Massachusetts so that the futures of young people who have been involved with the justice system are not defined by the experience.. 

A mural seen on UTEC’s Lowell campus.

As I reflect back on my experience, my biggest takeaway is that in the absence of functioning public support structures, employment social enterprises like UTEC have to wear a daunting number of hats in order to help young people overcome difficult barriers to employment. UTEC not only provides internal programming for mental health and skills development, but also works externally to bring young adults through their doors. Additionally, they provide child care to young parents and have teams fighting to reform the criminal justice system. They can’t and shouldn’t be doing all this work alone, and I’m hopeful for a future where there are deeper partnerships between business, local government, and public institutions to better support young people who are striving for a better life. 

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