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My summer at a social enterprise: A lesson in our common humanity – Roxane Debaty, Yale School of Management

When I first considered my destination for the summer, I was intrigued by REDF for two reasons. First, it promised a very tactical, hands-on experience solving strategic initiatives for a non-profit, and second, it offered insight into the funding of non-profits and how to measure SROI for a social enterprise. This intersection of high-level and on-the-ground strategy within the social sector in a part of the sector I was passionate about—employment—pushed me to apply for REDF. And I’m so thankful I did.

Throughout my summer in Denver, Colorado working at the Women’s Bean Project, I worked on two projects: an in-depth deconstruction and re-construction of their data collection process as it supports the organization’s recruitment strategy, and a new product launch project management tool. This tandem path of analyzing the social impact side of the organization (e.g., How do we reach the women with the highest barriers to employment? What network of referral sources do we need to build to fortify the pipeline of referred women, and how do we manage these partners?) and the profit-driving, business side of the organization (e.g., How do we most efficiently coordinate work between divisions to launch a product? What project management tools can help us communicate the process?) gave me a complete picture of the trade-offs employment social enterprise organizations must balance as they run businesses with a social mission.

It also gave me a glimpse into the broken correctional system in our country and the gaps that social enterprises such as Women’s Bean work to fill to get women back on their feet. Every interaction I had with these women showed me just how similar all humans are in their need to feel appreciated, valued and able to care for their families. I remember my first morning meeting, where staff and participants alike gathered around the conference room table to share goals. Staff members went first, stating goals to get fit, balance stress, or finish a house project. The first participant that spoke had a goal of reaching out to her teenage daughter, who she hadn’t been permitted to speak to in years. The stark difference in our goals hit me in a way that inspired deep admiration for these women that came to work every day to better their lives.

Later that day, I remember a staff member at REDF asking me if the experience and projects were complex enough for an MBA student and if I felt fulfilled. The truth is, I felt more fulfilled than I had anticipated. It’s true that solving some of the business issues a non-profit faces is sometimes less complex than solving for the valuation of an international merger, for example. However, in either case, implementing the solution you solve for is often the hardest part of the process—and to implement a solution in a resource-strapped social enterprise with double, and sometimes triple bottom-line goals, uses just as much, if not more, business acumen.

So, future Farber, if you’re looking for an internship that promises skill-testing challenges neatly packaged in the context of a very distinct project scope; if you want to see the impact of your work on a human and an organizational level; and if you’re interested in both on-the-ground work and gaining an understanding of the philanthropic sector that makes decisions to fund these social enterprises, apply here. This summer was both meaningful and fruitful, and as a bonus, I met 11 of the most kind, driven and brilliant fellow MBA students I could have had the pleasure of interning with, and developed friendships that are likely to endure many more summers.

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