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Onward and Upward: A Refreshing, Engaging, and Inspiring Farber Summer – Priscilla Luu, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

Just two years ago, I hopped off my call with Lalu Bere (Kellogg MBA ‘19) after learning about her MBA and Farber Fellow experience. I was in the middle of a long-winding MBA application journey that felt endless. Ultimately, I made the decision to come to Berkeley-Haas to pursue the intersection of finance and social impact as I aspired to make a career switch from financial services. I was particularly drawn to the field of impact investing. This particular phone call was when I first learned about REDF and was introduced to the world of venture philanthropy. I knew immediately that the Farber Fellow was a summer internship I would target, if and when I was accepted into an MBA program.

Fast forward to early 2020, I still remember receiving and ignoring a phone call from an unknown “415” number, as I had received one too many telemarketing calls that week. However, a voicemail popped up and it was Nicole Ballin, my soon-to-be REDF Relationship Manager, asking me to call her back. My heart was racing, wondering if it was a rejection call. After mustering up the courage, I gave her a call back and was beyond excited to hear that I had received an offer to join the Farber Program! That call has been (and likely will be) the best 2020 news I received.

Ryan, Sam, myself, Emily, and Andrea hiking in the Berkeley Hills at the beginning of summer.

My summer as a Farber Fellow far exceeded my expectations. Given the increased uncertainty of the global pandemic and the racial injustices our country was witnessing, my hopes for the new decade didn’t start off very strong. Yet, I knew this presented a unique and challenging opportunity to make a difference. There was no better time than now to be working with a social enterprise focused on employment. With the rise of economic uncertainty and with many businesses forced to close, finding work was even more difficult for individuals already facing workforce barriers.

I spent ten-weeks working with Goodwill Central Texas (GCT), supporting its staffing business division GSG Talent Solutions. Prior to this summer, I had only known Goodwill to be a nonprofit organization that accepted donations and managed retail stores. Starting out, I knew close to nothing about staffing agencies. I also wondered how a virtual internship would allow me to create the deep impact I had envisioned. I worried whether I would be able to form relationships and connect personally with my new team if everything was virtual.

I’m happy to report – there was nothing to worry about!

I quickly learned that the task of balancing business with impact is harder in practice. Social enterprises face difficult decisions on a daily basis. I appreciated learning about GCT’s core vision of empowering people through work, and the belief that education and work are the only true pathways out of poverty. At GCT, my project was focused on developing a multi-market expansion strategy to grow its staffing agency 3X in 10 years. After talking to internal staff members, workforce development specialists, staffing agency consultants, and other alternative staffing organizations, I gained an in-depth knowledge of this industry. I spent the first half of the summer learning about the ecosystem, conducting competitive analysis, and launching into target market deep dives. The latter half of the summer was focused on tangible toolkits and implementation plans I could leave behind. This included an evaluation scorecard, an operational expansion plan, and a business development plan.

Throughout this summer, I carried GCT’s mission to empower people through work and education with me. I was driven to develop a strategic plan that would allow GCT to further its impact in new markets, while also keeping in mind that business revenue was necessary to achieve sustainable growth. I learned that every contract and business the staffing agency pursued was mission-based. If GSG can obtain a job order for the Texas government for an attorney, they are bringing in large revenue to the mission. If recruiters can place 30 temps at $15/hr, that is revenue towards the mission. If the Business Development Manager can find an employer to place someone on parole, that is for the mission. If case managers can refer and support a formerly homeless individual in attaining his/her high school diploma or a professional certification, that is for the mission. The GSG team embodied the organization’s values and were each driven to have a direct impact on the lives of those seeking work and a new future.

Having the opportunity to witness this impact and to contribute to GCT’s future growth strategy, I left the summer refreshed, inspired, and hopeful. I am committed to a future career that can continue transforming the lives of those who face barriers to employment, who seek a second-chance, and who carry the  same sense of hope and optimism for a better future for both themselves and their families.

My experience wouldn’t have been what it was without the support of the GCT team, REDF portfolio managers and staff, Brian and Christina (literally, the driving force behind the Farber Program), and my fellow Farbers. Each of these individuals was not only a great sounding board for ideas and deliverables, but also amazing leaders with rich experiences and backgrounds. The opportunity to meet (albeit virtually), connect with, and learn from such a diverse group of high-impact and humble people was the most rewarding part of the Farber Fellowship. I am excited to use my developed skill set, impactful experience, and strengthened commitment to social good to continue fighting the fight forward. Onward and upward!

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