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Pursuing a “Career of Impact” – Amy Yu, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

My goal in business school is to find a meaningful, purpose-driven career. I knew I wanted to blend the experiences I had pre-Booth—management consulting and start-ups while helping non-profits in my free time—into an impactful career. I was thrilled to find the Farber Program at REDF because their growth portfolio model blended my interests in entrepreneurship and social impact in a new way, and I was excited to learn how new philanthropy models can achieve greater impact for more people.

I worked with Challenge Program Furniture (CPF), a Wilmington, Delaware-based social enterprise that employs local opportunity youth in a furniture production shop. Trainees learn craftsman skills through an apprenticeship model before moving on to permanent employment in the community. CPF was poised for growth after a few years in operation by building and selling high-end furniture to residential and commercial clients in the Northeast. They had so much demand that they were starting to turn away orders.

My project was focused on operations strategy—help CPF build infrastructure and processes for their operations team so that they could increase capacity, stop turning away orders, and continue to grow. Their largest need was in tracking their profitability—how can we know how much it costs to make a piece of furniture, and are we charging the right price for it? How can we be more efficient with our time and processes?

As I dove into the operational challenges through staff and expert interviews, research, and lots of process analysis, what stood out the most was CPF’s willingness to tackle the difficult questions about how to best support their trainees and improve their own organization. I realized that earning profit is the ‘easier’ side of the for-profit social enterprise equation – but building a sustainable, robust career progression for trainees within a young, growing organization is the difficult part. We spoke candidly about CPF’s own diversity and inclusion reckoning among its staff, the role its board plays, and how difficult it can be to balance training needs with a quality manufacturing product, among other topics.

The thought-provoking but invigorating conversations continued during weekly REDF calls with employment social enterprise leaders, REDF staff, and the other Farber Fellows. It was inspiring to find a community of mission-oriented people who believe that traditional business goals and impact initiatives can be combined successfully to serve others and illuminating to find how others viewed ‘a career of impact’. We also had a lot of fun along the way—including a few pranks on our Farber program manager Brian and a lot of virtual game sessions.

I ultimately helped CPF design and install foundational processes to manage their operations, including a Kanban board, an ordering spreadsheet system, and daily stand-up meeting. I also defined changing roles and responsibilities for the team as they began to transition from small furniture maker to manufacturing at scale. To answer the profitability question, I diligenced and recommended several manufacturing management systems that would track data critical to analyzing labor and material costs, and recommended improvements to order management processes by benchmarking CPF processes against competitors. My recommendations will help CPF move to a facility that is three times its current size in the next six months and support 40+ more trainees in the coming years. I’ll cherish the relationships forged and learnings from this summer, but I am most grateful to have played a small part in CPF and REDF’s bold mission to build a more inclusive economy, and excited to use my experience to continue building organizations that deliver meaningful impact.

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