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Rediscovering and Redefining Value – Meg Rudy, Duke Fuqua School of Business

This summer I worked at Tech Dump, an electronics recycler and refurbishing employment social enterprise based in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Some afternoons, I’d sneak back to the warehouse for a quick break, usually asking to accompany an employee or two as they wandered through the maze of cardboard containers. Each container was filled with a mix of electronics parts – piles of old hard drives, circuit boards, power supply units or copper wiring that had been stripped out from retired laptops or TVs. Under the factory lights, the gold and copper on each chip or circuit board glimmers brightly; there was something both striking and satisfying in catching that glimpse of hidden value within materials so commonplace, yet so overlooked or underestimated.

In my first year of business school coursework, I’ve learned the nitty-gritty mechanics for capturing, creating, and measuring financial value: how to estimate the value of an investment over time, how to calculate the lifetime value of a customer, or how to construct a valuation for a new business idea. At REDF, I found myself applying many of these skills in my 10-week consulting project, while also rediscovering types of value that are too often underestimated, overlooked, or misunderstood in the traditional business world.

As a Farber Fellow, we joined weekly learning sessions with leaders who challenged us to rediscover and redefine value. REDF’s Impact Lending team shared how they are discovering new value for investors by re-defining what we mean by “creditworthy.” With new president Maria Kim, we discussed REDF’s strategy for the future and how job creation for those overcoming severe barriers to employment may be at the very center of undiscovered value in a post-COVID economy. With REDF’s Learning and Evidence team, we discussed how to measure social return on investment (SROI) to quantify some (but by no means all) of a business’ less tangible impacts and social value. Most memorable, however, were conversations with employment social enterprise leaders like Jamie Stark, Executive Director of Farming Hope, whose stories reminded us that so much of the value of any small business doesn’t lie on the balance sheet but instead in how it builds, sustains, and strengthens an inclusive community.

Meg Rudy and members of the Tech Dump team

Tech Dump’s business model is grounded in a belief that everything and everyone has value. By providing thousands of hours of job training each year and nearly a million dollars in wages, as well as practical experience, Tech Dump prepares its employees – many of whom have experience in the justice system or are in recovery from addiction – to showcase their value to employers and expand their opportunities. What was most meaningful to me this summer was getting to know this value firsthand through stories and breakroom chats that taught me that no person should be defined by a single day in their life or by the systemic barriers they face.

I worked with Tech Dump on several projects focused on assessing new strategies for growth, including exploring the feasibility of entering into the IT managed services industry and providing strategy recommendations for the early stages of a potential acquisition. I interviewed IT techs, software companies, and non-profit IT training providers, and created a financial model to project profits for a new business line. I used case studies from past employment social enterprise M&A deals to develop criteria for Tech Dump and other organizations in determining their readiness for this kind of growth.

Meg (left) with Tech Dump CEO Amanda LaGrange

What I enjoyed most about my project was diving into big, thorny questions about upskilling, the future of work, or social enterprise strategy, and coming out with some tangible clarity – not only for the decisions for which success would be measured by financial value, but also for decisions that needed to be measured by less tangible factors, like employee interest, program design or team culture.

I’m headed back to Duke’s Fuqua School of Business with new skills and a renewed drive to leverage my business toolkit to bring out the value that is often overlooked or underestimated. Whether by investing in, building, or contributing to organizations that are reimagining a more inclusive future of work, or by directing capital to communities that have been underestimated, I’m committed to finding new ways to recognize the hidden value in others and uplift the potential of all people. Thank you to the Tech Dump team and REDF for this opportunity!

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