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Blog, Farber Series

Where Data Meets Impact (and Baseball) – Zak Sheft, Kellogg School of Management

I’ve always loved the energy in a baseball stadium, the crack of a hard-hit ball, the roar from the crowd when they get excited. But standing in the San Francisco Giants stadium this past summer, something different stood out to me. Juma youths, many younger than 18, hustled up and down the stands selling ice cream and other concessions to fans. That is no easy job. You’re constantly on your feet and running around. You’re passing money back and forth across fans. You have to shout and project yourself confidently. Frankly, I don’t know that I’d be that great at it. For many Juma youths, this is their first job, and I found it so inspiring to see them putting themselves out there and making sales, a lot of them!

As a Farber Summer Fellow, I spent the past ten weeks working with Juma Ventures in San Francisco. Juma’s social enterprises employ youth from underserved communities to work in concession sales in stadiums in six cities across the country. These youths may be roaming the stadium as runners (described above) or working in the many food stands scattered throughout the stadium concourses. On top of the direct employment experience, Juma provides skills training, financial literacy coaching, and other support to these youth in an effort to break the cycle of poverty.

Zak with his Juma SF coworkers.

So, what did it actually mean to be a Farber Fellow with Juma? They definitely gave me a lot to sink my teeth into. I interviewed Juma staff across all of its sites to learn about what best practices staff use to successfully manage youth on the job. I helped lay out a timeline and associated roles and responsibilities for the rollout of a new data system. I thought through how to refine key metrics reporting and reflection processes to ensure that Juma can continue to drive improvements in its programming and operations for years to come. Through this all, I received support and advice REDF and Juma, but I also had a lot of autonomy in scoping my work and pushing it forward, which was a fantastic learning experience. In the end, I walked away from my final presentation feeling like I’d helped address important issues for the organization.

I learned a lot this summer, but a major takeaway for me is that running a social enterprise isn’t easy. Resources are tight in this space. You are running a competitive business with a social mission and competing with firms that, typically, only have one bottom line to answer to. You constantly need to make tough tradeoffs, balancing between completing additional core program tasks, such as providing case management or new skills trainings for your participants, while also collecting as much data as possible to track organizational success.

However, I also learned you encounter a passion and energy from everyone you meet that is rare to find in the private sector world, and that helps create the transformative power of an employment social enterprise. No matter who I spoke to, their dedication to Juma’s mission of breaking the cycle of poverty was palpable. I could immediately sense their joy when they described the stories of the youths who had a tough start but then turned it around and became leaders and mentors to their peers. These staff were always ready to go the extra mile to support Juma youth and help them achieve success. And it’s that passion that I expect to stick with me for years to come.

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