For the summer of 2018, I worked at More Than Words, a non-profit bookstore based in Boston that focuses on preparing youth to enter the job market. More Than Words’ main motto is that you can empower young people to take charge of their lives by teaching them how to take charge of a business, and I was impressed to see how that really proved to be true even during the short, 10-week period of my REDF Faber Internship summer internship.
More Than Words welcomes youth from the ages of 18-24 that come from challenging backgrounds (such as homelessness, foster care, or incarceration) to run their operations. Once a youth joins the staff team, he/she gets a chance to learn all about the different parts of running a business – from providing excellent customer service to managing back-office operations. At the same time, they are required to work on the “You Project”, for which they create a set of personal goals to be achieved during their time at the organization – such as graduating from high school, finding a long-term job, or attaining a driver license. Given that so many of the young people in this program are not used to receiving positive encouragement or being set up for success, it was inspiring to see the progress that they made over time and how they grew more confident of their potential every day.
Another reason that made joining More Than Words so exciting was helping the organization throughout an ambitious expansion stage, in which they prepared to more than double the size of their operations. In a very timely way, REDF brought me in to help by creating a comprehensive marketing plan for their new events space and social enterprise marketplace. Before long, the initial scope expanded into tackling other challenges, including analyzing revenue strategy and branding guidelines. Encouraged by REDF to add as much value as I could and go beyond the initial parameters, I felt excited and empowered to contribute with as many ideas as I had, and see immediate results coming out of those ideas. That was especially exhilarating given my former life in strategy consulting where I spent so much time designing “action” plans that took years and years to be executed. When REDF invited me to join them for a “very hands-on project”, they really meant it!
More Than Words is also an impressively fast organization that makes high-impact decisions and acts on them quickly. To me, they brought a perfect balance of an organization with the energizing vibe of a startup, but that fully understood the ins/outs of its business. Working with them has taught me how to be more action-oriented and how to experiment with pilot projects. For instance, as I helped set up the first batch of retail inventory, I learned that shaping what a new store is going to look like is as much an art as a science. At the same time, I also feel I brought important contributions to More Than Words, such as helping them ask probing questions that broke through the norms of the past—especially important given how radically the retail book business has changed over the years.
Finally, being part of a cohort of Farber interns was amazing! All my Farber colleagues came from great business schools with a multitude of professional experiences which made for invaluable moments exchanging ideas (not to mention tons of fun!). The support provided by my REDF manager and the staff was so helpful in navigating a completely new organizational setting. And, last but not least, REDF is an extremely inspiring organization. For years they have been leaders in the social enterprise space, gathering an impressive expertise that they made sure to share with us.
More than anything, I’m ending the summer with a feeling that now I understand the complexities and challenges of the social entrepreneurship world much better. While business school gives you great tools to manage companies, nothing can substitute for the practical and holistic experience I gained at the Farber program. I can already feel that, going back to my MBA program, I’ll have a much more complete perspective on how business can create social change, which I am sure will make a huge difference in my impact as a purpose-oriented business manager.