Leaders who make a difference in the world

On May 8, 2001, I completed the last exam at Harvard Business School. Knowing that there would be four months before my permanent job starts, I decided to use two months to do something interesting but different.
Although I don’t expect that nonprofit work will be a full-time commitment for me in the near future, there is a possibility that I will be involved in some non-profit area after I am comfortable with my accomplishments in the for-profit world. I hope working for a non-profit organization would open a window for me to understand how those organizations are managed. Besides, with the financial aid provided by HBS Nonprofit and Public Management Summer Fellowship Program, the financial reward became acceptable. I don’t need to squeeze in friends’ places and feel embarrassed to tell the salary in order to work for nonprofit. So I searched the job bank, sent out two resumes, got one interview and then the offer: from Project Renewal.

Project Renewal is New York’s leading nonprofit organization serving the homeless, helping to rehabilitate 18,000 homeless men and women each year with a wide range of services such as outreach, treatment, housing and employment programs. Other than public support, it also has its own revenue generating activities including a commercial kitchen, organic farm, bakery, printing company, and construction firm, as a self-financing source. Its mission is to give homeless, mentally ill and substance-abusing adults the chance to reclaim their lives and become self-sufficient. Its employees have very diverse background, ranging from previously homeless people to graduates from top schools including Harvard and Stanford.

On July 16, a week after I came back from Europe, I started my internship at Project Renewal. Its Director of Social Enterprise is also an HBS graduate. He gave me several possible suggestions on the projects I could work on and let me pick anything that interests me. I finally picked the project to improve Comfort Foods, Project Renewal’s commercial kitchen and an institutional catering business.

As a placement tool for the employment program graduates as well as a revenue source, Comfort Foods had great social value but less satisfactory financial return. My project had three goals: 1) Discover the real cost of Comfort Foods both as part of PRI and as a stand-alone business; 2) Find out the appropriate pricing and marketing strategy; 3) Look for other possible ways for improvement. The 10-week process was very much like a typical consulting project: conducting interviews, compiling data and doing analysis. The work itself was almost completely self-paced. Other than working at the headquarters, I volunteered to spend two weeks in the kitchen working closely with our clients (Comfort Foods’ employees and previously homeless people) to gain a better understanding. At the end of the 10-week project, I summarized my analysis in a report and presented it to Project Renewal’s senior management team. By the time I left the organization, some of my recommendations have already been implemented.

Overall, completing that project was both challenging and rewarding experience. It was challenging because I was trying to actually turn around a business by applying the skills I learned at HBS. It was also rewarding because I was able to complete the project and actually see my recommendations be implemented.

What’s more important, I saw the difference between the nonprofit and for-profit organizations and how a social enterprise can be run efficiently. While I don’t expect that nonprofit work will be a full-time commitment for me in the near future, I am convinced that there will still be opportunities for me to have a major positive impact on my community, through applying my business skills.

Whether you are thinking of doing something different in the summer or moving toward a career in nonprofit, I would highly recommend you consider nonprofit and the Summer Fellowship Program, and have a challenging, rewarding, and wonderful summer!

November 19, 2001
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