Catalyst Alliance

Just months into her first job post-college, Carly Janson (HBS 2003) was already exercising her social entrepreneurial spirit in her position as a Business Analyst in Accenture’s New York Strategy practice. Upon joining Accenture, she realized that the firm did not have a formal pro bono consulting program to enable employees to consult to nonprofits. So, after researching social enterprises, completing several public sector engagements, and developing an extensive proposal for a pro bono program, she concluded that the best way to make an impact in the social sector would come in the form of her own nonprofit. In February of 2000, with the support of Accenture, Carly founded Catalyst Alliance, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Boston and San Francisco.

Since then, Catalyst Alliance has partnered with multiple MBA programs, including HBS, MIT Sloan, Stanford, and UC Berkeley’s Haas School, in order to fulfill its mission to “effect lasting social change by delivering capacity-building services to social enterprises today, while developing socially responsible leaders for tomorrow.” Critical to Catalyst Alliance’s success has been its strategic alliance with Harvard Business School and the Initiative on Social Enterprise. Catalyst Alliance’s two core program offerings – an Academic Year Consulting program and a Summer Associate program – offer HBS student consultants two different ways of examining the management challenges of the nonprofit sector. “The Academic Year program makes it very easy for students to get involved in a way that is high-impact, but essentially low-risk,” says Janson. “In just one semester of HBS you can make a huge difference for a nonprofit.”

Working on teams with other HBS students under the guidance of senior-level consultant volunteers from Accenture, the Academic Year program teams tackle strategy projects for Catalyst Alliance’s nonprofit clients during the spring semester. The projects are scoped and rigorously defined in the planning stages to ensure the highest possible impact in 16 weeks. A faculty sponsor provides additional perspective and allows teams to receive course credit for their work, but these projects are definitely more than academic exercises. “The clients are putting these teams on projects that are their highest organizational priorities,” says Janson, “so we really measure our success by the extent to which the team’s recommendations can be implemented.”

This spring, two HBS teams have been working, under the sponsorship of Professors Amy Edmondson and Stig Leschly, on innovative projects of their own. Elizabeth Chang, Mike Nally, David Schlendorf, and John Gilmartin are continuing Catalyst Alliance’s ongoing relationship with Citizen Schools through working on a project to refine Citizen School’s expansion strategy. The team is creating a series of benchmarks and best practices to use to advise Citizen Schools on the feasibility of various expansion options.

Team member Dave explains, “Working with Catalyst has been a great experience because we were able to get up to speed on the project very quickly. [The Catalyst team members] were also very helpful in finding the right client and project to match our team’s interests.”

Nicole Palczer, Ali Pogorelec, Amanda Provost, and Sarah Kim are working on another Catalyst Alliance project with The Boston Foundation in which they are assessing the technology needs of local community development corporations (CDCs). The team is interviewing 16 Boston-area CDCs with the intent of identifying ways in which they can deploy new technologies that benefit CDCs as a group, rather than simply help one individual CDC improve its technology infrastructure.

The goal is to attract greater investment by showing The Boston Foundation’s consortium of donors that funding will be leveraged to implement solutions that will impact multiple CDCs. The team acclaims, “Catalyst has done a fantastic job of bringing many parties to the table to help Boston CDCs analyze their collective technology needs. It has been exciting to work with Catalyst staff, Accenture consultants, The Boston Foundation and local CDCs to help define projects that will have a long-term impact on community members. The fact that Catalyst is orchestrating the effort also means that it won’t end once we graduate – there are already plans underway to continue the project through the summer.”

Catalyst Alliance’s Summer Associate program allows HBS students to dig deep into a nonprofit’s mission, challenges and culture during the summer between their 1st and 2nd years. Piloted in the summer of 2002 and continuing this year, the Summer Associate program recruits and selects a small class of Associates to work directly with nonprofit clients over the summer, usually reporting directly to the Executive Director. A mentor relationship with an Accenture volunteer allows the Associate to troubleshoot project issues and client relationship management with an experienced consultant.

Last year, four HBS students (now in their second years) participated in the pilot Summer Associate program in Boston, bringing their unique business perspective to bear on the problems of some of Catalyst’s innovative nonprofit clients. Tina Snowden advised Citizen Schools, an after-school program provider, on their national expansion strategy.

Heidi Brooks expanded publicity and funding initiatives for Year Up, a one-year intensive IT training and development program that develops career opportunities for low-income urban youth. Claudia Onofrio set up an internal performance measurement system using the Balanced Scorecard methodology for Tenacity, a summer and after-school tennis program for inner city youth. Finally, Dune Thorne worked with City Skills, an IT training sourcing organization, to develop an internship program that will bridge the gap between students’ “in the classroom” learning and full-time job placements.

This summer, a new class of Summer Associates from HBS will work with return clients Year Up and Jumpstart and new clients Inquilinos Boriquas en Accion and Discovering Justice. A Stanford Business School Summer Associate will also be working with The Boston Foundation.

In the coming year, Catalyst Alliance faces one of its most ambitious periods of growth to date, as the organization expands its programs internationally. For her part, Carly Janson will be leading Catalyst Alliance’s new push for growth as she graduates and resumes the position of full-time executive director. “I’ve loved every minute of my business school experience, but over the past two years, the biggest percentage of my brain-share has stayed with Catalyst,” says Janson.

“I’m so excited to be able to bring the skills I’ve been developing at HBS back to the organization.”

For further details about Catalyst, please contact

Note: Due to a trademark dispute, Catalyst Alliance will be unveiling a new name in May 2003.

April 22, 2003
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