Brian Kreiter (OA) did not need to come to the Harvard Business School to learn how to make a difference in the world. He’s already done it. As an undergraduate at Yale University, Kreiter and a classmate, Kirsten Lodal, recognized a huge disparity between the students at Yale and the surrounding New Haven community. In 1998, the pair decided to do something about it, and National Student Partnerships (NSP) was born. Brian and Kirsten designed the program so that college student volunteers worked one-on-one with community residents replica watches uk, coordinating access to existing social services such as job training, housing, health care, and transportation, among others. After successfully launching NSP in New Haven, Lodal and Kreiter have since expanded the organization to include 15 offices nationwide and more than 2,000 student volunteers. To date, NSP volunteers have helped over 6,000 clients achieve their goals of employment, self-sufficiency and personal success.
In June of this year, Brian and Kirsten were honored for their innovation and their dedication to community development efforts. During a nationally televised ceremony, the two NSP founders received the National Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service by Individuals Under 35 replica breitling. Other national award recipients this year included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, and noted civil rights leader Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth.
Though Brian has also been a successful entrepreneur in the for-profit sector, he continues to serve as the Chairman of the Board of NSP. The Harbus recently caught up with Brian to learn more about how he created and grew National Student Partnerships, what he has learned in the process and how he views the role of entrepreneurship within the non-profit world.
Harbus: Tell us about National Student Partnerships and how it was started.
Brian Kreiter: Kirsten and I started NSP in 1998 when we were undergrads at Yale. It was right after the Welfare Reform Act had passed, which meant that a number of recipients were being asked to come off Welfare and get jobs. It seemed to us that many people were going to have trouble doing that. We found that there were programs all over the place that provided these services, but that these organizations were all so cash strapped and time strapped that they really didn’t have the time or the energy to talk to one another. So we set up this little basement office that was one table and we would provide a search of all the various services available to anyone who needed it. Eventually we systematized the process to the point where we were basically a ‘travel agency’ of personal services for the low-income community, staffed almost entirely by college students.
Harbus: How did you initially get clients to use NSP’s services?
BK: One of our first clients was a guy who wandered into our office after seeing a flyer tacked to a phone poll, and he came in because he was going to go to jail the next day for not paying child support. We went with him to court and basically the judge released him on the idea that we would help him get a job. We had no idea how to do this at the time. But for three weeks we had students make a list of every place he could possibly work, and then each day a different student walked with him to each potential employer until he got a job at an Autozone. He eventually became a great recruiter of other clients – many of our clients actually become volunteers, which is really neat. We believe very passionately that there is a blurry line between the server and the served and that just because you need help on one day doesn’t mean that you’re eternally going to be a person in need. We all sort of need help on some days and other days we’re the helper.
Harbus: Can you share one of your client’s success stories?
BK: There are an incredible number of stories. One of my favorites involves a guy who came in to our Washington DC office after falling on some tough times. We immediately got him a job in a retail environment, but this guy’s dream was to become a truck driver. He had never been outside the confines of Washington DC. The students in our office were determined to get him a job as a truck driver, so they organized a group of volunteers to phone every truck driving school in the country and eventually found one with an opening in KY. Our client got on a bus, went down to KY, and called our office every day to tell us what was going on.
One of the walls in the DC office is now covered with pictures of this client – the pictures say things like ‘the first time I saw a waterfall’, ‘the first time I saw California’. And at one of our board meetings, during the auditor’s report, we heard a loud horn blasting… This client pulled his truck up outside the office and came in to thank the board. That was great.
Harbus: How have you been able to successfully expand the program to new communities?
BK: We use what we learn in one community to help people in other communities. We run the program using proprietary software which allows us to have real-time data analysis of everything that goes on in all of our offices. By spending a lot of time concentrating on systems development and cost management, we’re able to run these offices for $50,000 per year. Cost management is really important to us as we scale because we really want the primary funding to go to our partners who are providing the services directly. We see ourselves as a bridge between our partners and our clients.
At the same time, this is a very entrepreneurial organization- two of us founded it, but really 2,000 volunteers started it. NSP is very much a reflection of everyone who has been a part of it, and each office has figured out how to innovate in its own way to address local needs. For example, our offices in the Bronx and San Antonio are conducted entirely in Spanish. In another example, our DC office was having trouble finding partners for housing. The federal Section 8 housing program provides vouchers for low income housing, but it’s often difficult to find landlords who will accept these vouchers. So we organized a group of students from Georgetown to phone landlords for two weeks and to create the first comprehensive database of every Section 8 apartment available in DC. We now provide this data cost-free to all the other non-profits in the area.
Harbus: What has been the biggest challenge in growing the organization?
BK: We started the organization very young, so there’s been a lot to learn – from how to grow and manage a staff to how to run operations to how to deal with the complexities of federal funding, which we get. Building a franchise-type organization also contains some inherent difficulties in recognizing the differences between communities, but at the same time creating systems that can operate seamlessly across the organization. I think we faced all the major challenges of any growing business. The thing that has buoyed us is that there are so many non-profits doing so much good, and we help to make all the organizations around us better. We are their biggest cheerleaders, and in turn they become ours.
Harbus: How do you view the role of entrepreneurship in the non-profit sector versus the private sector?
BK: I’ve been an entrepreneur in both the for-profit and the non-profit
world and ultimately, there really is no difference between the two. To the extent that in the future there will be greater fluidity for people moving between non-profits and for-profits – much as there is for people moving between the worlds of business and government and back again – I think that that will be a really positive development for the country.
Harbus: To what do you attribute your interest in volunteerism and community involvement?
BK: My mother started her career as an economist and spent the last thirty years working for women’s economic empowerment, particularly in employment. That defini
tely imbued me with an awareness of what’s going on around me. New Haven was also an easy place to feel that you wanted to participate in the world. It was important to me to get involved, and I liked both the community building piece as well as the entrepreneurial piece [of NSP].
At The Jefferson Awards ceremonies this summer there were four national award winners as well as a couple hundred local award winners. We spent a day just listening to their stories – from people who had come back from WWII and started teaching disabled children how to swim to people who had started the library in a small town in West Texas. Whatever it is, there’s something that active philanthropy can contribute to your life that I think is hard to find in other places. One key for me has been to make my interests in community building very much a part of my professional life. I joined an Internet company in 2000 and part of my compensation package included a deal where the company built the data system which is now the basis of NSP’s operation. That was a really nice integration of my two worlds.
Harbus: Tell us about the Jefferson Award.
BK: To tell you the truth, I don’t know that much about how it worked. It’s not something that you can apply for; we were nominated evidently by someone on the committee who has never been revealed to us. It’s really been phenomenal for the organization and I think that everybody involved with NSP, from our clients to our volunteers to our staff, really feels a big part of it. We all were happy for the recognition, understanding that ultimately our real reward is the opportunity to provide students with an incredible leadership experience and the opportunity to improve people’s lives and their communities.
Harbus: How has HBS helped you in your capacity to lead NSP?
BK: My contributions [to NSP] have been able to increase exponentially since I came to HBS, largely because of how much I’ve been able to learn on a day to day basis from everyone else here. It’s really unbelievable. It’s given me a lot of hope for how much positive impact all of my classmates will have in all the various organizations, profit or non-profit, that they will join in the future. Ultimately, all of these entities that we help build will impact individuals and families; it doesn’t really matter what specifically we do, just how we do it. I also believe that you can never have enough knowledge of how to do things efficiently, effectively and ethically. I certainly don’t. For that reason, I am incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to be here.
2004 National Jefferson Award
U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen
Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged
Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth
Samuel S. Beard Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 Years or Under
Kirsten Lodal and Brian Kreiter
In 1972, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard founded the American Institute for Public Service in order to establish a ‘Nobel Prize’ for public and community service in the United States – The Jefferson Awards. Each year in Washington DC, the American Institute presents the National Jefferson Awards to outstanding individuals in four categories as well as a number of local Jefferson Awards to “Unsung Hereos” chosen by the American Institute’s Media Partners.