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Looking for a Different Summer Experience?

For many of you, recruiting week was a blur, but you got through it with multiple job offers. You are ridiculously excited and have your whole summer planned out. In fact, the only thing between you and the summer is finding that perfect apartment in Manhattan on Craigslist, preferably within walking distance to your wonderful internship at Lehman Brothers. Awesome.

For others, recruiting week may have left you a little uninspired, perhaps even a tad devastated. The organizations were not exciting, you could not muster up the enthusiasm, and well.lets be honest, you’re pretty darn close to a mid-year RC crisis. Before you go off into the abyss of post-recruiting week MBA depression, there is still hope for you!

Last summer, roughly 50 MBAs [both RCs and ECs] received the Social Enterprise Fellowship. We were a diverse bunch, working at organizations ranging from the Clinton Foundation to the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, in places that spanned from Colombia to South Africa to Louisiana/Mississippi. And we did it with financial and program support from the Social Enterprise Initiative here at HBS. Personally, I spent my summer in Nairobi, Kenya working at TechnoServe [www.technoserve.org], a nonprofit whose mission is to “provide business solutions for the rural poor.”

Matched with the Kiriita Sugar Beet Farmers Cooperative in Nyandarua [about 2 hours from Nairobi], I worked closely with the Cooperative to draft a business plan and map out the initial funding requirements for a pilot sugar beet processing facility. Along the way, I met with government officials throughout Kenya, especially those at the Sugar Board, Agricultural Ministries and even some at the Bureau of Standards.

I will always remember my very first business meeting with the members of the Cooperative. Most of the farmers were dressed up in their Sunday best, many sporting blazers and suits. At least half of them had traveled more than 5 kilometers to attend the meeting, no small task in a country where public transport is informal and haphazard at best. The farmers were incredibly grateful, thanking me continuously and praising God for sending a “Harvard” student to help them. In fact, we started the meeting hand-in-hand with a prayer, even before getting on to the “business.” That experience was extremely eye-opening and humbling, to say the least.

As the summer went along, I discovered some of the rewarding as well as frustrating aspects of working in the non-profit sector, especially in a developing context such as Kenya. Electricity and general infrastructure were often intermittent, making day-to-day activities much more complicated. The freedom to design and craft my work was limitless, but at times, I yearned for a tad bit of direction. On the other hand, it was refreshing to work and interact directly in the “field,” away from the confines of a cubicle. Being able to tour small-scale sugar plants, talk to smallholder farmers, and visit the Kenyan countryside was an amazing experience, which gave me an opportunity to internalize my project.

If this sounds kind of neat to you or you have an itch to do something “different” this summer, I encourage you to consider a summer internship in social enterprise among your many options. All you need to do is locate a job that interests you and apply. After you receive an offer, you can submit an application for the Social Enterprise Fellowship to support your summer.

Believe it or not – you will use just as much (or more) of that precious MBA toolkit during your summer. There will be LEAD tradeoffs, maybe some MKT issues, perhaps a TOM scenario, and of course, lots of BGIE in between. The best part is that the fellowship gives you the opportunity to explore a particular area of interest, whether it be education, international development, climate change, or the arts. Its up to you to decide when, where and how. And that’s pretty cool if you ask me.

As HBS students, its quite easy for us to go along without really taking advantage of the many things HBS has to offer – this program is exactly one of those privileges. Having the chance to experiment with something you are passionate about and receiving a stipend in the process is difficult to pass up.

For more information about the Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship program (including application procedures & logistical details), visit www.hbs.edu/socialenterprise/summer/.

February 25, 2008
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