Monday, October 5, 2009
New Ventures Mexico was an incredible place to work. They had created a young and fun culture that promoted creativity and innovation in business. They had three main business functions: Las Paginas Verdes, a “green” phone directory, a green social enterprise accelerator, and green consulting. My area was in new projects and development, where new market-based solutions that came from the company could be incubated, not necessarily green.
My experience was unparalleled. The people I worked with welcomed my inquisitive nature and provided me with a series of meetings with top executives that worked with the “bottom of the pyramid” sector. I met with heads of microfinance banks, social housing projects, other accelerators, and government officials. Everyone I interviewed was genuinely interested in our progress and was very enthusiastic about USC’s partnership/interest in Mexico. I found a great sense of community in Mexico City; from the World Bank to the other grad students I interacted with, the network I brought back with me was priceless.
While in Mexico City, I mingled with MBA’s and master’s students from Stanford, John Hopkins, University of Chicago, and Yale. I was so proud to be the person to bring Marshall’s name to the competitive arena of international social enterprise. By sending an MBA every year to intern at New Ventures Mexico and work on a market-based social solution, Marshall is making a name in international social development.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
What strikes me about this is how different this felt from most of my experiences at LAUSD. As a public school teacher, I had to fight for my classroom (annually) and didn’t receive an email/login until the third week that school started, and always felt periphery to important events the school was experiencing. Maybe these differences are inconsequential when it really came down to the work I did, but, regardless, it felt different. I felt welcomed, necessary, and included at the Fulfillment Fund. And, although LAUSD and a small education non-profit serve extremely different purposes in the education space, they are not opposites. This summer proved a basic business concept for me: no matter how “good” the work that your organization is doing, if your employees don’t feel taken care of their contribution will ultimately be limited.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Even amid funding cuts and political turmoil at all levels, Green Dotters have persisted in thinking strategically about the future of the organization and committing to the success of all students. The goal my project this summer has been to research and identify the key metrics that demonstrate the organization’s progress towards achieving its strategic goals. After several rounds of interviews, workshops, and discussions, we are ready to present a slate of metrics for a management dashboard to the executive leadership a Green Dot.
It’s been a great project for learning how a charter management organization works and how all the moving parts of the mission are demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. Another highlight of the summer was having lunch with the other Education Pioneers interns and Steve Barr. We asked him about his vision for growth, discussions with Arne Duncan (US Secretary of Education, and how the Dodgers are going to make it to the World Series this year.
This internship has been a great professional and personal learning experience for me. I look forward to making my final presentation and wrapping up my work, and keeping in touch with the Dotters I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know this summer.
To get a taste of Green Dot’s work in Los Angeles, check out the SoCal Connected series on Locke High School.
Monday, August 10, 2009
For the clients who have the most difficulty finding employment, for reasons such as homelessness or felony convictions, there is Chrysalis Enterprises, which serves to provide these clients with work experience they can translate into future career opportunities. Chrysalis Enterprises is comprised of Chrysalis Staffing, essentially an employment agency, and Chrysalis Works, a street cleaning and maintenance service that employs Chrysalis clients. The genius of Chrysalis Enterprises is that, in addition to accomplishing the organization’s mission by providing employment opportunities for those in need, these endeavors earn money for Chrysalis, allowing the non-profit to be self-sustaining to a certain extent.
My internship is in the Chrysalis Enterprises office, located in downtown Los Angeles in the “Skid Row” district. Each morning when I arrive, there is a crowd of people on the sidewalk who have just signed in at the front desk in the hopes of getting work that day. Another great thing about the organization’s strategy is that all the clients and potential clients are there because they want to work hard and turn their lives around; no one is there against his or her will.
When I began the internship, I did as much as I could to understand the workings of the organization. I attended orientations for new Chrysalis clients (I even teared up a bit during a particularly moving orientation video) and clients who had been referred to Chrysalis Enterprises, and sat in on many client interviews. When I was introduced to one new client as “David the Intern,” the client carefully looked me up and down, and then said, “Are you really a doctor?”
Additionally, I had the opportunity to spend a morning with one of the street cleaning crews where I was driven around and shown the areas they cover. Coincidentally, it was the “Figueroa Corridor” area, i.e. the area right around USC, where I spend my time the rest of the year. It was interesting to see the area from a different perspective, and to see how all the sidewalks, alleys, and landscaping are maintained; I had never noticed the Chrysalis crews before, but now I see them every time I drive by campus. The crew members take a great amount of pride in their work and were eager to show me the stark contrast between the areas they maintain and the areas that are not covered under their contract.
I also visited the other two Chrysalis locations: one in Santa Monica and one in Pacoima. While at the Pacoima office, I sat in on interviews with clients for a part-time job collecting recyclables at a nearby university. It was heartbreaking to see how each and every one of those clients just wanted to work and was willing to pick up hours wherever they could; I was rooting for each and every one of them to get the position.
Most of the work I have done thus far involves Chrysalis Works; my first major project was to tackle the problem of the record-keeping and customer reporting system. The system in place was that supervisors of the street-cleaning crews would write down the data each day (e.g. how many trash bags were picked up, where graffiti was removed, any bulk items that were picked up, etc.), and one of two people would enter the data on an Excel spreadsheet. At the end of the month, the data would be copied onto one of a variety of report templates and sent to the customer.
My assignment was to fix this system using FileMaker Pro, which I had used years ago when I worked at the Shoah Foundation. I took a few weeks to build a system into which the data could be entered in a standardized format in a location that all employees could access. I had to create a screen where all the necessary data could be entered in a way that it could be pulled onto a singular report for the customer. The next step was to create the report templates within FileMaker, so that once that data was in the system, creating the report for the customer was as easy as selecting the report from a drop-down menu.
We tested this system using the data from June, and sent FileMaker-generated reports to all of Chrysalis Works’ customers, who responded positively to the new format.
Another project I worked on was the thorough analysis of client data. Most of the data on individual clients is collected in the payroll system, but unfortunately, there is not one cohesive report that displays information on things such as average hours worked, number of months employed, hours worked per employee per year, etc. Information such as this is extremely important for judging the efficacy of the program and determining where improvement is needed.
We determined that the vast majority of Chrysalis Works clients work either fewer than 10 hours a week, or more than 30 hours a week; very few people fall in between those categories. Additionally, we discovered that, during the time period we examined, the clients who work the most hours are usually the ones who have been there the longest; there is extremely high turnover among the clients working few hours. The next step is to determine a way to track clients, so that we know what happens to them when they leave the Chrysalis program (e.g. Did they find outside employment? Are they back on the streets?, etc.)
I also had a chance to put my development skills to use, running a training session for the development department on the software The Raiser’s Edge. I had the opportunity to show them a lot of the features I’d used at a prior job, The Guardians of the Jewish Home for the Aging.
As the internship continues, I look forward to learning more about and contributing more to this organization.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Of course, the last month and a half has not been without its challenges. As anyone that has worked in project management for a real state developer knows, much of your job is tackling new issues that seemingly pop up all the time. Many of these issues deal with getting city approvals, permits, and inspections in time for the school opening. With the help of countless numbers of people these issues have been navigated and at this moment things look promising leading up until the opening. The amount of moving parts on a project can be overwhelming at times. I've learned how vitally important it is to remain organized, cool-headed, and diligent as you work through the various issues that invariably come up. What makes development of a school so difficult is the tight development timelines that exist because school starts on a particular day. Unlike residential real estate development, which I had experience with in the past, delays in construction are not as easily dealt with. If the school is not ready to be opened, 100s of kids will be left in the cold. It's this unique pressure that is both exciting and a little stressful as issues come up and then are resolved. It's a delicate balancing act that project managers for these developments must do. I've been fortunate to work at an organization that handles this as well as any.
The job of a project manager is not done once the building is finished and the students move in either. An additional project I've been working on this summer is helping to compile the documents needed to obtain certificate of occupancy(CO) for two schools that are already open. There are a countless number of conditions that are put on developments that must be satisfied before CO can be obtained. Again, the number of moving parts can become overwhelming if you don't stay organized. With the help of officials from the city, contractors that have worked on the project, architects that have drawn up the plans, and everybody else involved with the project, I'm confident we'll be able to obtain CO in the near future.
As my internship winds down, I've not only gained a new appreciation for project managers but I've also reignited my interest in real estate development. After working on the project management side of development this summer, I'll have seen a substantial part of the development process. From land acquisition, my prior experience at KB Home, to project management at PCSD, I now have a fuller understanding of what it takes to be successful at development.
My last blog post will recap my whole summer and hopefully tell the story of how a finished school is ready to become a place where the possibilities are endless.
Edit: For those of you that would like to see the pictures from the months long construction process...go to to this link. New Green Dot School
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Time flies. Really, it does. Yesterday, I realized that I had just few more weeks to go before my summer comes to an end. I have gotten so used to my colleagues that it seems that I've been with them much longer than 2 months. My work here at Families In Schools (FIS) was to conduct a technology assessment to analyze how technology can be leveraged to get work done more efficiently. My technology assessment work led me into the core strategic planning team where I soon got involved in an organizational self-assessment initiative, where FIS as an organization is evaluating how they are moving towards their mission. We are using the renowned Drucker Foundation's Self-assessment Tool for Nonprofits. As the project progressed, I got interested in the fund raising process and when I expressed my interest in learning more about it, I was immediately involved in one of the grant proposal processes. I also had the opportunity to attend several of the FIS' programs. Not only was I exposed to mission critical projects but I also had the opportunity to work with a lot of interesting people.
The other amazing part of my summer was the Education Pioneers experience. Education Pioneers is the non-profit organization responsible for my placement at FIS. Education Pioneers' mission is "to train, connect, and inspire a new generation of education leaders dedicated to transforming our educational system so that all students receive a quality education". A cohort of around 40 graduate students from top schools from fields like business, education, policy and law work on mission critical projects at different education related organizations in several cities across the country. I realized that I had never met a group of such passionate and intelligent people before. We discussed everything from the current education issues faced by Los Angeles to national education issues to moral issues. We had several interesting workshops and numerous other resources available to us. We were exposed to each other's projects and had the opportunity to meet distinguished speakers. The whole process was an incredible learning experience for me.
At the start of summer, I had accepted this internship with a little bit of hesitancy. But now I can confidently say that it was a great decision. Frankly, I've had so much fun that I don't even want to go back to school now. Yes, this definitely is a summer worth remembering…
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Take the Fulfillment Fund for instance. According to its publications, the purpose of the organization is to mentor, counsel and guide disadvantaged high school students to achieve a college education. To fulfill this mission, the organization should operate in the schools that have very limited access to college preparatory programs and services. Unfortunately, however this provides many roadblocks for the organization. The schools that may have the greatest need in Los Angeles may also be the most difficult to access and partner with, and thus the services are less effective. With less effective services, the organization risks not being able to communicate its impact to supporters and potential donors. If I were studying this organization as a for-profit company in my strategy class, the “right” path would be clear-cut: operate only in markets where its services are effective and profitable. If a non-profit takes this approach, is it running the risk of not fulfilling its mission? I am curious as to have a non-profit determines the appropriate scope for its services, ensuring both that it is fulfilling its mission and maximizing its return.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I have been in Mexico City for one month now working as an MBA intern for New Ventures Mexico, which is multi-faceted non-profit that among other areas focuses on green solutions via accelerating new businesses. I have become more aware of my ecological surroundings since working here, but mostly I am impressed by the conscious effort to better the environment that is evident everywhere in Mexico City. Almost all the public trash bins have an option for organic versus inorganic. New Ventures helped incubate a bicycle company that offers renting of bikes for free just to cut down on car traffic.
The CSR growth in Mexico is on fire! A few weeks ago, I attended a gathering of the local professional chapter of Net Impact. Featured speakers included Epok a CSR consulting firm, and their client Cenepolis, a cinema company. In the room was an audience varying from Wal-Mart and Prudential to Fundacion de Ethos, a new thinktank. All that attended were keenly interested in how to advance CSR movements in their organizations. When Epok finished their methodology talk, Cenepolis discussed the success of their vision repair program; giving ocular medical attention to the needy. http://www.cinepoliscorporativo.com.mx/
I was amazed how the bulk of this movement is not only starting but is really exciting to the professionals of Mexico. I had to think a bit why Mexico is trying so hard to be green, to add CSR, when in the states it seems we are cutting the budgets of those departments and tightening our belts. I thought of the image I had of Mexico before I left for my internship: negative, scary, dirty, dangerous, and possibly backwards. I could not have been more wrong. I truly believe that the society of Mexico, led by their businesses, are striving to achieve the extra mile in the green movement and in CSR to prove wrong the international negative hype!
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
This summer I am working for Pacific Charter School Development (PCSD) through a fellowship with Education Pioneers. The Education Pioneers fellowship program extends nationwide to cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles among others. I was fortunate enough to receive an offer to be a fellow in the Los Angeles cohort. As a fellow, I was matched up with an Education Pioneers corporate partner, which turned out to be PCSD. My background in real estate development and interning a number of summers in the Chicago Public School system has made the PCSD match a great marriage of my past work experiences. PCSD is a non-profit real estate developer that builds and manages high quality charter schools. In Los Angeles, PCSD mainly works with charter management organizations (CMO) that include KIPP, Green Dot, PUC, Alliance, ICEF, and Aspire.
As an intern with PCSD, I have been working with a project manager that manages construction for Green Dot Charter Schools. We are currently working on a high school that will seat 560 students in South Central Los Angeles. The school is scheduled to open this September, 2009. The school site is adjacent to the 70 acre Earvin "Magic" Johnson Recreation Area in South Central Los Angeles. The permanent home to Green Dot’s Animo Watts II, the school overlooks the pond situated in the park.
Thus far my job has consisted of a number of tasks that are essential in terms of ensuring the school starts on time. This is of even greater importance for charter schools as their funding is reliant on having the schools open by a certain date. Up to this point, I’ve worked on invoices and budgeting, helping to get approved street light improvement plans to Edison utilities, and drafting a request for architectural qualifications from firms that are interested in building schools for PCSD. I’ve also had the chance to sit in on weekly on-site construction meetings related to the Green Dot School we’re building. Although I’ve only been at PCSD for a few weeks, I’ve already learned a great deal about being a project manager for the organization. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to shepherd a project from its beginning acquisition phase to the actual build out of the school. As the summer moves ahead, I’m looking forward to helping create a school that will be a great home to almost 600 students. There are only a few months to go until I hopefully get the opportunity to celebrate in the unveiling. As the summer moves forward, I’ll blog a couple more times to keep everyone up-to-date on the progress. That way, anyone reading can follow the accomplishments that lead up to building great schools for urban children.
Social Media is a new concept for a lot of people and I have been meaning to write a primer on Social Media for a long time but never got around to it. There was so much available on the internet about Social Media that it didn’t make sense for me to write another blog. But Social Media for non-profits is another thing. There is a large amount of information available, but most of it is fragmented, so I decided that writing about Social Media for non-profits would be a worthwhile effort.
So, what does Web 2.0 & Social Media mean?
"Web 2.0" refers to what is perceived as a second generation of web development and web design. It is characterized as facilitating communication, information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. It has led to the development and evolution of web-based communities, hosted services, and web applications. Examples include social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies. [i]
"Social media" is using the Internet to instantly collaborate, share information, and have a conversation about ideas, causes, and organizations we care about powered by social media tools. [ii]
Social media is about reaching to a group of people with common ideas as opposed to the traditional media (television, newspapers) which was created to reach a large audience, for instance, a nation. It is important to understand that social media is powered by the internet is not controlled by any one individual or organization. And most importantly, all social media strategies are driven by the needs of your audience and not by the needs of your organization, so the most important social media strategy is to LISTEN to your audience!
So, the next question is: what are these “social media tools” mentioned in the definition?
Since there many social media tools out there, I will just focus on the ones which will be and have been useful for non-profits: [iii]
· Blogs: Blogger, TypePad, WordPress
· Micro-Blogs: Twitter
· Social Networking: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn
· Social Bookmarking: Delicious, StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit
· Photo Sharing: Picasa, Flickr, Photobucket
· Audio/Video Sharing: YouTube
The next logical question is: what can these tools do for you?
These tools can be used for a variety of things, most important being:
· Brand Building
· Fund Raising
· Driving traffic to your website
· Humanizing your communications
· Listen to what your target audience wants
In my subsequent blogs, I’ll get more into implementation and will also post some non-profit social media success stories. And before I end this post, I want to leave you with some food for thought:
Should you really care?
· In 2007, total online giving in the US has reached over $10 billion – a 52% increase over 2006 [iv]
· 73% of active online users have read a blog. 57% have joined a social network. 55% have uploaded photos. 22% have uploaded videos. [v]
· In 2005, 8% of all adults online had a profile on social networking site, as of Jan 2009, the number is 35%. [vi]
· Barack Obama is on Facebook, Twitter & MySpace J. Check out his website for more: http://www.barackobama.com/.
[iv] Convio, The Wired Wealthy, March 2008
[v] Universal McCann Comparative Study on Social Media Trends, March 2008
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
This was the first class to graduate since Green Dot Public Schools took over management of the school one year ago, and, while there’s a world of work to be done, the school has shown meaningful progress. Progress that includes a jump of 20% in the size of the graduating class and a leap in number of students going on to college this fall.
I’m not a classroom teacher. Not an assistant principal or counselor. But, through the Education Pioneers summer fellowship, I’m part of the Green Dot home office team that serves to support the schools in creating successful learning communities for students. With one year of Marshall MBA training behind me, I’ve jumped onto a project this summer in the strategic planning department to develop a management dashboard for the organization. I’m so excited to be working on this project and getting to know the people at Green Dot who have worked so hard to enable the success of high students all over Los Angeles. Additionally, it’s been great to connect with other graduate students from all over the country working in public education reform in our Education Pioneers cohort.
Finally, I have to thank the Society and Business Lab and Career Resource Center at USC Marshall for making this experience possible for me with the Non-Profit Summer Internship Subsidy Program. The leadership and support of our colleagues there – Pete Giulioni, Adlai Wertman, Abby Fifer Mandell, and Janice Nishiyama – have created a new avenue for students to apply business skills to impact our communities.
I’m looking forward to my second visit to Locke High School, even though there may be less cheering early in the morning on the first day of summer school.
I also wonder what it will be like to take another step behind the curtain. When I was studying to become a teacher, I was struck by how much thought and time was put into activities that, as a student, I saw as effortless. Now as a teacher, I tend not to think of the programs that are designed and run off-campus. As I work with one of these programs this summer, I wonder how my attitude will change yet again.
Lastly, I am curious as to how I will be received in my new working environment. I occupy two seemingly opposite positions in life: high school English teacher and business school student. I wonder which the Fulfillment Fund will see me as. Additionally, I wonder whether I will be able to use this experience to merge these two parts of me. I am hoping I can.