Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Education Pioneers Day 2

This summer I will be taking part in the Fellowship Program with Education Pioneers. Education Pioneers links graduate students from various programs with organizations that are seeking to improve this nation’s education system. I have no prior experience working in education and I am looking forward to gaining experience over the summer and deciding if education is the right career path for me. The 10 week program started yesterday with a Foundations Workshop, which was attended by the 42 Education Pioneers L.A. Fellows that will be working on various projects throughout the summer.

For the next 10 weeks I will be working with Value Schools, a charter school operator that manages two charter schools in Los Angeles. I will be working with the CEO of Value Schools to develop a strategic growth plan that will allow Value Schools to add three additional schools to its existing two schools. The first part of the project will involve developing a financial model that will project revenues and expenses and the amount of funds needed from philanthropic sources. During the second part of the project we will identify the locations in Los Angeles with the strongest need for a charter school. Once we identify the target locations we will develop a plan for recruiting students and locate a suitable facility that will support Value Schools’ growth needs. The next 10 weeks will be busy, and I am looking forward to a great learning experience this summer.

Utilizing SMS Technology in India

As I stepped out of the plane in Hubli, India, I observed the landscape and was pleasantly surprised by the cool breeze and beautiful sunset that greeted me. As we drove through the city I saw the familiar sights of a developing country: large, developed buildings clustered with haphazardly built structures, dogs and cows aimlessly roaming the streets, and the buzz of crowded streets.

Now having spent a week in Hubli, the sights of the city have become more familiar and I am excited to begin my internship and make a change in this community. My project for the summer will be focused on utilizing a mobile based software that connects the HIV/AIDS community with support groups and clinics in the Hubli-Dharwad region in Karnataka. Specifically, my colleagues and I are implementing the SMS Frontline open source software with the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT), the funding agency, and with the Bhoruka Charitable Trust (BCT), the implementation agency. Currently, these two agencies are utilizing the software in two of their projects; the first project is specifically working with high risk communities: female sex workers. The software will allow BCT peer educators to send information about this high risk demographic to BCT for reporting through a SMS message. This will eliminate the inefficient paper system that is currently in place and will more accurately report data from this community. The second application, and what I am most excited about, is the use of the software to contact the HIV/AIDS community directly to provide reminders about health checks and testing as well as support group meeting reminders. There is a lot of potential for this software to streamline a lot of the redundancy within the system and to provide a more accurate snapshot of the number of people within the community who are following up on the recommended health checkups, testing, etc.

The two agencies I will be working with, KHPT and BCT, are amazing NGO's that truly support the implementation of this software. My first encounter with KPHT occurred on the first day after arriving to Hubli. We had a site visit to one of the general clinics and we were greeted by members of the community who are affected/infected by HIV/AIDS which included sex workers, children, and foster parents. The gathering took place under a tree in one of the villages and everyone in the community was so warm and willing to speak with us. Subsequent meetings with KHPT and BCT have also been very positive experiences for me. The staff is very passionate and they have been very helpful with arranging site visits to AIDS/HIV clinics so we get a better understanding of the structure and to familiarize ourselves with the current referral system.

We have a lot of work ahead of us and the challenge is an exciting one. Working in a foreign country presents unique challenges as we have to adapt to local customs and tailor our program to the needs of the community. We are fortunate to be working with great NGO's in the community and our support system is very strong with the help of the Deshpande Foundation. It should be an amazing summer and I know that I will learn a great deal- stay tuned!

Crowdsourcing Social Innovation

Today I find myself immersed in the slow hustle of the urban countryside in Hubli, India. Make no mistake by the description; Hubli is what the staff here refer to as the land of oxymorons. Nestled in the heart of this city, among the three-wheeling taxis, the gratuitous car honkers and the the cow who grazes outside my bedroom window, resides the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship (DCSE), a modern landscaped building projecting the future of innovation looking to take hold in these humble parts.

Established out of the Deshpande Foundation by serial entrepreneur Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, the DCSE strives to be the epicenter for social innovation in a region where education, healthcare, agriculture and livelihood are today daily challenges. DCSE trains aspiring social entrepreneurs from Hubli and collaborates with international fellows to marshall in new, localized and sustainable innovations.

I am here as part of a group from USC to bring a new and untested innovation to Deshpande. Our premise is simple: there is so much untapped knowledge in the world from doctors and engineers to science teachers and hobbyists, whose understanding of the world around us, if harnessed collectively, could be used as a force for good to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. What better way to get people involved in a socially-driven causes than to ask them to donate their ideas rather than their money. We are proposing to crowdsource innovation.

Over the course of the next two months our project with come in two parts. First, working with Deshpande and their network of local NGOs, we intend to identify upwards of eight challenges facing the region. Equipped with a video camera and a microphone, we will document each challenge into a digestible 3-5 minute documentary, providing an overview of the given challenge and the context in which the challenge exists. Each documentary will conclude with a call to action.

The second part of our project begins with our website. Leveraging the help of a crack team of programmers from Bangalore and my trusty O'Reilly guide to PHP, we plan to create the foundation for our crowdsourcing project. Each documentary will be loaded to the website, where users around the world will have the chance to view the challenge and collaborate on a solution using our wiki-style web platform.

Crowdsourcing, in my opinion, represents a new frontier. It's potential has already been demonstrated through Wikipedia, with its more than 15 million articles in 270 languages, as well as in a more recent example initiated by DARPA, in its contest to find 10 red balloons.

The next two months will certainly move quickly, but with a dedicated team and the support of the Deshpande Foundation at our backs, I look forward to the where this ride will take us.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Education Pioneers Fellowship: Day 1

I believe an MBA can be a powerful tool for impacting a community and affecting change. When I applied to Marshall, I had a pretty clear vision of how I might do this in a way related to a couple of my lifelong passions, including education. Throughout my first year, I took advantage of every opportunity to build the right skill set, develop as a leader, gain relevant experience and start brainstorming feasible business plans.

I had a long term plan, but when it came time to make a decision about my summer plans, I found myself at a loss. I had no idea where to begin. I soon found Education Pioneers, and realized this would be the perfect first step. My summer fellowship will help me make the transition from financial services to education – and eventually to my long term plans - by surrounding me with the right people, the right resources and invaluable opportunities.

Education Pioneers is a national human capital organization founded in 2003 by Scott Morgan. The organization is focused on urban education reform and addresses this issue by building a pipeline of talent from graduate programs such as business, law, education, policy and a variety of other disciplines. Graduate students are recruited as fellows for a 10-week internship which includes weekly workshops in addition to a project with a partner organization such as a school district, charter organization or foundation.

Currently, Education Pioneers operates in seven urban cities. This summer, there are 290 fellows from 111 graduate school programs at 66 universities. I am a proud member of this summer’s Los Angeles cohort, which includes 42 fellows from around the country. We are working with 15 different partner organizations, including LAUSD, PUC Schools, ICEF (Inner City Education Foundation) Public Schools, Teach for America and the Broad Foundation.

I will be working with ICEF Public Schools, a charter management organization which manages 15 charter schools in South Los Angeles. ICEF was founded in 1994 by Michael Piscal in order to transform South LA into an economically vibrant community. My project is to evaluate ICEF’s position within its community in order to recommend a strategic marketing/communication plan.

Today we kicked off the summer with a Foundations workshop for the LA cohort, and tomorrow is my first day at ICEF. Stay tuned!


A New Perspective: Chrysalis Enterprises

“A hand-up as opposed to a hand-out.”
- Mark Loranger, President & CEO of Chrysalis

I look forward to working with an organization that supports people as they help themselves. Chrysalis is not an organization that provides clients with a one time $200 gift card to Ralph’s and expects the clients to do the rest. Chrysalis is an organization that understands the difficulties their clients face living in poverty and getting/maintaining a job, and fundamentally changes the person forever who sticks with the program. Chrysalis Enterprises gets clients back on their feet.

My previous volunteer work included tutoring students living in low-income housing in the Conejo Valley, but the situation of those residents did not seem as dire as that of those living on Skid Row. Despite my thousands of hours of volunteer work over the years, this is the most involved I will be in the day-to-day operations of an organization that has a mission in which I strongly believe. So, why now?

When starting business school, I was confident that my career after would be with some type of nonprofit organization/social enterprise. A few months into my first year, though, surrounded by students who aspire to work for all of the big corporations I had heard of but never thought of working for, I started having second thoughts. I wondered if it would be better for me to go into the private sector immediately following graduation and then after that experience begin working for a nonprofit organization. My previous career was in city government (the public sector), so I do not have any experience in the private sector. I hope to learn a lot about myself and how I want to spend my years after business school through my time with Chrysalis Enterprises.

My responsibilities with the organization are not as clear cut as some of those of my classmates working for large, private corporations. I look forward to the opportunity to grow in many ways, leaving my comfort zone and immersing myself in areas in which I am less familiar. Leaving my comfort zone seems less intimidating when I am doing it for an organization for which I am passionate.

I want to leave you with a brief video about Chrysalis. In explaining the organization I will dedicate 9 weeks of my life to this summer, I found that the following video captured not only what Chrysalis is and does, but the energy with which they do it.

Posted by Molly