Grad Students for Others
The success of most business ventures is often measured in profit and ROI—how much money is made for the owners or shareholders of an organization. Non-profit organizations (NPOs), on the other hand, judge their results in large part on how well they contribute to social change and making a difference for people or causes in need.
Business students often work with NPOs as live cases through which to practice the framework of ethical and socially responsible decision making. As part of a special topics project for the Professional’s MBA program, students at Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business and Management work with non-profit organizations to help them develop innovative strategies for growth. Students are asked to learn about and then apply entrepreneurial and innovative strategic solutions and integrate functional areas to improve problem solving and organizational decisions.
In this month’s feature, Harsha Desai, Ph.D., professor of management and international business; Christine Tachovsky, MBA ’14; and Molly Corbett, executive director of Asylee Women Enterprises, discuss the “Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Non-Profit Organizations” class where students draw on their professional expertise and participate in a collaborative effort to make a difference in the communities where they live and work.
The objective of the course is to develop specific skills and competencies that translate into professional situations through solving a real challenge facing an organization. While background readings and traditional classroom activities are featured, students are challenged to apply design thinking, business plan development, and business model generation approaches and technologies to drive their work.
“The emphasis is placed on hands-on, consulting practicums for the client organizations,” said Desai, who notes that this class formed working groups to engage with five different non-profit clients, all with strong missions, but limited resources to achieve their objectives.
“These NPOs themselves are deeply engaged in making a difference in their communities,” said Desai. “They want to eliminate poverty, educate economically disenfranchised populations, support peace and justice initiatives, and are active in providing health care to the poor and numerous other social benefits that improve our quality of life.”
One non-profit that participated in the class projects was Asylee Women Enterprises (AWE), an organization devoted to providing transitional housing, companionship, and community to women seeking asylum in the United States. Originally introduced to the Sellinger MBA class by the Loyola Center for Community Service and Justice and through members of the AWE board connected to the University, Executive Director Molly Corbett explained that AWE was looking for ideas to help raise awareness.
“Being a small shop with limited resources, we needed assistance with marketing and fundraising strategies that could work in conjunction with each other,” said Corbett, who is the only full-time employee of her organization.
To figure that out, students working with AWE focused on discovery. Christine Tachovsky, marketing manager at groSolar in Columbia, Md., whose group consulted for AWE during the class, said the most important part at first was to understand how the organization operates.
“We spent a significant amount of time initially learning how Asylee functions with its small staff and to discover its areas of need. We learned they needed assistance with advocacy, awareness, and fundraising,” said Tachovsky. Ultimately her group was able to help develop a hands-on guide for AWE volunteers as well as a long-term strategic marketing plan.
The plan, which is to be implemented in stages over three years, is a living document that provides flexibility for volunteers and AWE board members to use going forward. Both the fundraising and marketing board committees of the organization have copies as well.
“The project really helped me clarify the goals of my organization. It helped me figure out what we want to be and think through our challenges and obstacles. I now have a much deeper sense of what our organization’s strategy and plan is, and I also have tangible tools to help carry them out,” said Corbett.
Tachovsky found the opportunity to put the skills gained through her MBA program into practice and the chance to help AWE get to a stronger place equally rewarding.
“We were able to do something positive for society as part of the class and help promote a service not many people know about. While doing so, it was great to get a perspective of how business tactics and for-profit plans can be applied to non-traditional business use. It is an innovative approach for some non-profits.”
“Some of the most important progress for people in need has come out of the efforts of small groups of individuals dedicated to making a difference,” said Desai, echoing Margaret Mead.
If your organization is interested in partnering with the Sellinger School on a future consulting practicum or if you would like more information about the “Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Non-Profit Organizations” class, please contact Harsha Desai at 410-617-2395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.