Leading Through Innovation

Student Consultants Provide Social Sector Solutions

Student Consultants Provide Social Sector Solutions

When tennis great Billie Jean King decided she wanted to nationalize a program that promotes health and wellness for girls, the challenges seemed daunting. The team at King's nonprofit, the Women's Sports Foundation, faced several questions that did not have easy answers: Which cities should be targeted? Who are the potential partners? What is the business model?

Enter Social Sector Solutions, or S3, a course offered by the Haas School's Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership in partnership with McKinsey & Company. For the past four years, the course has dispatched teams of MBA and undergraduate students for 15-week consultations with nonprofits that are poised to launch entrepreneurial ventures.

This spring a team will help the Women's Sports Foundation answer the key questions above. This past year, the expertise of Haas School students benefitted foster youth in Alameda County, teachers in urban schools, and uninsured Bay Area residents in need of surgical care, among others. S3 consultations with such nonprofits as the Alameda County Foster Youth Alliance, Education Pioneers, and Operation Access helped those organizations with everything from financial modeling to development of performance metrics, and expansion planning.

Quote S3 matches each client with a custom-built team backed by classroom curriculum and a McKinsey coach. For instance, to help the Women's Sports Foundation develop a plan to expand its GoGirlGo! Program, S3created a team of Haas students with a sports or health background, led by an accomplished equestrian and girls' mentor, Kirstin Mennella, MBA 10 (Pictured above, center, with Cicley Gay of the Women's Sports Foundation, left). Each of the ten S3 teams is then matched with a McKinsey consultant who works with the team's lead to help scope the project and provide mid- and end-point reviews.

While students in S3 gain hands-on consulting experience, they also learn academic frameworks in a course taught by Nora Silver, director of the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership, (Pictured above, right) and Paul Jansen, founder of McKinsey's nonprofit practice and a director emeritus with the firm. The course is one component of the Haas School's nonprofit learning opportunities – a specialty for which Haas was ranked #3 by US News & World Report in 2009.

Hands-on Experience with Impact

S3 has served 28 clients since its inception, and Silver has only seen demand increase from both students and clients. "S3 offers a high-impact experiential learning opportunity," says Silver. "It helps students build consulting skills, understand the nature of nonprofits, and have a real impact in the community."

The Women's Sports Foundation, for example, hopes for nothing less than "to change girls' lives through fitness and physical activity," according to WSF Senior Program Officer Cicley Gay. "We came to Haas because we wanted help creating a 21st century business model to have an even greater impact on millions of girls' lives by expanding GoGirlGo! around the country."

San Francisco's Operation Access, which provides free outpatient surgery to low-income and uninsured patients, was another nonprofit poised to expand its impact by replicating its services beyond the Bay Area. To scale up its services, the organization began considering an almost overwhelming range of activities, from intellectual property research to franchise modeling and pricing. They brought an S3 team in to help organize the process.

"Working with the Haas students formalized and systematized our thinking around replication," says Operation Access President and CEO Ben Aune. "The students refined the scope of the project, which ultimately crystallized into helping us determine the best model for replication."

Another client, Education Pioneers, which develops administrative and teaching leaders in public education, has worked with S3 for four years, most recently retaining Haas students to help develop metrics for performance. Jacqueline Pohl, director of operations for Education Pioneers, says the nonprofit will draw from the S3 recommendations to build a performance management plan and system. "The students' intelligence and perspective were invaluable to us and their end product was something we certainly would not have had the bandwidth to create internally," says Pohl.

Nonprofit Experience Delivers Professional Development

Pohl, MBA 07, has been on both sides of the client/consultant relationship through S3, working as a student consultant for Education Pioneers before being hired by the organization shortly after graduation. "When my S3 team worked on our project, Education Pioneers didn't really have the infrastructure necessary to expand as they hoped. Our project was to help them think about how they could grow smartly, adding staff at just the right time and recommending the infrastructure they would need to support their staff and the program during the growth process," says Pohl.

The experience prepared her well for her senior role with Education Pioneers. "By familiarizing myself with the business and allowing me to understand the future strategic direction of the organization, my S3 work enabled me to hit the ground running," says Pohl.

S3 experience has also opened doors for students to the world of consulting, with four MBA 09 graduates of S3 landing positions with firms such as Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company. Silver says that nonprofit consulting experience positions students with an additional set of competencies and a different perspective in goal setting.

"The missions of a nonprofit are usually multi-dimensional rather than financial only," says Paul Jansen of McKinsey, Silver's co-teacher. "There is also a more pronounced need than in for-profit organizations for consensus and buy-in. This has implications for the kinds of client management work you do."

Overall, says Jansen, "The program gives students a unique deep dive into the nonprofit sector and into organizational issues in nonprofit. They have all of the challenges consultants have: Negotiate an acceptable scope; manage the client relationship; deliver progress reviews; create real dialogues with the client; and pull all that together to make a set of recommendations. You can't do in lectures what they get a chance to do for real."

[Back to top]