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Sloan students apply business skills to the nonprofit world


A partnership between the Sloan School of Management and Catalyst Alliance, a Boston consulting firm, has given a group of Sloan graduate students a rare opportunity to apply their skills in three Boston-area nonprofit organizations.

The students' journey began in January, when they met with representatives from Catalyst Alliance and Accenture, who provided coaching and training, and with representatives of the Center for Women and Enterprise, Citizen Schools and CitySkills , the nonprofits where they would be applying their management skills. Starling Hunter, assistant professor of management, was the Sloan faculty advisor.

Six months later, the program had more than lived up to its promises, according to two students.

Erin Bigley worked with the Center for Women and Enterprise (CWE). The mission of her group was to provide CWE with a technology integration strategy for its Community Entrepreneurs Program, she said.

Bigley had nearly five years of experience working at for-profit companies as an engineer and investment manager. She said working for CWE was a "great experience. They are an amazing organization, and that was reiterated time and again in the interviews we conducted with current students and alumni of their programs. One of the most meaningful parts of our work was attending some of the CWE client sessions to get a feel for how the Community Entrepreneurs Program operated."

Sloan students who worked for Citizen Schools focused on aiding its national expansion strategy. For Neil Cantor, the experience "demonstrated for me the value we can deliver to an organization just by applying some basic skills that are in short supply in the not-for-profit sector. It also helped me understand myself, and to learn that I enjoy an emotional connection to the people and the organization."

Describing his work, Cantor said, "Citizen Schools is contemplating replication of its program across Massachusetts and the country. Our objective was to help them develop a clearer picture of the road ahead by studying other nonprofits at various points in an expansion process," including the YMCA and Habitat for Humanity.

Both Bigley and Cantor expect the impact and inspiration of the program to endure.

Bigley commented, "I'll certainly maintain contact with the organization to see how the strategy implementation progresses and to lend a hand where possible." Her CWE experience provided "great insight into the workings of a nonprofit, and reinforced my decision to pursue a career with a nonprofit after graduation," she added.

Both students discovered that working for nonprofits enriched their academic lives at MIT as well. "One of the things that attracted me to MIT was the Institute's motto of 'mens et manus' or 'mind and hand.' I'm very fond of learning by doing, and what better way to do this than through a program such as this?" Bigley said.

Offering advice for future Sloan students interested in working for nonprofits, she suggested they "keep in mind that nonprofits do have some different needs than for-profit organizations. We quickly discovered how a lack of funding seriously constrained our recommendations. At the same time, there are so many things M.B.A. students can bring from their for-profit experiences to assist nonprofits, such as strategy and marketing tools."

Cantor urged students to "get involved. You have a perspective and powerful skill set that is in short supply in the nonprofit world and that can make a huge impact. At the same time, you get the perspective from people you work with at the nonprofit that differs from the one you're getting at Sloan. That's an important component for personal growth."

The events of Sept. 11 added a perspective outside personal growth for her, Bigley commented.

"I was already intending to pursue nonprofit opportunities prior to Sept. 11, but the events of that day reinforced my decision to pursue a career that would be personally fulfilling, not just financially lucrative. Each day is precious and we need to make the most of the time we have," she said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 2002.

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