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Four Consulting helps student groups overcome organizational barriers

Group of experienced student leaders taps tools and collective brainpower to solve wide range of problems.
A dynamic group of MIT undergraduates with diverse leadership experiences forms Four Consulting, including (from left to right) Shreesh Naik, Allison Park, Carter Chang, Paula Gonzalez, Albert Kao, Moya Chin, Sarah Simon and Ruisi Shang.
A dynamic group of MIT undergraduates with diverse leadership experiences forms Four Consulting, including (from left to right) Shreesh Naik, Allison Park, Carter Chang, Paula Gonzalez, Albert Kao, Moya Chin, Sarah Simon and Ruisi Shang.
Photo courtesy of Four Consulting

Since 2006, a group of 10 to 20 MIT undergraduates has provided peer-to-peer leadership training to help student groups overcome organizational hurdles. Comprising a diverse selection of proven student leaders, Four Consulting advises student organizations on a number of topics including finance, recruitment, event planning and image rebranding.

"We enjoy helping student groups solve problems to achieve their goals," says MIT senior Sarah Simon, who served as Four Consulting president in 2011. "We can use our tools and collective brainpower to come up with solutions."

According to Simon, student groups face a number of common challenges. Undefined organizational structure can often force too much work on one or two members of the executive board. Fundraising and sponsorship opportunities are often hard to come by. Great event ideas can flop when a group is unable to generate enough interest.

Four Consulting draws on collective past experience to provide student groups with direction. "We're a concentrated group of leaders who have been there before and seen these problems," Simon says.

The consultants solve problems for a wide scope of organizations. Between groups and activities, dorm executive boards and club sports teams, MIT has nearly 500 registered student organizations, providing a massive client base for Four Consulting. MIT administrative offices have also reached out to Four Consulting for guidance, including the Student Activities Office, which recently sought brand and marketing guidance.

"The experience of working with Four [Consulting] was wonderful," says Alicia Erwin, assistant director in the Student Activities Office (SAO). "The case team was professional, thoughtful and very aware of the MIT student perspective. The team was able to make the SAO staff think about what we wanted students to know about our office, asking questions that probed at the mission and goals of the office."

Tapping into the mindset of the student body, Four Consulting also develops tools to guide its advice. Recently, Four Consulting conducted a survey on publicity. The results provided a wealth of knowledge on effective places to display posters, best practices for social media, and strategic ways to leverage campus publications.

While Four Consulting develops unique solutions to each client's problems, it follows a general process. A client usually reaches out to Four Consulting via the Four Consulting website, email or through personal connections with the group's consultants. The Four Consulting president then responds and gleans a broad understanding of the client's needs.

Weekly, Four Consulting meets, and the president presents new cases to the team. The consultants discuss the various cases, break into smaller groups, and select clients based on their own strengths.

"The whole process makes it a very passionate group of consultants," Simon says. "They're usually working with groups that were their first choice."

The smaller team of consultants, called the case team, conducts external research and interviews the client. After developing an initial plan, the case team presents its ideas to the client. The client provides feedback on the plan, and the case team brings the feedback to the larger group meetings for more ideas.

"It's an iterative process and a partnership," Simon says. "It's not like we run away and come back and say, 'Here's your solution.' There really is a dialogue back and forth and a common goal to find a solution that will satisfy everyone."

The process is mutually beneficial for the clients and the consultants. The clients receive guidance, and the consultants gain additional experience that they can apply to their own groups and future clients.

"It's a great opportunity for us to develop leadership, communication and presentation skills," Simon says. "It's very cool to work on things that have a direct impact on student life."

For more information, visit Four Consulting's website.

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