On the first day of orientation at Columbia Business School, our Dean delivered a speech that I am sure is approximately the same speech rattled off at Business Schools around the country.
- Step 1) Inflate the incoming students’ egos: “best and brightest” references abound.
- Step 2) Convince new students that [insert school] has the best resources and network in the world
- Step 3) Pull the two together and end with a charge like “you are the future leaders of business, now go change the world.”
Perhaps it’s a bit formulaic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true. I, like everyone, left a good job that I enjoyed to come to Business School because I saw it as a way to amplify my potential. I didn’t take the time to define “potential,” but if I did I think it would’ve been some combination of skills, status, salary, and this nebulous idea of making the world a better place. So walking out of that auditorium, I felt more assured in my decision to leave the working world for a two year detour in b-school. A mere $200k and two years of foregone salary is a pretty small investment to change the world, right?
All you have to do from there is figure out how exactly you want to change the world. The task seems a little less daunting because of the certainty with which it was presented in orientation, but then things start happening really fast. You’re whisked away to a few accounting classes: debits on the left, credits on the right…got it, brush up on the basics of stats then tell yourself you will hire an analyst to do the complex stuff, then you try to find the bottleneck in cranberry production, and suddenly you look up and realize that all your classmates are wearing suits to class…which can only mean one thing: it’s already recruiting season. In the weeks or months before you start recruiting, it is a near certainty that you didn’t take advantage of all the resources you wanted to, didn’t explore all the different industries or have all the coffee chats you wanted to, and now you have to make the biggest decision of your first year: where should I intern?
I can’t speak for everyone, but here was my thought process for choosing my internship, and my experience at Inspiring Capital. I came from a pretty traditional finance background. My main goal for the summer was to branch out from finance and find a job that allowed me to apply and further develop the tactical business skills I had been learning. As I began to look at different options, the aforementioned nebulous feeling of wanting to make the world a better place became more prominent. Ultimately I accepted an offer with Inspiring Capital; I really liked their pitch: aligning business professionals and high-potential, purpose-driven organizations. Sounded great on paper, but because your one summer internship is such a scarce resource, I had a lot of questions: I don’t have any social impact experience, can I really get a good feel for the sector in 10 weeks? Will I actually get to work on high-level business problems? And, will my experience this summer help me practically and translate into a good story to get a full-time job?
After completing the summer at Inspiring Capital, I feel quite comfortable answering “yes” to all of those questions. In our cohort of 10 MBAs and 7 Undergrads, we had a wide-range of experience in the social sector. Some people had worked at nonprofits, some had started nonprofits, and some, like me, just had an interest in the sector. Over the course of the summer, we heard from dozens of speakers, ranging from social enterprise entrepreneurs, to impact investors, to Directors of nonprofits. Through the summer, we got a pretty holistic view of the sector, and you start piecing together trends and better understanding the nuances of problems that continue to pop up like scalability, impact measurement, and sustainability.
As for my actual project, I, along with my undergrad partner Marissa, worked with GSMA, a nonprofit representing the interests of about 800 mobile operators globally. One of GSMA’s goals is to ensure that everyone in developing markets has access to mobile phones and to understand how people’s lives can be improved through that access. My project was to help GSMA think about how to better engage mobile operators and local entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to build a global innovation network. This seemed like, and was, a huge undertaking, but it was also really valuable experience. I wasn’t a spectator/PowerPoint-formatter on a project, I was the one talking to the client, driving the project forward, and executing the vision. Over the course of the summer I found myself at pitch nights for startups in Silicon Valley, on calls with entrepreneurs and CEOs in Korea, Kenya, and Ghana, discussing the funding landscape with VCs in China and the UAE, and ultimately in London delivering our results to GSMA leadership. It was a really fun experience to be a small part of GSMA’s expansion into the innovation ecosystem in various emerging markets…be on the lookout for accelerators, incubators, meetups, and VC funds from GSMA soon!
The line between traditional business and the impact sector is blurring as consumers, employees, and investors demand more from companies, while nonprofits and impact-first investors are placing greater focus on using funds efficiently and financial sustainability. I’m generally not much help when people ask me whether they should do “social impact” internships, but I do know that I certainly don’t felt like I sacrificed a chance to gain real business experience by joining Inspiring Capital. As for the challenge to go change the world…the world will inevitably change an unimaginable amount over the course of our careers, but I think my Business School experience, in large part because of Inspiring Capital, has prepared me to be a more thoughtful observer of that change and hopefully a more active participant.