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Social Enterprise News

November 11, 2004

Net Impact Service Corps

By Lindsay Kruse '06 and Olivia Ralston '06.


Just when you thought it wasn’t possible for students to come up with yet another activity, along comes the Net Impact Service Corps. The Service Corps is one of Net Impact’s programs by which people involved in business can make a social impact: professionals are staffed on short-term (around 3 months) consulting projects for non-profits needing help with a business issue. If this sounds familiar, that’s because the Service Corps program is very similar to CBS’s own Small Business Consulting Program (SBCP).

For that very reason, the initiation of the Service Corps on campus will likely be through a Social Enterprise Club (Columbia’s Net Impact chapter) – SBCP partnership. We both had the pleasure of working on Service Corps projects before coming to business school and can therefore vouch for the program, the impact it has on clients, and the personal and professional rewards of participation.

Lindsay KruseLindsay Kruse ’06: Groundwork, Inc.

I participated in the Net Impact Service Corps as a Professional Member by getting my company, Capgemini, to sponsor one of the projects. This project was a phenomenal learning experience for me and my team that stretched us to take our skills from the for-profit world and apply them to help a local not-for-profit. The clients I worked with were extremely talented; both were transitioning to this work from successful careers in private equity and law.

I worked with Groundwork, Inc. (www.groundworkinc.org), an organization that identifies small neighborhoods in Brooklyn – typically public housing developments and the blocks that surround them – and provide high-quality educational programs and support services to the families who live there. The project helped them develop the proposal for Project Fresh Ground, an initiative that sought to create a sustainable social enterprise that could be run by local teens. We produced three main deliverables: market research for youth enterprises in urban agriculture, development of a customer database to capture buying profiles for future sales and to use as an input into financial assumptions, and a financial model to aid in program decision making.

Not only did I find the Service Corps project personally rewarding, it has also been immensely helpful in my professional life. First, it gave me a good transitional experience to leave consulting and enter the social entrepreneurship field. Secondly, it stretched me to use all the skills I had as a consultant, but forced me to be more creative and open to the additional aspect of social bottom line. Finally, my relationship with this organization has provided me with ongoing guidance and introductions to all of the organizations and foundations that interact with Groundwork. I would highly recommend this experience to people looking for a rewarding way to apply their skills from their professional and student life or for those who are making the transition into this field!

Olivia RalstonOlivia Ralston ’06: Investors’ Circle

Investors’ Circle serves as an intermediary between socially responsible angel investors and sustainable enterprises seeking funding. The project I worked on was a double-bottom line media finance study, commissioned to Investors’ Circle by the Ford Foundation, the purpose of which was to identify opportunities for investment in the social mission media space. My teammates included five incredibly interesting, fun, and friendly professionals. One was working at an environmentally conscious private equity firm and another who was in the process of switching from a career in traditional finance and investment to socially responsible investment. Although it’s not always the case that the project is led by the client—usually someone on the consulting team volunteers to be the project leader—in my case it was. In fact, my experience was a wonderful one in large part because the person from Investors’ Circle leading the project was enthusiastic, professional, fun, charismatic, and genuinely nice – in short, an excellent manager.

Each member of the team took responsibility for one to three media segments; the first step was to gather general information about the segment, including market trends and financial data. Next came the hard part: compiling information about the double bottom line market in each segment. Because little documentation about the subsegment and the enterprises therein exists, much of our work was primary research: talking to independent and minority media trade organizations as well as the leaders of independent and social mission media companies and their investors. I got to talk to some top dogs at some very interesting organizations, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Independent Television Service. Another component of our research was a survey of nearly 700 of these enterprises to gauge the need for and interest in different types of funding. For that piece of the project, we reached out to organizations such as Sundance and IFP New York. Like Lindsay’s experience, mine allowed me to do some good while expanding my professional horizons and network.

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