Imani Gooden ’18 and Romain Prudhomme ’18

Imani Gooden ’18 and Romain Prudhomme ’18

Summer Fellowship at Refoundry

Imani Gooden ’18 and Romain Prudhomme ’18 put their corporate expertise and passion for social impact to use as Social Enterprise Summer Fellows when interning at Refoundry, a startup dedicated to creating jobs for the formerly incarcerated. The organization trains its participants in the craftsmanship of goods made from repurposed materials and helps them create their own businesses through which to sell the products they create. Instead of merely giving a man a fish or teaching him to catch it, Prudhomme says Refoundry aims to “teach a man to create a fishing business” so that (s)he can one day employ and teach other people. Refoundry recently completed a successful pilot program with five participants, but plans to scale to a larger and more sustainable program.

Gooden and Prudhomme had two important responsibilities for the summer. First, they advised the first class of entrepreneurs on how to effectively run their businesses. This included assessing the participants’ skills, making recommendations, and passing on lessons of effective decision-making and negotiation. Their main task was to consult with the organization on how to expand the program for a new post-incarceration training campus at the Brooklyn Navy Yard suitable for 20 to 25 entrepreneurs. The fellows turned the innovative ideas that made Refoundry successful into a workable operations plan. However, this did not come without its own set of challenges. These included dealing with an uncertainty regarding public grants and private sector funding, figuring out how to streamline selection and training without sacrificing attention to detail, and taking care of day to day tasks while balancing a vision for the future.

Having taken courses at the School on operations management, accounting, decision-making and negotiation, the fellows were well prepared to face these challenges. Gooden cited the High-Performing Nonprofits class as having prepared her to understand the importance of financial solvency within a socially-oriented company.

Through working at Refoundry, Gooden and Prudhomme witnessed how societal issues like mass incarceration have an effect on the economy at large. They hope that this type of engagement will create a world where social issues are part of the dialogue at large companies. Gooden emphasized the importance of diversity as an issue at the forefront of people’s consciousness. She believes that by encouraging an inclusive conversation, the School can harness a world of untapped talent and potential. 

Before school, the fellows worked in both a corporate and a social context. Prudhomme worked for a student-run NGO before consulting for four years at PWC. Gooden taught through Teach for America prior to working at Google in Diversity and Inclusion hiring. While at Columbia Business School, she conducted an independent study researching the different employment opportunities available for formerly incarcerated people. As for the future, Prudhomme plans to continue pro bono consulting while using his influence in a corporate role to create social change. Gooden plans to work in a position that allows her to allocate funding for social justice work. As government can be an uncertain source for funding and agent of social change, the fellows want to work as part of a wave of private companies and nonprofits addressing these topic areas.

By Sophie Drew