The HBS Summer Fellows Program enables students to apply their classroom training as they explore career opportunities in roles or regions where compensation is generally lower than the traditional MBA level. This summer, we are connecting with some of our 61 Social Enterprise Summer Fellows, who are working around the world to develop skills and knowledge while having significant responsibility and high impact.

What are you working on this summer?

I’m working at Year Up, a leading workforce development nonprofit that is helping close the Opportunity Divide, i.e., the gap between talented young people and companies in need of skills. Year Up’s core program offers skills training and a six-month internship in high-growth fields like IT, Business Operations, and Finance. To date, the organization has helped connect over 36,000 low-income young adults to livable wage careers. Results from a federally-sponsored RCT study show that Year Up’s impact on the earnings of graduates are among the largest of any workforce organization in the country.

My role as Strategic Advisor to the Office of the CEO is focused on two projects: 1) building a growth plan to help increase the number of interns hosted at a large corporate partner and 2) drafting a case study that documents the ripple effects of Year Up’s program within large companies. The second project is particularly exciting as it requires thinking creatively about how to measure and codify the transformative changes that Year Up has catalyzed within large employers, e.g., how these companies hire, develop, and retain more diverse entry-level talent. Understanding these shifts is a key strategic question for the organization as it focuses more and more on changing the employment system as a whole.

Why did you choose this internship for the summer?

I’m obsessed with education-to-employment, meaning the emerging field of models (nonprofit, for-profit, or government) trying to better connect people to good jobs. Pre-HBS, I helped start a nonprofit in this space called CityWorks DC, where I met young people who lack the support from family or school needed to compete in the labor market. In my own life, I’ve seen how wealth and social capital are the primary means by which students from elite institutions get the best jobs in our economy. This juxtaposition has always bothered me— and it's why I feel called to play a small role in building a new system of supportive pathways to good jobs.

I chose Year Up because I wanted to learn from an organization with a demonstrated history of success that is now developing and deploying further innovations to its core model. Given its brand and results, you could argue that Year Up is among a handful of organizations who have already solved this problem at some amount of scale. The organization’s success to date leaves it with big strategic questions about where to go from here, however, especially given the challenges with continuing to scale their traditional brick-and-mortar training model. In addition to tinkering with its core service model, Year Up is now turning to think about how to build systems, not just programs.

I was excited about a summer project focused on reimagining the employment system. This approach is the only way I see us building a world where C-suites are led by Black, Latinx, and other historically marginalized groups. As a mentor of mine, Caroline Hill, has said, “Systems of inequity have been designed by people, and they can be redesigned.”

What are your goals for this summer?

My primary goal is immersing myself in a large nonprofit working at scale. This summer, I get to observe excellence in how resources, processes, and partnerships work together in a large organization.

I also want to focus on the employer side of this work. It’s clear that one of the most pressing challenges facing this field is how to drive behavior changes among employers, which is why I was excited by the specific offer to work on these two projects at Year Up.

Finally, I want to shadow and learn from Year Up’s leaders, who include Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO and HBS Class of 1992, and Ellen McClain, COO and HBS Class of 1993. I’m grateful to be spending time learning from Gerald, Ellen, and the rest of the Year Up leadership team this summer.

How has your MBA skillset prepared you to be successful in this role?

People often say they like working in the private sector because progress is easily measurable on an income statement and balance sheet. I like working in the social sector for the inverse reason: social change is complex, hard to measure, and often involves adaptive change, i.e., shifting mindsets rather than numbers on a spreadsheet. I get excited about these kinds of problems.

HBS pushes its students to ask hard questions and think in multiple dimensions, an approach well-suited for the social sector. During RC (first-year) case discussions, through listening to classmates, professors, and my own instincts, I tried to hold multiple perspectives on a business problem in my head, many of which were often conflicting. In this way, HBS has prepared me well for my work this summer, which will require thinking about the incentives and interests of multiple groups—employers, nonprofits, and most importantly, young people—at once.

How has the summer influenced your thinking on future involvement in social enterprise?

This summer is pushing me to think about different future theories of change, both my personal one and that of the work I pursue, within the education-to-employment field. Year Up has operated one of the most successful workforce programs in the country; now, the organization is confronting the fact that it must change systems and not just build more programs if it is to solve what they refer to as the “Opportunity Divide.” It leads me to reflect about the tradeoffs between different levers of change, be them in the private sector, nonprofits, or government.

How can someone learn more about your organization?



This article was originally published on the HBS Social Enterprise blog.