Editor's Note: Sara Gentile graduated from HBS in 2016 and received a Dean's Award in recognition of her commitment to increasing opportunities for students to gain exposure to the nonprofit sector. She is currently working as an HBS Social Enterprise Leadership Fellow at Boston's Children's Hospital.
There are a number of ways to pursue an interest in nonprofit organizations while at HBS. I have personally explored this interest through joining the Board Fellows and Social Enterprise Consulting Club, undertaking an Independent Project for academic credit, and enrolling in a Social Enterprise Initiative-affiliated class.
Board Fellows and Social Enterprise Consulting Club
I am one of two co-presidents of the Board Fellows and Social Enterprise Consulting Club (BFSEC) at HBS. The club admits first and second year students through an application process. Our members work in teams of two directly with local nonprofit organizations to address a specific problem or to answer a specific question that the organization has.
These consulting projects provide our members with an opportunity to practice skills they're learning in the classroom and also to better understand how nonprofit, community-based organizations operate. Students have the opportunity to truly own and manager their projects.
Many of our 39 teams this year also have the opportunity to serve as non-voting board members on the organization's board of directors and get the chance to attend and present at board meetings. The opportunity to develp leadership skills and practice MBA skills while giving back to the community makes BFSEC a truly unique program.
During the second year at HBS, students have the opportunity to select all their classes. This includes the opportunity to enroll in Independent Projects (IPs) for academic credit. IPs can be done individually or in teams, and can take on a variety of different formats (e.g. research paper, writing a case study, or doing a consulting project for an outside organization.) These IPs are all under the guidance of a faculty advisor.
This past fall I participated in a nonprofit IP with another student. We worked at Hebrew Senior Life (HSL), a large nonprofit committed to improving the lives of older adults through their senior living communities, health care services, research, and teaching. We worked with HSL's senior leadership team and staff across the organization on a strategic project to review their extensive teaching and training programming and developed an analytical framework and recommendations. The IP was a wonderful learning opportunity for us both and provided great exposure to an impressive nonprofit.
There are a number of HBS Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) affiliated courses offered during students' second year. The one I'm taking this semester is called "Nonprofit Clinic: Tackling Inequality." This course is brand new this semester - five other students and I (all BFSEC members) helped to design it last fall. The course combines classroom case-based learning and a field project. Through the field project, the course provides students with an opportunity to partner with local nonprofit organizations whose mission is to reduce inequality. Taking the course has been a really rewarding experience for me - the classes and guest speakers were terrific and now I'm working in the field with an organization focused on reducing health disparities.
These are just three examples of opportunities to engage with the nonprofit sector as a student at HBS. As someone who has volunteered with many nonprofits over the years, and plans to stay connected to the nonprofit sector through volunteer service and/or fulltime work, getting nonprofit exposure at HBS has been very important to me. The experiences I've described have not only been personally gratifying but have also provided incredible action-based learning experiences that I have benefited from greatly.
This post was originally published on HBS MBA Voices blog.