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Tangible Impact for the Win

Hands-on research shaped students’ first-prize proposal to improve outreach to homeless youth

"Why did we do this?" was the general sentiment the night before the annual Net Impact Consulting Challenge at UCLA Anderson School of Management.

For most of our five-person team — Greg Siviy ('20), Caitlin Bloom ('20), Leana Moon ('20), Robby Wyper ('20) and Jessica Murphy ('20) — this was our first case competition, and our nerves were running high. But then we remembered the hard work we had put in over the last three weeks, and the tangible impact that our recommendations could have on our client-organization, Volunteers of America Los Angeles (VOALA). More important, our proposal, win or lose, could help VOALA place more homeless Los Angeles youth in the programs they so desperately need.

Jessica Murphy ('20)

The Net Impact Consulting Challenge (NICC) is hosted by UCLA Anderson in partnership with Impact@Anderson and Net Impact. What makes NICC unique compared to a typical case competition is that rather than take on a single hypothetical challenge, each team gets paired with a local nonprofit or social enterprise that comes to the table with a range of business challenges. Thirteen teams from the full-time, part-time and Executive MBA programs (and one graduate student in public health) worked diligently for three weeks to deliver their presentations at a final judged event. Each team met a business challenge posed by a variety of organizations, from the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation to Civic Innovation Lab to the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School.

VOALA was looking for an improved outreach program for LGBTQ homeless youth in Los Angeles. Moving to Los Angeles from Calgary opened my eyes to the challenges of homelessness. But what I perceived was stereotypical: adults on the street, living in tent encampments. What I wasn't aware of before working with VOALA is that of the roughly 53,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, 6,000 are youths. And they are complex: They may live on the streets, but they juggle school and jobs, ride trains and crash on couches. They belong to a unique demographic with unique needs. As we worked with VOALA and interviewed staff and formerly homeless youth, the stereotypes I had believed were replaced by a well-informed and empathetic understanding of homelessness in my new community.

Not only did I gain a deeper understanding of our client's challenges, our team was presented with an excellent opportunity to flex our new business skills and apply them to a real-world problem. Concepts learned in the classroom about inbound and outbound marketing, financial projections, and marginal benefit and cost were all relevant in shaping our recommendations.  Even though nonprofits might not measure success in exactly the same bottom-line way as a for-profit organization, our client can take a business-like approach to their organization and quantify other factors that create immeasurable social value.

The satisfaction of knowing that our proposal will have a positive social impact in our community has unanimously shifted our team's sentiment from "Why did we do this?" to "When can we do this again?"

A prevalent theme throughout our first two quarters at Anderson was diversity as a team's strength. The school does an excellent job of attracting and admitting an incredible range of talent. I attribute much of our success at NICC to our ability to leverage the composition of our team's unique interests and backgrounds, which encompass industrial engineering, communications, brewery operations (what?!), health care consulting and nonprofit management. For example, one member's personal interest in public art inspired the idea of installing a street mural to prompt homeless youth to visit the VOALA website. The rest of the team's combined expertise gave the proposal legs: identify where the mural would be installed, craft appropriate messaging, quantify reach and pull the idea through to a fully built-out physical and digital outreach campaign. Our team was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

The project ended with a heart-pounding final presentation to a panel of 16 experts, primarily representing the management consulting and nonprofit fields and including Jennifer Walske, interim faculty director of Impact@Anderson. The judges were fair, but tough. They gave us credit where it was due and helped us identify shortfalls in our work and areas for improvement. Four teams advanced to the finals to pitch their recommendations before the panel and all NICC participants. I'm thrilled to report that our group was awarded the $5,000 first prize in the competition, and I'm even more thrilled that our client's organization is excited to move forward with our recommendations.

NICC was an absolute highlight of my first half-year at Anderson and I'd recommend any incoming or current MBA student participate. The satisfaction of knowing that our proposal will have a positive social impact in our community has unanimously shifted our team's sentiment from "Why did we do this?" to "When can we do this again?"

Impact@Anderson launched with a mission to inspire, educate and challenge the next generation of leaders to be social change makers. The initiative aims to: build core competencies in impact for students; elevate the social impact sector through thought leadership, research and shared learning; and create value for society by connecting impact organizations to business acumen.

Learn about UCLA Anderson's social impact consulting programs.

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