Andrea Rudert

Lessons from Granada: How MBA Students Can Help

The Latin American-focused conferences of the past weeks have finally come to an end. We have now flown home with stacks of business cards, notebooks over-flowing with new ideas, and collective excitement to take the social entrepreneurship industry to a new level. Preceded by the Social Venture Capital / Social Enterprise Conference in Miami, ANDE’s Latin America Conference ended on Friday morning with closing remarks by ANDE’s Randall Kempner and the ANDE founding member organizations: Agora Partnerships, Root Capital and Technoserve. The forums for networking were unmatched and the Granada conference ended on a positive tone after a delicious typical dinner of morcilla, chicharron and other delicacies.

As an MBA student relatively new to the industry, I found each conference relevant and unique from the other. While the high-level conversations in Miami offered a macro understanding of the industry, ANDE’s gathering of local fund managers, NGOs and service providers provided me with a greater understanding of the entrepreneurial psyche and industry dynamics at the local level.

The number of graduate students at ANDE was less than half that of Miami’s conference, yet Granada stimulated more conversation on the role students can play in the industry. As the VP of Career Development at NYU Stern’s highly active Social Enterprise Association (SEA), I became engaged in the discussions on how to increase MBA utilization. We are after all a highly skilled and relatively cheap resource for a nascent industry with limited resources and a strong need for innovative human capital. So why don’t more organizations use us effectively or at all?

The challenges to leveraging interns and volunteers were discussed in ANDE’s session titled, Maximizing Impact from Volunteers, Interns and Fellows, moderated by Paul Davidson from Agora Partnerships, Robert Parkinson from Artemisia and Andres Satizabal, a fellow MBA student at NYU Stern. Both Agora and Artemisia have incorporated MBA and undergraduate interns into their operations, increasing their reach because of their ability to effectively structure volunteer programs. After Paul and Robert explained their companies’ best practices, Andres presented a methodology to address the topic. He based his methodology on research and interviews with seven ANDE member organizations, and summarized his findings in the following five steps to develop a successful MBA internship program:

1. Structure MBA Internship Program: What are the main goals of an internship program? Does an organization have the necessary resources?

Companies need to understand whether an internship program can help their organization with current staffing needs and the ability to attract future talent. Interns often bring new perspectives to old challenges and enable full time staff to focus on other projects. The act of implementing an internship program can also generate additional marketing by positioning the organization as a relevant player in the industry and creating intern brand ambassadors. However, organizations must evaluate whether they have the necessary resources for the program.

Factoring in the resources devoted to recruiting, staff opportunity costs to internship training and evaluation, overhead costs, potential salary and incentive pay, and other program management costs, an internship program usually costs $4,000 – $30,000 per intern. If an organization is not prepared for this level of investment, an internship program most likely will not make sense at the organization’s current stage.

2. Define Staffing Requirements: Is an MBA intern preferable to other staffing types? What is the optimal timing of the internship?

An organization should consider its current staffing needs, and determine whether an MBA intern is the right fit. Interns add the greatest value with discreet and easily defined projects, rather than ongoing programs requiring a high level of knowledge transfer. A project needing little work experience or business acumen may not be challenging to an MBA student, which will ultimately reflect poorly on the organization’s brand. An organization should also consider the timing of the project, and whether it is aligned with a business school time frame.

Typically, internships are framed around the three month summer break between the student’s first and second year, a three month semester-long internship, or a month-long winter break internship. For example, an MBA student interning during the academic year may be limited in his or her ability to commit to urgent project needs, given the student’s other commitments.

3. Recruit Interns: What is the job description? How will you market the job, screen candidates and communicate the decisions?

Once the staffing needs and resources are confirmed, an intern program should craft a description which includes a brief description, the organization’s background, more detailed responsibilities, the desired candidate qualifications and the application process. A program manager should plan for a two week to three month recruiting process, depending on the number of schools targeted, and the level of complexity of the screening process (ie. How many interviews with high-level managers?). An organization should also plan for an internship offering acceptance yield of below 100%, as students may have multiple offers.

For this reason, when extending offers, an organization may wish to keep an alternative candidate on hold until an offer is accepted. Companies should communicate the final decision to all applicants, to gain a positive impression as a good recruiting organization with schools. For example, the Acumen Fund offers a conference call to the hundreds of applicants that it cannot offer internships, offering updates on their portfolio and other opportunities for engagement.

4. Manage Interns: How does an organization handle logistical and legal processes? What is the training program? How do you set expectations, and define goals and deliverables? Who will supervise interns?

Andres’ research revealed that ANDE members recommend a minimum of one weekly meeting to review each intern’s work, to define the following week’s action plan and to continue to fuel the intern’s motivation.

5. Review Program: How do you harvest feedback from interns, managers and other parties? How successful was the program versus other years, comparable organizations’ internship programs, and other staffing sources? How can you improve the program?

Time-constrained organizations often forget a final main component of any internship program: to adequately transfer the work product that an intern has acquired back to their organization. For example, be sure to have the intern walk someone in your company through how to use the newly created financial model. The internship is also meant to be a learning experience for the student, and a performance critique will enable this process.

I have only highlighted the main points of Andres’ comprehensive study in this post. Using his framework, I noticed that Nicaragua-based Agora’s program is an excellent example of an effective MBA internship program. Their business model relies on business school students to help provide business advisory to small business services and investment fund. Agora’s three programs are tied to the typical business school calendar and include an internship program during the academic year, a summer associate program, and a year-long fellowship program. They also source local experienced volunteers to provide technical expertise which international MBA students cannot provide.

More recently, I-DEV International structured an MBA internship. A 2009 business school lecture tour by Managing Director and Founding Partner Jason Spindler enabled I-DEV to gain student recognition as an innovative industry player and attract top talent.

If you are creating an MBA internship program, you can engage schools by reaching out to the career centers of graduate programs, or to school Net Impact chapters. By introducing your company to school leaders, you may be able to showcase your brands by participating in events such as NYU’s SEA event on March 25th titled Careers in Financing Social Impact & Investing in Social Entrepreneurs, with panelists from Acumen, E+Co and Citylights, and moderated by Steve Godeke. Also be sure to check ANDE’s website frequently. They are currently developing an MBA Intern Hub which will create a marketplace for members to develop and market their opportunities, so stay tuned.

Finally, thanks to ANDE for including students in the collaborative movement in Granada. A growing number of us are passionate about social entrepreneurship. Reach out to us and let us help you grow your organization and together improve our world.

business development