Following Your Passions at Stern: A Case Study

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard a Sternie describe him- or herself as a “non-traditional” MBA. It’s a testament to the diversity at Stern, both in the backgrounds of our students as well as our post-graduation goals. For a relatively small school – there are 392 students in my class – Stern does a remarkable job at providing extracurricular opportunities for students to pursue their passions. Take my particular interest: social responsibility in the apparel and retail space. Definitely “non-traditional.” However, in the five or so months I’ve been at Stern, I’ve been able to explore this interest in a number of non-academic ways:

Consulting Projects

When I learned about the opportunity to work with West Elm through the Luxury Retail Consulting Corps, I jumped at the opportunity. I was ultimately appointed project lead on “West Elm Local,” an initiative to engage local communities by including more local “makers” into the company’s product assortment. My team worked with West Elm’s Strategy team to build out an operational scaling plan to address how the initiative would work at scale. Pretty great stuff. I learned a ton about the retail industry and the complexity of implementing social responsibility initiatives in larger companies.

Centers and Fellowships

This year, Stern announced that it was launching the first Center for Business and Human Rights at a business school, headed up by Michael Posner, founder of Human Rights First and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The center’s first topic area is worker safety in the Bangladesh garment industry – a subject that is obviously close to heart. At the beginning of the semester, I volunteered for a symposium that brought together stakeholders from across the garment industry, and I was recently brought on as a graduate fellow working on community engagement and research projects. I have a front-row seat as business leaders, garment factory owners, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations hash out the future of worker rights in the garment industry. It’s a lot harder than I imagined.

Funding Opportunities

Students interested in social enterprise and social responsibility often find it difficult to find paid summer internships in those fields. Enter, Stern’s Social Impact Internship Fund, a fellowship that provides up to $10,000 in funding to students pursuing low-paid or unpaid summer internships at social enterprises, B Corps, and non-profits. I applied for round one of the competition, and I was very excited to learn that I got it! Now when I’m approaching potential socially responsible employers for the summer, I don’t need to worry about how I’m going to pay my rent.

Clubs and Events

Through participation in Stern’s Social Enterprise Association and Luxury & Retail Club, I am on the planning committee for Think Social Drink Local, an annual sustainable fashion show and fundraising event for the Social Impact Internship Fund mentioned above. In addition to serving a great cause, it’s also one of the hottest social events of the spring and a great way to connect my contacts in the sustainable fashion, food, and beverage spaces with the Stern community.

Trips

In October, I traveled to California to attend the Net Impact Conference with Stern’s Social Enterprise Association. Net Impact brings together a remarkable collection of students and changemakers who are committed to using business as a force for good. I had the chance to hear candidly from senior executives at Levi’s, Patagonia, Timberland, Gap, and other companies I admire. It was a great way to step back, be inspired, and recommit myself to my chosen career path. And it was even better knowing that I would be returning to an environment that would enable me to push those goals forward.

Already March?

This weekend is one of our bigger Spring events, TSDL (Think Social, Drink Local). TSDL is a runway fashion show and dance party,  held at the Angel Orensanz Foundation in NYC. Basically, our classmates and Stern administration model fashionable outfits from top NYC designers. Sponsors include Absolut Vodka, Brooklyn Brewery, Brooks Brothers, DKNY, etc. and proceeds go to support the Social Impact Internship Fund, which provides a financial stipend  for students who spend their summers working for often unpaid non-profit and social impact-based businesses.

I’m excited for this event and another exciting thing coming up, Spring Break! Every year, Stern’s community clubs organize different treks for students to join, or students can organize their own informal treks. This year, students were able to pick between Thailand, India, South Africa, Vietnam & Cambodia, Ecuador, Japan, and more (a lot of times, the students who choose to go on these treks are first year students since it’s a great way to meet new people)! As second year students, a bunch of us are going to Tulum and Playa del Carmen in Mexico. I’m very excited to relax on the beach (and do nothing but read and eat) for my last spring break ever (sad!).

On the class front, things are going well. We just settled on a project topic for our Customer Insights class, which is essentially all about conducting effective marketing research. We decided to do our project on Apple iWatch. According to this article, Apple plans to launch this wearable, smartphone watch soon. Our job as market researchers is to not only figure out who the target consumer is, but how to make it a successful launch. To make it successful, we must answer questions like why the category for traditional watches has been declining, whether there is even a need for a smartphone-type watch amongst the target demographic, and if there is one, what features our target consumer would have a willingness to pay for. This launch is a hot topic in the news, and seeing how innovative Apple has been, it will be interesting to see whether the company is moving in the right direction or not with this new idea.

That’s it for this week – until next time…..

Think Social Drink Local

Happy weekend! It’s Thursday and that is technically the start of the weekend for most Sternies. We do not have classes on Friday and Thursday nights at beer blast is where everyone tends to let off a little steam from the week. On tap for this weekend is one of my favorite Stern events, “Think Social Drink Local” (more lovingly known in these halls as TSDL)!

The Social Enterprise Association and the Luxury & Retail Club are co-hosting the 8th Annual TSDL event, a fundraiser, runway fashion show featuring Stern students and essentially an all-out awesome party. Students and administrators strut their stuff on the runway while the rest of us non-models enjoy food and beverages from some fabulous NY establishments such as Murray’s Cheese, Brooklyn Brewery, The NY Distilling Co. and so many more. Proceeds from the event support NYU Stern’s Social Impact Internship Fund which provides funding for Stern MBA students who spend their summers working for non-profit and social impact-based businesses. This year’s theme, I Love New York, focuses on New York-based designers and locally produced food and beverage offerings. The event highlights the economic impact of locally-minded consumption and the importance of small businesses to a thriving local community.

This is by far one of the best parties of the year and also supports a great cause. Check out the video here to see highlights from last year’s event!