Fund fuels MBA social impact internships

By Laura Counts

Thato.pngLeft: Thato Keineetse, MBA 17, on a mountaintop in Tanzania during his internship with Off.Grid: Electric last summer


When you’re facing another year of MBA tuition and classmates are heading off to well-paid internships at consulting firms and tech giants, it can be tough to follow your heart and spend the summer documenting health care access in Nepal or helping an African solar startup pivot.

But thanks to the beyond-yourself mindset of Berkeley MBA  students, the Haas Social Impact Fund (HSIF) takes a bit of the financial pressure off those choices. It also allows small organizations to bring in talent that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

“HSIF is an incredible investment: it brought the value of the Haas MBA to the education sector, which itself is an investment in children and the future,” said Freya Lee, MBA 17, who spent last summer as an Education Pioneers Fellow with GO Public Schools—co-founded by Jonathan Klein, MBO 06.  

The fund was started in 2004 by Haas MBA students who wanted to make it easier for classmates to pursue internships with public, nonprofit, and social enterprise organizations around the world that can’t pay a “typical” MBA salary. Students with more traditional internships are encouraged to donate one day of their summer salary to the fund.

Last year, eight students received fellowships ranging from $1,500 to $4,800, which helped them take on projects in Nepal, Africa, and around the US.

HSIF 4.jpgThis year’s campaign—underway this week—is expected to raise about $20,000. Dean Rich Lyons led the way by donating one day of his pay to kick things off. The majority of student donations come from first-year-students interested in helping their classmates, but this year donations have also come from a significant number of second-years—including those who received fellowships last summer and have landed full-time offers post-graduation, said campaign organizer Tiffany Lee, MBA 18.

(Update 4/14: The campaign raised exceeded the goal by 50%, raising $30,000!)

While about 75% of the fund comes from student donations, support from alumni donors is also critical to its long-term success. In November, Richard Strauch, MBA 85, and Cynthia Strauch, MBA 86, started contributing toward a $50,000 gift to support the fund as an endowment. The Richard & Cynthia Strauch Haas Social Impact Fund will eventually make annual payouts of about $2,000 each summer to first-year, full-time MBA students who accept internships in the social sector.

“We feel a strong connection to Haas' commitment to the social sector, responsible leadership, and its public service mission in general,” said Rich Strauch, noting that both he and Cynthia work and volunteer for nonprofits. “It is part of Cal's tradition that we are especially proud of and wanted to support.” 

Here’s a peek at what three of last summer’s fund recipients worked on. You can see blog more posts on the Center for Social Sector Leadership Blog.

Energy for the people: Thato Keineetse, MBA 17

Thato_solar in Africa.pngAbove: An Off.Grid:Electric employeer installs a new system.

Thato spent ten weeks in Tanzania with Off.Grid:Electric, a social enterprise that leases solar systems to the “energy poor." His product management internship could not have started at a more challenging time, he says, “as the company was preparing to pivot its business model, restructure its human resources, launch a new sales channel, target new customer segments, expand into several international markets and rebrand the operating company.”

He was also challenged by the language barrier—with a bare grasp of elementary Swahili, he worked closely with local analysts to interview customers.  Read more about how he drew on lessons from his Leading People and Data & Decisions courses to lead three projects.

Documenting Health Access in Nepal: Grace Lesser, MBA/MPH 16

Nepal_photo by Grace Lesser.jpegPhoto by Grace Lesser

With the help of HSIF along with UC Berkeley Global Health Reporting Fellowship and a Rashell Young Fellowship, Grace was able to craft a unique opportunity: a customer insights and photojournalism study on access to maternal and reproductive health in post-earthquake Nepal. She was able to travel to very remote areas with NGO One Heart Worldwide as part of their relief efforts.

“My goal in doing this project was to provide a counterpoint to the dryness of the policy conversation, or the flatness of the funding dialogue,” Grace said.

Read more and see more photos from Grace's project.

A lasting impact through impact investing: Alex Evangelides, MBA 17

Alex .jpegAlex had the opportunity to work in four different countries—Kenya, South Africa, England, and Hungary—as a summer associate with impact investment advisory firm D. Capital. The firm helps facilitate the flow of capital to high-growth and impact opportunities in parts of the world that need it most.

D. Capital specializes in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Alex spent part of his summer on the firm's African Student Fiance Initiative, to help the "missing middle"—students who aren't poor enought to qualify for government loans, and yet still can't afford higher education. He also developed a pipeline of early-stage enterprises for the firm's client base.

 Read more about what he learned.

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Topics: Internships  |   Full-time  |   social impact  |   Career
Laura Counts
Laura is a senior marketing and communications manager at Berkeley-Haas. As a former journalist, she finds no shortage of interesting stories to tell at Haas. As a Cal alum, she loves being able to walk to work through redwood groves along Strawberry Creek.