These days there are so many incredible models for delivering pro bono service. Over the coming months I would like to spotlight some of the people and organizations who are leading the pro bono movement. To kick this off, this week I interviewed Kunal Modi. Here’s the interview:
Kunal Modi is the Board Chairman of campusCATALYST, a Chicago-based organization he co-founded with Molly Day. campusCATALYST partners with leading universities to engage undergraduates in pro bono work for nonprofits. Working in engagement teams, and supported by both academic and business mentors, participating students enroll in a for-credit university course which complements in-class learning with pro bono service placements in the local community.
You’re working at Teach for America now through McKinsey- how does that work?
McKinsey has a program called the McKinsey nonprofit corps. Having had on-the-ground nonprofit experience working with AmeriCorps, I wanted to understand how my management consulting training could be applied to the social sector to support a cause and a nonprofit that I believed in. I’ve always been interested in education. Teach for America is a really interesting case study of how to bring a lot of different skill sets together around a cause in the social sector.
The social sector right now is being defined, and I want to be a part of that discussion. I believe the best social enterprises seek to inform rather than supplant government institutions. Today, we can really start to identify and aggregate the most interesting, effective ideas in the social sector and work to translate them into government policy. For example- if Teach for America has cracked the code on the teacher recruitment model, how do we work with the Department of Education and translate those findings to affect education more broadly in this country?
So, tell us about the founding of campusCATALYST. What was the catalyst?
When I worked with a nonprofit called LIFT, we had a mixed range of experiences with both nonprofit and student-driven consultants. Later, as I recruited for McKinsey, I got further introduced to the consulting framework and model. At the same time, my co-founder Molly Day was in Malawi doing research with a nonprofit. We looked at our experiences in tandem and recognized that there was an opportunity to use a lot of the management consulting frameworks to tap into the talent pool of energetic,talented, passionate students. Our program promotes cross-sector careers and leadership and shows students that no matter what profession you go on to, your skill sets have a useful application to the organizations serving your community.
Where is the organization now?
We’re two years old and proud of all the work the organization has done in the broader Chicagoland community; we run for-credit institutionalized classes at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago; we’re working also with Kellogg School of Management and Booth School of Business. We’ve engaged over 250 students and worked with 50 nonprofit organizations. We’ve contributed about $600,000 in pro bono services to the Evanston, Hyde Park, and Chicago community, and we’re excited to keep growing.
Who is the typical student and client?
The typical student in campusCATALYST is someone who is strong academically and has also taken a leadership position at an organization on campus. Typically the organizations we work with are small-medium sized nonprofits that are very invested in the local community. campusCATALYST works to scope out projects that ensure the engagements are valuable learning experiences for our students but are also a very concrete successes for our clients.
We’ve seen many MBAs struggle to serve nonprofits given their lack of experience. What skills do you find undergrads can reliably provide?
Undergraduates are tenacious researchers; they’re incredibly tech savvy; they’re very resourceful. The trick is to create a pro bono opportunity for students that capitalizes on their strengths while providing adequate training, resources, and advisory support. I think the for-credit classes we offer through our university partners is unique model to tap into the all the talent and energy of students on campus.
So, what’s next for campusCATALYST?
We have a lot of exciting growth prospects going forward. We’re looking to expand our impact to more students and more campuses. This past year we launched an Advanced Analyst program for students to come together for a repeat engagement at a faster pace. We’d like to start an externship program or partner with a study abroad program. We’re also really ramping up our alumni efforts. As we graduate students, we’ll see a unique set of leaders who have been through this transformative experience and can work together as alumni to drive social change.