Social Enterprise Consulting | Student Perspective, Ann Dunlap M.Ed ’17

Ann Dunlap, M. Ed ’17, Leadership & Organizational Performance (Peabody) | TFC Social Enterprise Consulting Participant Spring 2017

My experience with Social Enterprise Consulting (SEc) began in January 2016 when I decided to join an interdisciplinary group of students who were planning to undertake consulting projects for local social enterprises. At the time, I wasn’t even sure what this really meant, and I remember feeling uncertain about what I would learn and what type of work this might entail. My vague expectations were far surpassed; joining SEc was one of the best decisions I made during graduate school.

During my three semesters as a member of SEc, I partnered with two different clients and worked with students from four other graduate schools at Vanderbilt. I spent two semesters working with Justice Industries, a local social enterprise aimed at job creation for people who suffer chronic unemployment. My work with Justice Industries focused on creating a marketing plan and a customer acquisition plan with the goal of growing Justice Industries’ business, and it taught me the necessity of creating a sustainable business plan and thinking big when considering social impact work.

This semester, I worked on a project centered around recruiting and retention efforts for Vanderbilt Dining employees. While not a traditional social enterprise, many of Vanderbilt Dining’s employees live at or close to the poverty line and work only nine months out of the year. (There is not a need for on-campus dining services while students are on summer vacation.) Highlights of this project included conducting a focus group with VU Dining employees to hear firsthand about the challenges and benefits of working at Vanderbilt and learning more about a workforce that I knew little about, yet interacted with while on campus. Throughout this project, I realized the importance of zooming out and analyzing a problem  from many different angles. In doing this, my group better understood the scope of the problem and the variety of factors that impact it. In the end, our comprehensive understanding of the problem allowed us to deliver six recommendations to Vanderbilt Dining, presented to key staff.

As graduation approaches, I’m sad to see my time with SEc come to an end. It has been a highlight of my time at Vanderbilt, and my critical thinking and problem solving skills have grown because of my work with this incredible group of students. Without a doubt, I will lean on these skills as I begin my career after graduation.