2019 Internship Experiences

2019 Internship Experiences

About our Internships

In the summer of 2019, Business+Impact provided extra funding for a number of internship opportunities with a broad spectrum of organizations.  Students from Ross and Ford developed their skills while helping mission-driven organizations in Detroit and around the world.

Our Summer Fund helped place Masters and BBA students with government and impact organizations across the country, with funding from Business+Impact and the student-run Give-A-Day Fund. Our Open Road at Ross sent twelve Ross students to eight U.S. states and 12 organizations over the month of May.

Internships are an important part of the work that Business+Impact does. Students who engage in internships are consistently amazed at the passion and purpose of the impact organizations with which they partner.  Students are challenged to apply business learning to ambiguous organizational challenges. It requires a level of flexibility and insight to be successful.

Click here to see an album of photos from our interns.

Below, we share six snapshots of some of their experiences, providing a window into the broad experiences that Business+Impact offers:

Emily Blackmer, MPP/MS ’20

  • Type of Internship: Ford Internship

  • Organization: National Forest Foundation

  • Location: Missoula, MT

  • Project: I’ve worked on two main projects. The first is carrying out a stakeholder engagement process with the local Missoula Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest. The aim is to build public support for a landscape-scale fuels reduction project that the District wants to implement in partnership with the state, the county, tribes, and private landowners. (Fuels reduction means removing brush, small trees, deadwood, etc. to reduce the risk of massive, severe wildfire, which happened here in 2017.) The second project has been developing a conservation finance training program with the Washington Office of the Forest Service. So I’ve been able to work with the agency on opposite ends of the management spectrum, at both the district level (the smallest management unit) and then also at the national level.

How did your work specifically help deliver social impact through this experience?

Many people around here a visceral reaction to any kind of active forest management, even if it’s thinning overgrown forests or using prescribed fire to reduce wildfire risk. With the Wildfire Adapted Missoula project, we’re trying to build understa

nding that the fire suppression policy of the past 100 years has also been a form of active management. Either we do some thinning now and have a few days of smoke from a prescribed burn, or massive fires end up completely out of control. If we can successfully build public support and then the Forest Service and other landowners can actually carry out the on-the-ground work to reduce fire risk, everyone benefits. We end up with fewer massive wildfires, which correlates to less smoke and healthier air quality, no more destroyed houses or communities, fewer firefighters putting their lives on the line. And we also get healthier, more resilient forest ecosystems, where fire is restored to its natural role. It’s a win-win.

Sadly, National Forests never have enough funding to do the preventative, risk-reduction work for fire that they need to do. So conservation finance is emerging as an important tool for accomplishing that. There’s been a really interesting example in Flagstaff, AZ, where voters approved a municipal bond to pay for fuels reduction on the local National Forest. NFF has been a key partner in another innovative project in California, which is actually an investment-based model that will eventually provide returns to investors that provided up-front funds to carry out forest restoration work. It’s pretty cool to feel like I’ve been working on the same problems from two angles, the bottom-up approach and the top-down approach simultaneously. 

During your work on their training materials, what finance issues unique to conservation surprised you?

As a Ford School student, I’m always struck by how it comes back to policy. The conservation finance program will train Forest Service staff on how to use various finance tools — which can range from corporate partnerships to bonds to wetland mitigation banking — to get work done on our National Forests. But the whole need to use these finance tools comes from the fact that our federal government has underfunded the Forest Service for decades and decades, leaving a huge backlog of projects. And of course, the need for this work is only compounded by things like a changing climate, water scarcity in some places, one hundred years of fire suppression which left forests primed to burn. Increasing visitation and having more people into outdoor recreation is also creating a need, so it’s not just bad stuff — it’s fundamentally good to have more people enjoying our public lands! But the agency simply doesn’t have enough appropriated funds to do the work it needs to do. So instead of funding our agencies through traditional mechanisms, we’re leaving them on the hook to figure out all these alternative approaches. I think that in an ideal world, conservation finance tools could be a supplement to appropriated dollars, rather than a replacement for them.

How do you predict that this internship will affect your career path?

I’m interested in public lands policy and management, so having direct experience partnering with the Forest Service is super valuable. After this summer I have a much better understanding of the agency’s interests, challenges, concerns, how it’s structured, and just how it operates on a day-to-day basis. I think it will be very useful, practical experience, and hopefully prospective employers will also recognize that.

What advice do you have for future interns?

Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can! One of my goals for this summer was to volunteer for projects that sounded interesting and say yes when offered new opportunities. As a result, I’ve drafted a needs statement for a national grant program (because I said yes to an invitation for a random meeting!), and I’ve gone on a field trip to see a tree-planting site that NFF funded on a big burn area near Missoula. On Tuesday, I helped moderate a public meeting and afterward got a beer with the local Forest Service ranger. I also volunteered for a work day to help rebuild a lookout on top of a mountain, but that got canceled. Not bad for an internship!

Kyle Jarrett, MBA/MPP ’21

  • Type of Internship: Give-A-Day Internship

  • Organization: Cattellyst Foundation

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI / Capetown, South Africa

  • Project: I worked for the Cattellyst Foundation in partnership with the nonprofit Ikamva Labantu in the township of Langa in Cape Town, South Africa. My project primarily involved developing the impact and revenue strategy for a new community center being designed for the township. This multi-use facility will provide space for primary healthcare delivery, legal services, business incubation and acceleration, and other professional services to a community otherwise estranged from such resources.

How did your work specifically help deliver social impact through this experience?

My work has helped Ikamva Labantu think more strategically about implementation. Leveraging community-based system dynamics, I created a framework from which to analyze potential intervention strategies and identify community partners where possible in order to maximize impact while optimizing resources. The aim of this approach was to minimize feedback loops and identify leverage points so those working in the community can better understand what works and what doesn’t and adjust accordingly.

How do you predict that this internship will affect your career path?

I came into business school wanting to pursue a career in international economic development, having only limited exposure to communities at the base of the pyramid. This internship gave me first-hand experience with development work in urban slum communities while also exposing me to nonprofit management. I’ve met healthcare professionals battling diseases like HIV, TB, and diabetes in extreme poverty. I’ve talked with entrepreneurs building tech accelerators in some of the most technology-deprived communities in South Africa. And I’ve learned about the challenges they’ve faced and gained invaluable insights into what development really looks like on the ground in the face of complex challenges.

You had a unique experience travelling to various locations impacted by your organization. What unique advantage do you think that provided?

Being able to live and work in the communities I was impacting had an enormous effect on my perspective. Most of my week was spent in the townships, which was hugely impactful in understanding of daily life of these communities and the challenges they face. It’s very easy to have all the answers from the outside looking in, but that quickly changes when you start to understand the structural complexities and social dynamics on the ground. It’s humbling, and it helps you think much more critically about impact and what it means.

What advice do you have for future interns?

Take the time to really understand and prioritize your professional goals. Meet people. Get involved. And leverage your resources. My internship was the direct result of people I’ve met working with the Emerging Markets Club, and it took many conversations with a lot of different people. On-campus recruiting is great, but there are many other opportunities available in addition to what’s directly in front of you.

How did the Give-a-Day funding you received improve your intern experience?

The Give-a-Day funding I received was a lifeline. This opportunity came about very late in the process, and many funding resources through the University of Michigan had already been allocated. Without Give-a-Day, this internship probably wouldn’t have happened. It’s an awesome experience to know that my peers made this possible for me, and I think it really speaks to the uniqueness of the Ross community and the support we have for one another.

Aaron Ngo, BBA ’20

  • Type of Internship: Summer Fund

  • Organization: Opportunity Finance Network

  • Location: Washington, DC

  • Project: This summer I’ve worked at Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) on their financial services team. OFN is a membership organization for Community Developmental Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which are essentially banks that provide capital for under-served communities to fund small businesses, affordable housing, and other vital projects. OFN provides its members with additional capital, advocates for the communities they serve in Washington, and a number of other benefits. I’m working on OFN’s annual review process to ensure all of our loans are in good standing.

How did your work specifically help deliver social impact through this experience?

Through my projects I’ve been helping capital flow to CDFIs across the country, where it should ultimately help in funding projects that will strengthen communities. There are CDFIs in overlooked rural towns and disadvantaged parts of cities that help fund many things like micro-enterprises, affordable housing complexes, and community health clinics. In addition, as we see talk to our CDFI members and learn about their needs, we are able to pass along that information to our public policy team, who can then advocate for policies in Washington.  

How do you predict that this internship will affect your career path?

I’ve learned so many things at OFN that it is hard to say. I think seeing first hand how public policy affects both what CDFIs do and people living in the US has definitely changed how I view social impact work. I have a much greater appreciation for policies, and our government, now that I have seen a glimpse of the process. I think understanding policy and how things got the way they are is crucial for any type of impact work, so I hope to continue learning more moving forward.

How deeply does OFN look to determine the impact of CDFIs on the communities they serve?
 
OFN releases a lot of information on behalf of its members, CDFIs as a whole, and the communities they serve. If anyone’s interested, the impacts are listed on the website. https://ofn.org/impact-performance

What advice do you have for future interns?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay to admit you don’t have all the answers and make mistakes, especially as an intern. 

​Sheetal Singh, MBA ’20

  • Type of Internship: Summer Fund

  • Organization: Center for Financial Services Innovation

  • Location: New York, NY

  • Project: I’ve been working on several projects simultaneously: One of them is conducting a market analysis of small dollar credit users in the US for a major payment provider. My research is determining if frequent users of small dollar credit (payday loans, check cashing services, overdraft) would benefit from early access to earned wages. The research and analysis of this report could lead to a new product or new market entry for this company.  Another is creating a playbook on digital marketing for fintech startups that are involved in the Financial Solutions Lab. A third major project is determining product changes for a financial rewards program that wants to target a specific population – the asset limited, income constrained, employed (ALICE) population. 

How did your work specifically help deliver social impact through this experience? 

The projects I’ve worked on have primarily targeted low-medium income individuals. I’m hoping that the research and product feedback I’ve provided to these organizations and companies will allow them to improve their existing products or create new products to help this population. I’ve been part of a few long-term engagements and I can tell that the impact of these initiatives will really ease people’s financial burden, and that has huge social impact! There are numerous ways to define social impact, so I’m excited to have been part of bringing better financial health to Americans.

How do you predict that this internship will affect your career path?

I’ve wanted to focus on the field of financial inclusion, and this internship allowed me to gain fundamental knowledge of this industry in the US. Working with fintech startups as well as well-established companies, I’ve gotten a better idea of what role I want to have within this industry post-graduation.  

We hear in the news that there is a large portion of our population (middle and lower classes) left behind by the current financial boom. How is CFSI addressing the needs of these people?

Financial Health Network provides the research that many large companies and fintech startups use to create products that address the needs of these individuals. Additionally, recognizing that the government plays a major role in the efficiency of the financial marketplace, the Financial Health Network creates connections between the business and policy communities in order to push changes. The Blackrock Savings Initiative is an example of a partnership between Financial Health Network and other organizations designed to help individuals who experience income volatility (typically middle and lower classes) save and plan for their futures.

What advice do you have for future interns?

Find what industry interests you and then figure out which companies/organizations are experts in this industry. That’s primarily how I found Financial Health Network. 

How did the Give-A-Day funding you received improve your intern experience?

My internship is in NYC and the cost of living is incredibly high! The Give-A-Day funding has really helped ease my financial burden (ironic since I’m working at a financial health nonprofit).


Mingming Zhao, MBA ’20

  • Type of Internship: Give-A-Day Fund

  • Organization: United Nations

  • Location: New York, NY

  • Project: As an consultant in UN Department of Operational Support, I mainly worked on two projects: Peacekeeping Deployment and UN Global Recruitment Optimization Project. These projects both belong to the UN Reformation 2020 and share the same keyword “Speed”. What I was mainly responsible for is figuring out the bottlenecks and find where New York Headquarter can nudge most effectively.

How did your work specifically help deliver social impact through this experience? In your work on UN peacekeeping missions, what were the key UN Sustainability Goals on which you were focused?

In 2015, UN set up its Envision 2030 Agenda and published 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Quality Education and others. In my projects, I will say I’ve been most focused on Goal No.17: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Our world is increasingly divided. Some areas and enjoying growth and prosperity, while others are facing endless cycles of conflict and violence. This is inevitable and must be addressed to achieve sustainable development.

In the recruiting optimization project, beside speed, we need to make sure there are fair opportunities for for persons with disabilities, genders, people inside/outside the UN system, and from areas all over the world. All system adjustments are made and will be made following these rules. In the Peacekeeping project, we are ensuring that all people in peacekeeping areas receive adequate medical care and protection.


How do you predict that this internship will affect your the way you look at the world and yourself?

It is for sure an eye-opening experience that I can see how things change and happen globally within UN framework. Also, because my projects involved a number of stakeholders, from the Secretary General to Global Twelve Peacekeeping Missions, to several governments, it made me realize how important it is to keep an open mind in my work with different people.


What advice do you have for future interns?

1. Don’t let your self-assumptions limit yourself.
2. Spend time with yourself to understand what you really want to do.
At the beginning I thought it was impossible for me to get into UN, while at the same time I knew clearly that working in UN was the thing that if I didn’t do this summer, I might never get to do for the rest of my life. So I applied, and luckily I got the offer.

How did the Give-A-Day funding you received improve your intern experience?

Staying in Manhattan for three months was a big investment. Thanks to the Give-A-Day funding, I have had more flexibility in choosing where I stayed. That saved me over 50% commuting time.

Kathy Tian, MBA/MS ’21

Whom did you work with in Charlotte?

Rosalia Torres-Weiner, the founder and lifeblood of Red Calaca Studio, a Charlotte-based art studio through which Rosalia communicates stories of immigration, deportation, family separation, and more.

What were her unique challenges?

As a person who grew up in Mexico and for whom English is not her first language, it is more challenging than usual  to be business-savvy, tech-savvy, proficient with grant-making systems, and well networked, all while maintaining a prolific and creative portfolio. She has enlisted her husband, Ben Weiner, who works a fulltime job elsewhere, as her unofficial “business manager.” Ben expresses that even for him, a native English speaker, applying for grants is an ambiguous and confusing process.

What did your team do while you were in Charlotte?

As a team, we set out to help Rosalia and Red Calaca Studio strategize on which sales channels to focus on and best practices for those channels. To do this, we advised on a short-term “always-on” sales strategy, as well as a longer term vision of how she can carry her message to a national audience. We also walked her through a list of actionable branding advice to increase cohesion of all her messaging platforms.

What inspiration did you take from your time with Rosalia?

I reflect on this week in awe of the strength and creativity that immigrants like Rosalia and my own parents bring to this country. There are hidden barriers, such as navigating a grant-making system, or staying abreast of the evolving US art market, that can prevent an immigrant from thriving in this business. However, I am encouraged by the allies and support networks that immigrants find in partners, community members, coworkers, and beyond. 

Adapted from Kathy’s blog post on the Open Road at Ross website.

For a complete listing of interns and their internships for 2018, click here.

For information on receiving your own student internship funding, click here.