Apoorva Kanneganti (MBA 2019) is a Senior Consultant with Deloitte Consulting, who recently supported the Monitor Institute by Deloitte in its COVID-19 response for the social sector. She co-authored a social sector scenario planning report, and developed workshops to support nonprofits and philanthropic organizations implement the report’s key findings. We caught up with her when she returned — along with her colleague from the Monitor Institute, Jen Holk — to deliver a webinar about the work to local nonprofits and Ross students and faculty. She came to Michigan Ross for her MBA to explore social impact, healthcare, and entrepreneurship.
What is the most important realization or experience you’ve had since graduation in the area of social impact?
The field of social impact is broad, and it is evolving. During my time at Ross, the Center for Social Impact was rebranded to Business + Impact, which feels apt. The field can broadly be categorized as those who do, those who fund, and those who govern, and each of these categories includes both traditional players as well as newer disruptors that share similarities with the private sector. For example, those who do increasingly include mission-driven, for-profit social enterprises and certified B corps alongside traditional nonprofits. Those who fund have seen an influx of private dollars, with new LLC foundation models and a rise in social impact venture funds and corporate investments because of the flexibility and fewer restrictions associated with private dollars. With those who govern, we see more public private partnerships because they can be effective in quickly and efficiently bringing innovative solutions that benefit the broader public.
In some ways, it feels like the focus of social impact in business has shifted from where one can make an impact to how one can make an impact with so many new avenues to explore.
How have you leveraged your Ross MBA experience at Deloitte since graduating?
At Ross, I focused my time on social impact, healthcare, and entrepreneurship, and I have been able to successfully pivot into projects related to these experiences since my return to consulting. My classwork provided foundational knowledge of the healthcare and life sciences industry that has been critical to the Pharma and Medtech projects I’ve worked on. My experience with the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund was useful on multiple client engagements assessing emerging and niche markets. My practical experiences in the social sector with Open Road at Ross and Business + Impact’s Summer Internship program gave me working knowledge of the social sector ecosystem that was immensely useful during my time with the Monitor Institute, Deloitte’s social change consultancy. As part of my work with the Monitor Institute, I co-authored An Event or an Era?: Resources for social sector decision-making in the context of COVID-19, a scenario planning resource to help social sector leaders better prepare their organizations for the different, possible futures that may unfold as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Moreover, the Ross network has been instrumental in supporting my career and professional goals. I’ve called upon numerous Ross mentors and friends for career advice or to learn about a new topic I’m exploring at work.
In your work with Deloitte’s Monitor Institute on COVID-19 scenario planning, have you identified any unique challenges that nonprofits are facing in the current pandemic?
Mental health and burnout among nonprofit leaders and staff is a significant challenge. There is immense pressure to work around the clock to serve those who have been profoundly impacted by the pandemic while also finding new ways to do it because of social distancing. There is some worry of a significant exodus of human capital from the sector because of this. In our scenarios work, we found that estimates of nonprofit contraction as a result of the pandemic range from 10% to as high as 40% not accounting for this human capital concern. It is important that we actively support organizations with financial and operational resources as well as with mental health and well-being tools to avoid even greater losses to this important sector.
What are some of the best business tools for social impact that you gained from your MBA experience?
A framework I find useful in thinking about the social sector is from Aneel Karnani’s Business in Society class, where he argues that corporate executives are incentivized to act in the interest of shareholders and so they only participate in social welfare when it also leads to profits. When social welfare and profits are in opposition, corporations are unlikely to act in the interest of the public unless there is another force to compel it, like government regulations. This framework highlights to me the important concept that incentives are often misaligned among key stakeholders that impact the social sector. Given that many challenges in the social sector are systemic and require various stakeholders to work together, aligning their incentives is the only way to create lasting change.
What shifts do you hope to see in the social sector moving forward?
We must work towards greater DEI representation among social sector decision makers across those who do, those who fund, and those who govern. Social sector leaders are often not representative of who the sector intends to serve, which can lead to unintentional discrimination and communities being left out. Greater DEI representation can ensure that our investment priorities are reflective of all communities and that the solutions we create actually work for those communities. We see first steps towards addressing this as a result of the racial justice movement last year; there are focused efforts to bring in voices of leaders from Black, Latinx, Native American, and other underrepresented communities. Let’s also use this momentum to ensure that these leaders are elevated to positions where they can influence decisions in the sector.
Do you have any advice for today’s students aiming to pursue social impact?
Yes! My three tips are also my biggest learnings from my own journey:
- Balance academic, theoretical learnings with on-the-ground, operational experience. The social sector and its challenges are complex, and one of the best ways to truly understand the nuances and complexity of this sector is to live it. Take advantage of opportunities to learn by doing, through opportunities like Open Road at Ross, +Impact Studio, Social Impact Internships, Multidisciplinary Action Projects, and Social Venture Fund.
- Use your network to explore what you can do. There truly are a multitude of ways to make an impact and in my experience, Rossers are some of the most involved in this space. The companies that come to campus represent a small subset of the opportunities and careers one might pursue, especially in social impact. Plus, building off-campus-recruiting skills is valuable because that’s how you’ll find your next career move outside of Ross.
- Keep the endgame in mind. If the challenges the social sector faced were easy to solve, we would have done it by now. It’s easy to be discouraged when you are working to change deeply rooted systems. Contextualize your impact in light of this and take the long view in order to avoid being discouraged.