Sandeep Gupta serves as a board member for Profugo, a nonprofit that brings resources to impoverished communities in India — and he’s also a full-time MBA student.
Gupta is in the Fox Board Fellows program, which pairs MBA students in the Fox School of Business with Philadelphia area nonprofits. The fellows spend one academic year in the role of a non-voting member. Gupta is one of 26 students participating in the program.
“I thought it … would help me as a board member and see how to look at the micro-level, in terms of understanding how the whole company works,” he said.
Gupta said he wanted hands-on experience working with a nonprofit board to gain skills that are usually difficult to learn in the classroom, like how to fundraise and strategize ways to improve communication between board members.
Profugo provides international development tools like education and health services through the organization’s Center of Development to communities experiencing poverty like Wayanad, India.
The Center of Development, which focuses on health and wellness, human development and social capital, increases the quality of life for people in communities experiencing poverty.
As a board member, Gupta identifies challenges in operations and the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, so he can suggest improvements.
“You’re acting as a leader here, so being able to practice those leadership skills is what I think is the biggest benefit,” Gupta said.
He added that he learns how to manage an organization by working with his team.
Students are paired with a nonprofit board based on their resumes and personal interests, said Simone Edwards, an MBA student and last year’s vice president of the Fox Board Fellows. Edwards was responsible for formulating application questions and speaking to prospective fellows for recruiting.
“A lot of these students that are coming in have no experience in working with a nonprofit organization or sitting on a board,” Edwards said. “You’re challenged to basically [take] what you learned in the graduate program, and you are putting that into a nonprofit world.”
Students spend the first three months of their fellowships learning from TL Hill, a strategic management professor and the managing director of the Fox Management Consulting Practice, the MBA’s capstone course.
Throughout the year, students attend Saturday workshops with Hill to update him on their progress. Hill said the workshops cover board responsibilities and management, analysis of nonprofit financial management and impact measurement on fundraising.
“There’s more to running a really great organization, it’s about the impact,” Hill said. “There’s also a path into being a board member or a junior board member and the benefit there, in terms of giving back to your community, networking, being part of the larger fabric.”
Fellows are also required to complete a project that helps develop an aspect of the nonprofit that the board determines with things they’ve learned in class. The projects can cover topics like board governance, communication or engaging volunteers.
Gupta’s project has him acting as the board’s strategic planner. He first helps streamline communication between the five board members. Then, he takes on the challenges of funding and human resources, as he tries to find new donors for the nonprofit and find volunteers to teach skills in India.
“I see where it is challenging for the graduate students, but very rewarding at the end of the day,” Edwards said. She was a fellow in the 2017-18 academic year.
“I definitely would say after being the VP of the program along with also having a personal experience of actually helping a non-profit organization, after graduation I definitely would like to sit on a board of a nonprofit because I see where I can be very impactful,” she added.
As vice president, Edwards worked with Maureen Cannon, the senior associate director for both Fox Management Consulting Practice and Fox Board Fellows.
Cannon said students benefit from the program by connecting with board members and communities and learning from new experiences.
“My favorite part is really watching the students learn through the experience … watching that kind of ‘aha’ moment where they learn something new,” Cannon said. “It changes the way they think and the way they see things. Maybe sometimes even how they view the world.”