Student Perspective: Giving Back to Others, Investing in Ourselves

College undergrad Farrel Levenson reflects upon an experience with the Social Impact Consulting Group, and how she and her fellow students used business knowledge to advise a potential social enterprise start-up.

Although learning in the classroom is enjoyable in itself, being able to use your knowledge to make a difference in the Philadelphia community is far more rewarding.

Students conducting market research during a social impact consulting project.
Students conducting market research during a social impact consulting project.

From developing a zero-budget plan for a school’s first Innovation Center to building a financial model for a children’s museum, over the last three years I’ve been able to use my business skills to make a real impact on the local community. How? Wharton’s Social Impact Consulting Group, an undergraduate-run group giving pro-bono consulting services to nonprofits and social enterprises in the region.

Most recently, my team consulted for Investing in Ourselves, a nonprofit inspiring healthy lifestyles in urban communities. By teaching the importance of fitness, nutrition, computer literacy, and sound financial practices, neighborhoods and communities are changed for the better.

But Investing in Ourselves wanted to extend on the work it had already been doing by making it easier for Philadelphians to access healthy, affordable food.

To make that vision a reality, Social Impact Consulting assessed the viability of forming a social enterprise operated by Investing in Ourselves. The plan was to sell nutritious snacks at a busy local lacrosse league, and use a portion of the profits to subsidize healthy meals for people who need it most.

Thus, our task was twofold: collaborating with a chef to develop a product line that would easily sell at sporting events, and crafting a marketing strategy for this budding brand.

Our project split into in two work streams – product development and brand strategy.

The product development work stream analyzed market research surveys on consumer food preferences and investigated innovative food package designs. Meanwhile, the brand strategy work stream studied the methods of strong sports foods brands, created surveys to understand the tastes of athletes, and developed focus group surveys with discussion questions for parents at a lacrosse games.

The team’s aggregate knowledge from Wharton courses like Consumer Behavior, Strategic Brand Management, and Marketing Research was extremely useful, as we often found ourselves referencing class materials during our meetings to teach each other and explain the reasoning behind our ideas. We wanted to gain more insight into the product preferences of our target demographic, and leveraged two opportunities to conduct in-depth research.

First, we conducted a focus group with parents at lacrosse games, since we wanted to see what they would be interested in purchasing for both themselves and their athletes.

Our team rented a ZipCar and traveled to Germantown Academy, where parents were watching their kids participate in a lacrosse clinic. We gathered groups of parents, fed them smoothie samples, and gathered their opinions on assorted ingredients, packaging preferences, and willingness to pay. Parents also completed market research surveys, sharing their preferences using various scales.

We also wanted to figure out the financial viability of the actual suggested menu items.

Our team met with a chef and worked with him to calculate the cost per product. While the chef whipped up healthy salads, wraps and smoothies, we recorded the exact weight and amount of each ingredient used, and then cross-referenced this with the order form used to purchase the products in bulk.

This hands-on method enabled us to calculate the cost of each item, and the resulting margin based on industry-standard pricing.

Lauren and Jane record the exact weight of the ingredients used by the chef.
Lauren and Jane record the exact weight of the ingredients used by the chef.

One of our final deliverables was an elaborate financial model predicting profit from lacrosse games and projecting meal subsidy capabilities based on Investing in Ourselves’ share of the profit.

We also developed branding and packaging recommendations for the client to consider as she progressed with her venture. Our client was extremely pleased with our work – she was able to see the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and risks surrounding her social enterprise. Most importantly, our client could see what type of pricing and sales she would need to achieve in order to attain her goal of subsidizing meals in underprivileged Philadelphia communities.

I was extremely appreciative of my Wharton background during the project, having been able to directly apply my courses from my Consumer Psychology minor to the work my team was doing for Investing in Ourselves. As I’ve seen each semester through my work with Wharton’s Social Impact Consulting Group, the most valuable education is that which empowers you create positive change beyond the classroom.

Levenson_HeadshotFarrel Levenson, C’15, is a rising senior in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and minoring between the College and Wharton in Consumer Psychology.

The Social Impact Consulting Group (SIC) is a student-organized nonprofit group of undergraduates that provides socially responsible organizations in the local Philadelphia area with consulting services.