An Onboard fellow puts her business skills to use in the non-profit sector
October 22, 2019
In the second year of her MBA program, Shruti Paul (MBA ’19) was pleasantly surprised to find herself ushered out of the classroom and into a boardroom.
As a fellow with the Onboard program, a second-year elective course that matches upper-year MBA students interested in learning about governance with non-profit organizations, Paul was hardly in the classroom. She got to know her partner organization, Fort York Food Bank, by attending their board meetings and completing research for a strategic governance project to support the organization.
“Being able to attend board meetings and observing how high-level decisions are made isn’t something you expect to do so early in your career,” Paul explains. “The experience gave me real insight into how effective leaders think.”
Making an impact
Paul originally came to Rotman to broaden her horizons. Before pursuing the Full-Time MBA program, she had started a promising career in consulting in India. However, she was eager to gain international work experience and was open to exploring new career paths. She was deeply interested in social issues; in her days as an undergraduate student, she worked with microfinance and social entrepreneurship ventures.
“I wanted the chance to make a real difference.”
—Shruti Paul, MBA ’19
Participating in experiential courses like Onboard, which involved applying her business skills and advising non-profit groups on real issues they were dealing with, ticked all the boxes.
In her application and interview into the program, Paul made it clear that she wanted her second year at Rotman to be about making an impact.
“I wanted to work with a group where an additional set of hands on board would be significant. I wanted the chance to make a real difference.”
She matched with Fort York Food Bank, a predominantly volunteer-run, Toronto-based organization.
The match turned out to be a great fit. Paul was inspired by the group’s work in helping the city’s most vulnerable get back on track through a food program and support services. The food bank, in turn, benefitted from Paul’s consulting experience and history working on social enterprises.
Getting to work
Within a few weeks with the food bank, Paul identified a way she could contribute. Knowing that succession planning was a priority issue for the group, she got to work researching and developing a strategy.
“It’s not unusual for board members to leave after serving one or even a few terms. With an organization like the Fort York Food Bank, which is mighty but small, there’s always a fear that one individual’s departure could hamper how the organization functions,” she explains.
“It became clear that having mechanisms in place would be essential.”
Over a number of months, she interviewed volunteers and board members, learning more about the food bank’s operations, and about the key strengths and responsibilities of each of the board members. It all gave her insight into how knowledge and duties might be transferred if key individuals in the organization were to leave.
The Rotman OnBoard Fellowship Program matches talented second-year MBA candidates with local Toronto based non-profit boards and charities for a six to eight month fellowship.
Through all of this, she drew on her consulting background and in-class learnings to help her with framing interviews, structuring her project and establishing timelines for the project. (Notably, the seminars she attended as part of her Onboard class, which covered governance basics and board responsibilities, came in handy.)
By the end of the year, at her last board meeting, Paul presented the group with the succession planning documents she had developed. In this package, she included a skills matrix, outlining which skills were most crucial to the board, and comprehensive documents listing the group’s key contacts and summaries of their processes.
“Shruti was always professional, hardworking and intuitive. She always went the extra mile to support us. It was a delight to work with her,” says Devi Arasanayagam, Fort York Food Bank board co-chair.
“Students like Shruti come with skills and expertise that are valuable to non-profits, which usually cannot afford to hire consultants. These students make a tangible difference.”
The project also gave Paul a lot of clarity about governance, in general.
“Watching a board in action and seeing how they think through and examine issues from all angles was inspiring,” she says. “I know that I need to spend the next few years acquiring knowledge, experience and credibility in my field so that I can contribute something meaningful to a board. If the opportunity comes up, I’d definitely be up for giving it a shot.”
Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »