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YouthActionNet Blog

Students Gain Experience as Consultants for Youth-Led Social Ventures

Lisa Jones | April 24, 2015

Taufan Putra is a YouthActionNet alumni and founder of Amartha Microfinance—an organization that improves the lives of low-income rural women and families in Indonesia through small business loans. This year, Taufan and his team wanted to engage the growing population of young, socially-conscious web users in Indonesia by adding an online peer-to-peer lending platform to their funding strategy. The Amartha team had a promising vision for this new program element, but struggled to find the time and staff expertise to plan for it thoroughly. The questions were endless—what makes for a successful online user experience? What fees should we charge? How can we set Amartha’s platform apart from existing models?

Experiental Learning for Students and Young Leaders

This semester, in the third annual University Connect at Georgetown consultancy practicum, students from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service teamed up with YouthActionNet alumni organizations like Amartha Microfinance to solve challenges faced by the youth-led ventures. Based on their existing skill sets and knowledge gained through relevant coursework, students formed consultant teams and selected ventures whose needs most closely aligned with the expertise they could provide.

The first step in the consulting process was a diagnostic study of the venture. Email and Skype conversations, as well as access to the venture’s existing documentation in areas like finance, communications, and governance, allowed student consultants to gain a thorough understanding of the venture’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges.

Once the diagnostics were complete, students worked with venture leaders to narrow the scope of work and set realistic goals for the three-month consultancy. As students conducted research, designed tools and templates, and developed recommendations for the ventures, they experienced first-hand the rewards and challenges that accompany consulting in the development field. Students and venture leaders navigated building rapport with one another, scheduling meetings in conflicting time zones, and working across cultures.

But despite these challenges, student consultants proved to be valuable outside voices who often asked the tough questions about feasibility and risk that hadn’t been asked. They offered multiple solutions to venture challenges, data to support their findings, and tools for implementation that can be adapted as on-the-ground realities change.  

Here are just a few examples of the growth accomplished as a result of the practicum:

  • Portafolio Verde, a Colombia-based venture working in sustainability consulting, benefitted from a data-driven feasibility study about the risks and rewards of U.S. market expansion, including an industry landscape analysis, stakeholder analysis, and an adaptable strategy for U.S. market entry that focuses on first developing contacts with U.S.-based clients in the burgeoning Colombian eco-tourism industry.
     
  • Family Health Centre, a community-based initiative that is working to increase access to affordable medical services for rural Ugandans, received guidance for rolling out a new payment solution for subsistence farmers that would enable families to pre-pay for medical services by donating crop surpluses. Deliverables included a strategic plan and budget spreadsheet for the new financial model and a patient account database template for improved record keeping.
     
  • Diseña el Cambio, an initiative that empowers students in Mexico to change their communities through the power of design thinking, gained new insight on how to bolster their monitoring and evaluation efforts beyond anecdotal success stories. Students provided research and guidance on social impact indicators, existing models and measurement approaches, and suggestions on how these elements can be used to refine Diseña el Cambio’s theory of change.

The Confidence to Move Forward

For Taufan, the student consultants were an appreciated voice in the conversation as his venture discussed and planned for their new peer-to-peer lending platform. Deliverables included a market analysis of existing peer lending platforms, a business plan for integrating this new element into their work, and a wireframe for the design of the web component. “We can use these deliverables to pitch with investors and brief Amartha’s business development team members,” reports Taufan. “Within the short period of the project, the consultants helped build our confidence; we are working to develop the new product this year.”

To learn about the practicum experience from the student perspective, read Sierra Frischknecht’s guest blog post on helping Diseña el Cambio rethink impact indicators.