In the Fall 2017 term, Hannah Pham, Perla Habchi and four other students found themselves in Professor Daina Mazutis’s fourth-year ADM4317 Leadership, Strategy and Sustainability course at the Telfer School of Management. The course offers the option of a Community Service Learning (CSL) project. The students were unaware of this beforehand, but were motivated to enrol to apply their theoretical learning to practical scenarios and because most projects involved management practices and financial audits.
The placement their team selected was with the Centre for Social Enterprise Development (CSED), which supports hundreds of social enterprises in Ottawa through technical expertise, coaching, financing, learning communities, training and cross-sector partnerships. With a small team trying to develop the social enterprise scene in Ottawa, CSED needed help on a project aimed at better understanding a client’s spending and providing recommendations on how the client could transfer spending to social enterprises.
As the CSED team guided the students, the project goal changed. With a large number of data points available, CSED staff and the students worked together and decided to create and test a framework that would analyze the different data lines, to provide recommendations to the client.
The shift in project goal could have been seen negatively by the students, but with the CSED team’s guidance, they chose to learn from the experience and apply their classroom learning to the situation. Both Pham and Habchi say that adapting to the shift in focus was key in their experience. “When you have to work with data from community partners and not data that is just created for you, you cannot just ignore the backstory to the data. You need to understand the entire picture and also be flexible while dealing with their work style and direction,” says Habchi.
The CSED team was grateful to collaborate with the students and receive a framework that can now be replicated in other areas of the organization. Furthermore, the CSL students provided fresh, innovative perspectives that allowed for more diverse thinking and problem-solving, and ultimately, gave CSED a framework it can continue to use, according to Kathleen Kemp, CSED director of sector development.
With the project extending over two terms, uniquely, two of the original students were able to continue with CSED for another term as part of ADM 4904, Telfer’s Connexions I course. “As one of the CSED directors said, ‘It is nice to build a ship but it is even better to build a ship and sail it at the same time.’ Being able to see the entire project through has been one of the best experiences of my undergraduate degree,” says Pham.
Despite the project goal changing, the students were able to apply their theoretical learning to a real-life scenario and CSED received a high-quality deliverable that not only worked, but allowed it to further its social procurement goals. The students received a lesson in adaptability. As Pham says, “Having an understanding of theory is important, but the ability to adapt and be flexible is the most valuable asset in the workplace. Reacting to experiences in real time gives you a broader understanding of the community and prepares you for life after academia.”