Carlson + Community + Consulting

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Carlson School is well known for its Experiential Learning experience, in which students get the chance to solve real world problems for top corporations.  But very few people know that students at Carlson also get a similar chance to solve real world problems for the society. In Graduate Volunteer Consultant (GVC) program, the Carlson School partners with multiple non-profit organizations around the Minneapolis area to solve real problems for these organizations and contribute to society. If you believe in giving back to society, Carlson provides you with an excellent platform to do that.
The GVC program is joint initiative of Carlson MBA and Carlson MA-HRIR (Master of Arts in Human Resources & Industrial Relationship) program. The program is entirely led by students, with faculty being the stilts of the operation. The program starts in the fall semester, where in the GVC committee identifies potential clients and finalizes the high level project scope. The first year MBA students can apply to become a Lead Consultant or a Consultant. A Lead Consultant is responsible to lead a team of 3-5 consultants, manage the project and the client relationship. The interview for lead consultants are scheduled in October, during the first semester. A typical GVC project is an 8-week project, which starts with the commencement of Spring semester and ends by the Spring break.
GVC offers a wide mix of projects to work on from various functions such as Human Resources, Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Strategy, Operations, Business Development and Information Systems. This year Carlson has partnered with 13 different non-profit organizations, some of which are Science Museum of Minnesota, Prepare and Prosper, Meals on Wheels. Lead consultants and consultants were given an opportunity to choose the projects based on their client and function preference. With such a spread of projects to choose from, most of us got a project from our top 2 preferences. At the beginning of the semester, all the lead consultants were coached by Sarah S. Gisser, Managing Director of Carlson Consulting Enterprise. 
I am currently leading a GVC project of 4 consultants to help out Prepare and Prosper group with their new social marketing campaign, Financial Access and Inclusion Roadmap (FAIR). There are various reasons why a person would like the GVC program (serve community, build leadership experience, build resume, solving real world issues). The motivating factor for me was to use my business acumen skills to build a better community and at the same time groom my skills in a new area. I have a technical and project management background and I have never worked on a marketing project. GVC program was a perfect platform to use the marketing skills I have developed in the school to a real world scenario. 
As it is true with most of the consulting projects, the requirement for our GVC project was very ambiguous. The first priority for most of the GVC project is to meet with the client and define the project scope and requirements. FAIR has the goal of innovating, marketing and bringing to pilot (in 2016) financial products that will open doors to financial health and wealth for low income families in Twin Cities area. Our primary objective for the GVC project is to focus on customer segmentation for FAIR campaign and target potential customers for the pilot program of 2016. It is an amazing experience because we could actually use the core marketing concepts learned in Marketing course such as 4Ps, 5Cs and STP (Segmenting, Targeting and Positioning). We are also using Qualtrics tool to prepare a survey to better understand the customer needs and their objectives. The "Marketing Research" course that I took this semester is really helping us to prepare a quality survey and perform regression analysis to find the customer insights from the survey results. 
We also conducted a focus group interview recently to directly connect to the targeted audience and better understand their financial needs. It was a wonderful experience and made us realize the discrepancy in assessing the need of financial products among various groups of society. Although financial institutes are adopting technology to make most of the services more convenient, there is a huge section of population which doesn't trust technology with their finances. 
The GVC experience is an amazing stepping stone for the enterprise program, which starts from the second term of the semester. If you have never been a part of any consulting project, GVC is an amazing place to experience that.  One of the reason why I joined in Carlson was because it cares about the community around it and I am glad to experience the same and contribute my part!!