From left to right: Manisha Kathuria ’10, Marieke Van der Lans ’10, Marcela O. de Rovza, Tiago Sousa ’10 and Riccardo Boin ’10.

Our Pangea Advisors project started with a “field trip”… yes, even in New York City we had this amazing opportunity! We left campus on a rainy day and we traveled for a couple of hours by train, ferry and taxi cab to reach a remote corner in Staten Island. There, for the next three hours, we immersed ourselves in the reality of 15 Hispanic immigrants, who were mostly day-workers, attending an evening class in financial literacy.

Qualitas of Life, our client, offers community-based financial education workshops for Hispanic immigrants in New York City. Its mission is to give these men and women tools to improve their personal finances and provide more opportunities for their families. It is a young organization and it faces the challenge of attracting, exciting and retaining volunteers who facilitate the workshops. As a Pangea Advisors team we were asked to develop a plan to strengthen their volunteer organization.

After thoroughly understanding our client’s mission and objectives, we were ready to do some investigation. We conducted interviews with staff members, board members and volunteers to better understand the challenges for the organization. We then decided to benchmark Qualitas of Life with other successful non-profit organizations and their volunteer programs. To do so, we not only did desk research, but also interviewed key people working in other non-profit organizations in New York City that had succeeded in creating an outstanding network of volunteers.

We traveled up and down Manhattan talking to executive directors and volunteer coordinators. It brought us to the most interesting places that we would have otherwise never seen — such as the 32nd floor in a typical New York City tower next to Penn Station, which, as we stepped out the elevator, turned out to be a huge warehouse with kids’ clothing and toys. We were in the right place to meet the executive director of a great non-profit organization called Baby Buggy.

We spent several weeks on data collection, interviews and follow-up meetings with the client, and then we were ready to develop our final recommendations. Our Pangea Advisors team met early in the morning and spent the entire day defining the framework and guidelines for our report. In a small room in Warren Hall everything came together: all our individual insights and opinions, different views on the structure of the recommendations (not surprising with three consultants and one banker among us!) and a lot of humor. In the end, it led to six types of recommendations: raising awareness; identifying and recruiting volunteers; welcoming new volunteers; organizing and allocating tasks to volunteers; measuring and rewarding volunteers, and communicating effectively with volunteers.

We worked hard to make the recommendations very specific and tangible. For example, we made a sample spreadsheet for the allocation of tasks to volunteers and we wrote sample introduction e-mails to new volunteers. Before finalizing the recommendations, we discussed them in detail with Qualitas’ two staff members, who helped us by pointing out where we could be even more specific.

In the first week of August, the entire team was invited by Qualitas’ president and founder, Marcela O. de Rovzar, to present and discuss the final recommendations. They were excited about our recommendations, and we had an in-depth and fruitful discussion with Marcela and the Qualitas staff during which we got a chance to share our views on the various challenges faced by the organization.

Now, a month later, it is great to see that they have already been implementing most of our recommendations. We are still following Qualitas with a lot of interest and self-satisfaction.

Photo courtesy of Marieke Van der Lans ’10