Interview by Aekta Shah
I had the privilege of interviewing two of SEI’s finest alumni, Katherine Dumais and Emily Chiappinelli a couple weeks ago. Katherine, Class of 2016, and Emily, Class of 2014, were kind enough to answer some questions about their coveted jobs as fellows at B Lab in New York City. For anyone interested in working in the social enterprise space, these alumni had great insights and advice to share.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and the work you do at B Lab?
Katherine: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Graduated in May with a Degree in International Affairs and Economics, with a minor in Global Social Entrepreneurship. At Northeastern, I was on the eboard for SEISA, was lucky enough to go on the SEI Dialogue to Bali and then co-oped at Ashoka Innovators for the Public. That brought me on this track to social entrepreneurship. I took Professor Shaughnessy’s class and then worked at New Profit in Boston, so I explored a little bit of the “philanthropy into social enterprise” space in more of the innovation/non-profit sense. As I was graduating I noticed that the SEI newsletter was advertising this fellowship in impact measurement at B Lab. I said, why not apply? Sure!
Somehow I ended up here. I work on a campaign called “Best for NYC” with Emily. We work with small- to medium-sized companies to measure their social impact for their first time. So thinking about B Corps, they are the top of the top; you’ve got your Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia’s. They’ve already got this high level of social responsibility, so how can we infuse a culture within New York City of ubiquitous measurement of social impact and then help businesses we work with start this journey towards improvement and social responsibility?
Emily: I graduated in 2014 with degree in Environmental Studies and International Affairs with the Global Social Entrepreneurship minor. I went on the South Africa Dialogue in 2012 and the Bali Dialogue in 2013. While in South Africa, I was co-oping at a social enterprise, Heart Capital, and while there had built them an impact measurement system. I learned about B Lab through SEI and had been using them as a reference for building the system I was working on for Heart Capital. I really loved it. I moved to New York after graduating right around the same time that the B Lab impact measurement fellowship was launched. Someone who I worked with at Heart Capital sent me a Facebook message to let me know that they had done that. I got really excited, applied, and got in with a group of 10 other people.
Very quickly, it changed from a fellowship at B Lab to this campaign that we were all deployed to work on. So then I started my work with “Best for NYC,” which as Katherine mentioned, is a little different than B Lab’s engagement with B Corps. It’s related, but it’s not about certifying. It’s more about engaging a broader base of businesses and taking them on their first step towards measuring impact. We work in a space in between B Lab and the City of New York. We work very closely with the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development to use the government network to access a lot of businesses and to also think about how to house these kinds of concepts and principles into the city’s policies, the way the cities interact with businesses, the types of services that are provided to businesses across city agencies and community-based organizations.
Q: What would you say is your role on this team at B Lab?
Katherine: I largely work with digital communications. I work on emails and social media and I’m starting to work on digital that’s going to go out through our partner organizations. I also work with the tech team on making sure that the B Analytics program, which shows assessment data for companies, is up-to-date and responding with the right data about partner organizations’ impact.
Emily: Data at such a granular level doesn’t exist at scale anywhere else for NYC. The work we do is to help the city understand the impact of the companies that they serve through their various programs. B Lab’s technology has a big role in helping this happen.
My role focuses on on organizing events that connect business that want to improve one specific thing at their company with organizations that have particular expertise around those types of business practices. Through the Best for NYC challenge we can find out information such as “how many businesses want to hire people who currently have barriers to employment?”
It’s interesting because a really exciting thing that we get to do with our work with Best for NYC, is to see if the B Corp certification process is enough to drive behavior changes in companies, or if is there more we can do to support businesses. So this is a really interesting space that Katherine and I get to be in a lot.
Q: What were some of your biggest takeaways from your experience at Northeastern? Any advice for the current undergraduates interested in social entrepreneurship?
Katherine: Take courses in Global Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing. Diversify the types of courses you take with in SEI. They offer different perspectives that have been super helpful. A lot of people are afraid to diving straight into this space after graduation, but I believe it was the best move for me. Completing a co-op in the social enterprise space definitely prepared me to take on a role like this in a way that a classroom would never be able to do.
Emily: I would say that it’s really important to remember that everything that you’re doing is a learning experience and there’s so much value of being in class and really understanding why you care about what you’re learning. I think treating everything that I’m doing as an important learning experience has helped me a lot. I’ve been really intentional about doing things that felt like they mattered to me for some reason, whether it was the organization I was going to be part of, the role I was going play, or just the tools that I was going to have access to through different job positions.
The other side of that is with what you learn, make sure to balance theory with practice – or what you’re taught with applied experience. Whether it’s a co-op, internship, volunteering, or let’s say just stepping into a hospital, talking to people there, and understanding how a hospital works if you want to work at one at some point, just make sure that you’re applying what you learn to actual experiences in real world situations. This will help you better understand why what you want to do matters and it will put a lot of your assumptions and theories to test. This will help you figure out why what you learned in class is important to you.
Learn more about the amazing work that Katherine and Emily do at http://bestfor.nyc/.