Traditionally, when an applicant is joining a non-profit 6 months to 1-year before the application deadline, it is almost always a desperate attempt to bring last-minute credentials to the narrative. COVID, although, devastating for the real economy, has presented an incredible opportunity for applicants (2021 Entering class) to make a difference. The short-term engagement to support those who are disrupted and suffering would also help you stand out in an incredibly competitive 2021-22 MBA application pool.
Here are 7 Volunteering ideas that you can use to improve your profile. Don’t waste any time. Join the respective organizations, according to your passion and strengths. If you need my guidance and a customized plan, subscribe to F1GMAT’s Detailed Profile Evaluation service.
1) Event Organizer
The most cliched example we have seen in the MBA application is that of clients citing event organizer titles from College. Although it works in rare cases – if the focus of the event had continued to interest you throughout your career, the generic college festival doesn’t count when competing with those who are bringing real change in our society.
The popularity of Zoom is a hint that all the meetings – routine & weekly, events, and seminars have all gone online. In the sea of events in a distracted media landscape where everyone is a podcaster, organizing the events and attracting the right audience is a valuable skill. The experience will translate to your contributions at the business school, where, in the near future, most events will switch between online and in-person, depending on the infection rate of the region. Assisting the admission team with events and organizing the student club meetings online would need the skills in creating persuasive messages and setting the agenda. Any experience organizing events for COVID – product release (analytics and monitoring tools), working with stakeholders in your local community or coordinating with first responders, are experiences that elevate a traditional event organizer narrative.
2) Hunger Management
Although governments globally have allocated trillions of dollars to small businesses and workers who depend on daily income, the inefficiency of the trickledown economy and the disparity in accessing information and education means that many in the lower strata of the society are still struggling to meet their ends meet.
Hunger has become a real issue for even those in developed economies. Beneath the façade of middle-income fashion and lifestyle, millions are struggling to meet their daily caloric need. With the meatpacking plants observing one of the highest infection rates, the risk to those who depend on cheaper sources of meat is alarmingly high. For those in Africa and the Middle East where conflicts are high, the disruption to the supply chain has created a market where the purchasing power of ordinary citizens has plummeted. In addition to the vulnerability of disease that comes with poor nutrition, the socio-economic upheaval has created a launchpad for further conflicts.
In such a tricky environment, your contribution in managing the supply chain of food banks – getting permission from local authorities, coordinating with the transport company and developing a dashboard to monitor last-mile delivery could be turned into a narrative on the impact you had in managing hunger and maintaining peace in the region.
3) Essential Items and PPE Distribution
The distribution and acquisition of Personal protective equipment (PPE) from N95 masks to gloves to goggles, determined the initial death rate in Italy, the US, and the UK. With catastrophic outcomes in regions that neglected this vital equipment, the general public is aware of the value of PPE.
Case history, population density, and access to healthcare are used as the variables to predict regions that would be worst affected during the 2nd wave of infection. If your volunteering organization focuses on the distribution, production, or acquisition of PPE, you can leverage your superior coordination and data analysis to deliver PPE to those in need.
Although strategic stockpiling would have saved lives, several non-profits are taking the aid of analytics and 3D printers to deliver PPE to remote locations and in areas where lockdown had limited free flow of goods.
Several non-profits are also leading the delivery of essential items and PPE to the most vulnerable in the society from the old, to lower-income families and to those who are afflicted with COVID but doesn’t have a strong support system to manage the distress the disease causes. Any support service from the delivery of groceries, meals, and life-saving medicines all could be a meaningful addition to the narrative about your volunteering.
Depending on the public-private partnership model in your region, you can join non-profits that assist in the coordination of ambulance service, communicate with resident associations on contact tracing, and assist health officers for testing and awareness campaigns.
4) Fund Raising and Distribution Experience
Despite releasing a massive $349 billion fund to keep small businesses alive, the money ran out in a couple of weeks. Add to the chaos was when the application for the Paycheck Protection program (PPP) rendered the Small Business Administration (SBA) website in the US inaccessible within a few hours. Fund-distribution, despite all the good intentions of the government, has become cumbersome in a crisis where timely delivery of funds determined the fate of millions of workers. With over 30.3 million small businesses in the US, employing 48% of the workforce, a crisis like COVID, had presented a new opportunity for FinTech companies to fill the gap in the digital payment eco-system and supporting due diligence.
Although not a traditional volunteering opportunity, if your network has key influencers in FinTech taking on the COVID fund-raising and distribution challenge, joining them as a volunteer in consulting, marketing or technology, would give you an experience that would be unlike any other internship opportunity. Since most FinTech companies are start-ups, they would be open to qualified candidates offering their services for free. Network through LinkedIn and offer a specific value proposition. Cite your previous experience in volunteering, extra-curricular, or professional experience to demonstrate fit.
5) Data Science and Analysis
Data-driven decision making has emerged as a necessity to flatten the COVID curve. With data on suspected, confirmed, and hospitalized cases, data segmentation has entered the public consciousness. Although you might not have directly worked with Data science in your professional career, a post-MBA goal of working with a tech giant on an AI product would transform into a believable narrative if you can find volunteering opportunity - building a dashboard, tracker or a predictive model on the spread of COVID in the coming months.
Data collection and finding anomalies might seem like a desk job. However, a big part of the data cleaning involves interacting with multiple govt. stakeholders, finding the assumptions on which each metric is defined & spotting peculiarities in the data collection process – a combination of consulting and analytical skills that would be useful in a post-MBA career.
Several clients experienced the challenges of finding data without intruding privacy policies. Others found gaming strategies that incentivized communities to share their data. Contact tracing apps with voluntary opt-in and mandatory opt-in had its own challenges at the technology and behavioral front. Each experience could be converted into an interesting perspective for your MBA Application.
The experience of working with Data science need not be directly related to tracking. It would also be in diagnostic. With wearable devices predicting the onset of COVID 2-3 days before symptoms, the opportunity for innovating within this niche product segment are many. Start-ups have increasingly volunteered to serve the community for free. If your organization had such an opportunity, you would showcase the experience without signing up for any additional volunteering.
6) Online Tutoring
If your extraversion skills are hidden behind the quant achievements that the resume highlights, volunteering for teaching underprivileged children would have special meaning during a lockdown. The dynamics of parents and children stay put for a long-time has its consequences in broken families where domestic abuse is at its peak. During such trying times, a routine that keeps the children focused on learning goals helps them cope with the stressful environment. Your contribution transcends from a traditional online tutor to a mentor. In several families with doctors and nurses as spouses, managing the children’s educational needs is a tradeoff from serving the community. Joining a non-profit that reaches the single parent, first responder, and low-income families would give you the perspective to manage the curriculum and customize the experience according to the child’s unique family background.
In developed economies, laptops and desktops are accessible even to the poorest families. That is not the case in developing economies where feature phones and basic smartphones are the only options for children to access educational content. SD Cards with pre-loaded video tutorials and mobile connection just for authentication and app update is the workaround that non-profits have found to offer quality educational content to over 500 million children in the remotest part of Africa and Asia. Joining one such start-up as a consultant, marketing advisor, curriculum designer, or technology consultant, would offer an opportunity to bring meaning to your skills.
From primary contributors in a thriving economy, COVID triggered lockdown, and a drop in customer demand has spun devastation for restaurants, hotels, travel industries, and even hospitals. The small businesses, especially the mom and pop stores in your neighborhood, need help in integrating technology and taking their business online.
If your post-MBA goal is to enter consulting, there is no better opportunity than now. Reach out to your neighborhood businesses. Start with developing a plan to convert their offline communication to online channels – Facebook, Whatsapp, and Messenger. Help them reach the customers directly with special offers and set up a mailing list to reiterate the message that the highest standards in hygiene with mandatory PPE have been incorporated across their business.
If your strength lies in marketing, creating gift cards with customized messages, and special coupons could be another strategy.
Consulting would also involve redefining the industry’s key deliverables. As travel becomes limited, equivalent digital experience and a subscription charge to experience 3D content are some of the workarounds that a few clients of mine have offered to travel businesses.
For restaurants – redesigning the seating arrangement or thinking out of the box (glass enclosures) have helped local businesses to gain the confidence of the customers. A live stream of the kitchen helps customers gain a first-hand view of the measures the business has taken to combat the threat of COVID.
Think outside clichés and demonstrate to the admission team that when it mattered, you rose to the occasion and contributed.
Your previous actions are a big indicator of your future success. Top Business Schools believe in that mantra.