Every week, Jonathan Klein, MBA 06, gets a call from someone in another city challenged with trying to improve urban education. “How does the model Klein started at GO – Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership Center – work?” they inevitably ask.
Since Klein founded the nonprofit in 2008, GO has helped make school board operations more transparent to the public, put muscle behind winning ballot measures and school board elections, and started initiatives to measure outcomes.
Now Klein, executive director since 2012, and his growing staff of 11 are grappling with a question of their own: How do you scale up so other urban districts achieve the same results as GO without ignoring your current client?
Last week at GO’s Jack London Square headquarters, a team of seven Haas alumni helped answer that question in a pilot program called Solutions Lab, started by the Haas School’s Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership. Solutions Lab queries Haas alumni in a cross-section of professions during a two-hour brainstorming session intended to help the nonprofit achieve its goals.
“We are confident Solutions Lab will be successful in several areas, including helping a nonprofit with some ‘high power’ thinking on a critical business issue; providing an avenue for our alums to go ‘beyond themselves’ by using their talents, skills, and educational training to improve their community; and building the Haas brand through the networking,” says Cathy Garza, director of alumni engagement at the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership.
Volunteers at the session were alumni with expertise in marketing and product management and past and current consultants. “Education is about the toughest nut to crack,” said one volunteer, Himawan Gunadhi, PhD 90, CEO and founder of Sankia Inc., a marketing analytics startup. “I admire anyone who is trying to make it better.”
After presenting its mission, operating structure, and goals, GO posed two key questions to the alumni volunteers:
- How might GO ensure that new staff and new stakeholders are aligned with GO’s core mission and mode of operation?
- How might GO expand into new locales without raising concerns about diminishing its impact in Oakland?
Alumni had seven minutes to independently brainstorm solutions on Post-it notes. Then they paired off to cluster their responses into categories, choosing the top two to present to Klein and Iman Mills Gordon, GO’s director of special projects.
Centralization was a topic of debate. Talking with three alums, Klein pondered moving into other communities and putting someone else in the lead in Oakland. “I don’t feel like I can put out a job announcement for a new Executive Director. People would say, ‘Where is Jonathan?’” Klein said.
Alumni said the strategy session fell in line with their day-to-day careers.
The design-thinking process was similar to real-world consulting, said Belinda Lyons-Newman, MBA 12, principal of Lyons-Newman Nonprofit Management Consulting. And, she added, “It feels great to be a part of Haas and building capacity for nonprofits.”
The group generated a market research idea that prompted Gordon, GO’s director of special projects, to say, “We could put that in a work plan and do it tomorrow.” A few other ideas about decision-making mechanisms and managing people differently also piqued the GO leadership team’s interest.
Klein said he was grateful for the help: “The feedback was a mix of good ideas and questions.”
Volunteer consultants can participate in additional Solutions Labs planned through the end of the year. The next session will be held in San Francisco at the Foundation for Sustainable Development on June 5. To join this or a future Solutions Lab, visit nonprofit.haas.berkeley.edu/alumni/create-impact.html.