A Winding Path Into Nonprofit Consulting | Net Impact

A Winding Path Into Nonprofit Consulting

Soumya Korde, Consultant, The Bridgespan Group

When Soumya Korde thinks back to the roots of her interest in the social sector, she recalls the trips she took with her parents from the U.S. to their home country of India. The poverty she saw there was a far cry from her middle class experience. Facing two different worlds, she couldn’t help wondering, what if...? What if her parents had not been able to get a good education, settle in another part of the world, and become such accomplished professionals? What would her childhood have been like then?

The big graduation question: what next?

Soumya wanted to understand how systems functioned differently in other parts of the world, creating the disparity she saw as a child. At Georgetown, she studied international development at the Walsh School of Foreign Service and interned at MicroVest, a microfinance investment firm. Her next set of questions were a little different, more focused: what specific approaches were most likely to lift people out of poverty?

At age 22, Soumya graduated and faced the big decision: now what? Should she dive into international development work immediately? Work overseas? With her exposure to microfinance and interest in socially-driven business models, she felt perhaps it was worth getting some for-profit training first. After a stint at IBM, she took an internal consulting role at Morgan Stanley, where she discovered she had a real taste for the work.

“What I enjoyed about my Morgan Stanley experience,” she says, “was working across all the different divisions of their business; I got to know what it was really like to work across an entire company.”

The missing piece isn't always obvious

For Soumya, there was still a missing piece to the puzzle. She knew in her heart of hearts that ultimately, she wanted to make working in the social sector a full-time career. So she enrolled at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management and got involved in every social sector project she could find time for, from venture philanthropy to microfinance (it was during this time that she first joined Net Impact). But even with all that, she still wasn’t sure if she should dedicate herself specifically to one field.

And then it occurred to her: consulting allows you to work across so many areas. With that in mind, she targeted nonprofit consulting firm The Bridgespan Group. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring her business consulting skills to the social sector, exactly where she wanted to be.

But Soumya wanted to be sure they would want her as well. “It was important to me to demonstrate that I was really committed to the work Bridgespan does. And I also wanted to identify my strengths and weaknesses in relation to what they were looking for in a candidate.”

The internships and pro bono consulting Soumya did while at Kellogg amply demonstrated her commitment. Yet she also knew it was important establish relationships if she wanted to land a role at Bridgespan. So she spoke with fellow MBA students who had worked there. She reached out to current employees. And she asked tough, targeted questions. What was the culture really like? What type of person thrives there? How do client engagements really operate?

All of this gave her the advance knowledge she needed and made her a compelling candidate. Soumya's initial impressions have been confirmed now that she's settled in and as a result, she's thrived in the collegial atmosphere, where client relationships run deep and impact drives decision-making.

Soumya's advice

Now that Soumya is at Bridgespan and has had the chance to reflect on her career path, she’s able to provide some thoughts for job seekers.

  • Networking is about engaging your audience: Even if you’re making a cold call, people respond surprisingly well to specific questions that engage them in real dialogue. Be confident enough to reach out with your thoughts, questions, and ideas.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize: Even though Soumya decided on a job outside the social sector first, she didn’t let herself get sidetracked. A few years was all she needed to get her for-profit training and then she took steps to make her transition.
  • Ask for feedback: One thing that will help you be successful in a role is establishing a trusting relationship with your manager. Be proactive in setting up regular times for feedback and ask them for specific tactical advice.
  • Get advance knowledge of the company culture: Being able to frame your skills in relation to an organization’s priorities demonstrates a savvy that will make you an attractive candidate. Find out what makes them tick before you interview.