Written by Nishaad Ruparel
If you’ve ever had any involvement with a growing non-profit, you might observe a dislocation between the objectives of the organization and the resources that it is able to mobilize in its fight for a particular social issue. In some instances this disconnect can stem from a dearth of funding. In fact a lack of donations caused approximately 900 American non-profits to shut their doors for good last year, while on average, the representative American non-profit had less than 2 months of cash on hand. Though insufficient funding is a common plight for these NGOs, their overall pedestrian success rate could just as well be a product of an inefficient cost structure. Take, for example, the American Tract Society, which is a Texas-based initiative to distribute religious literature to underprivileged communities around the world. The charity has the lowest penetration rate of any religious non-profit, and part of that is because 68% of all donated funds go toward financing administrative costs. While reasons may vary considerably, this dislocation between an NGO’s organizational objectives and its available resources is unfortunately common, and hanging off the edge of each end are two specific groups: a charity that is unable to solve an issue that it is passionate about and a community of people that is in desperate need of that very solution.
I started to gain awareness of this problem around the same time that I had heard about 180 Degrees Consulting. 180 Degrees is a global student run consultancy that provides pro-bono strategy counseling aimed at helping socially minded organizations bridge the dislocation that I’ve described above. At its core, 180 strives to be a type of invisible hand, capable of lifting struggling non-profits from the burdens of inefficiency, and empowering them to make greater use of their limited resources by adopting a more business minded approach to social service.
Immediately interested in 180’s mission, I started to research a bit more about what the organization was able to accomplish around the world. After some time, I realized the enormity of what I had stumbled upon. In the last 5 years 180 Degrees Consulting has dedicated over 60,000 hours to providing $45 million of advisory services completely free of charge. In this time, the organization has secured a 97% approval rating from the social impact organizations and public sector clients that it has continued to serve. Moreover, the best part of this discovery was that 180 is entirely student-run. It was amazing to see such an achievement unlocked by university students, who have been understandably excited at an opportunity to deliver advice to some of the world’s most premier non-profit institutions.
In light of this realization, I shifted my focus to founding the New York University branch of 180 Degrees Consulting. By partnering with my friend, Matt Swulinksi, who shares my passion for social impact, I hoped to provide the NYU student body with an opportunity to combine its inclination toward commerce with its commitment to social service. With the support of the Management Department at Stern and the hard work of our executive board members, I’m pleased to say that our branch has come a long way since it was founded in January of 2014. 180 Degrees at NYU now has 28 consultants, each one trained extensively by 180’s international executive body. Last semester, 5 of our consultants used this training in our branch’s first advisory engagement with Think Coffee. At the culmination of our 10 week project, we had persuaded the management team at Think Coffee to adopt a more data driven method of decision making in determining how to best scale its business throughout Manhattan. In the coming months, our branch’s most recently recruited consultants will have the opportunity to participate in projects with well-known non-profits such as The Salvation Army, and Lifebeat, a charity partner within the music industry working to fight HIV/AIDS.
Though there’s certainly more work to be done, I’m extremely proud of where we have come in the last year. Our team has found a way to inspire diversity of thought and creative exploration in a community that, at times, can steer toward professional homogeneity. We have found a way to gain the trust of social impact organizations, and in the case of our first client Think Coffee, deliver an impactful solution that will contribute to the ethical sourcing of coffee beans and the fair treatment of coffee growers. Most importantly, by the very nature that these two accomplishments exist in parallel, I suspect that we have found a way to create shared value between the student body here at New York University and the many socially conscious organizations that strive to make our world a better place.