Students sat scattered across rows of chairs as they leafed through papers in green folders containing data and prepared for the competition to come. The Boston University branch of 180 Degrees Consulting hosted their first Consult for a Cause on Saturday afternoon.
The group, which officially came to BU in 2017, connects student consultants to nonprofits and socially conscious organizations who come to the consulting group as clients.
For the live consulting competition, 180 Degrees gave six competing teams time and resources to help solve one of the challenges that local nonprofit ProGente Connections currently faces, according to Grace Elizabeth Liu, a junior in the College of Communication and BU’s 180 Degrees Consulting project leader.
The resources included data on the nonprofit, time with Questrom School of Business professor Barry Horwitz to discuss the competitors’ theories and findings, and a period of consultation time with representatives from the nonprofits.
BU’s 180 Degrees brought in ProGente Connections to the Consult for a Cause and offered them their services throughout the event. Marlborough-based ProGente Connections focuses on cultivating “cross-cultural partnership between Brazilian and American communities,” according to their website.
At the end of the consulting and brainstorming session, the competitors presented their ideas to the judges and nonprofit representatives, Liu said. First place went home with a prize of $300, second place with $200 and third place with $100.
In addition, ProGente Connection’s representatives heard all of the teams’ ideas and suggestions and chose what elements of the plans presented at the competition that they wanted to implement, according to Liu.
According to Meghana Dwaraka, a founding member and chapter advisor of BU’s 180 Degrees, the event’s structure was inspired by Link Day, an annual consulting competition hosted by Questrom’s Social Impact and Nonprofit Club hosts for graduate students.
While Consult for a Cause was much smaller, Dwaraka said it shared a goal of enabling students to make an impact through consulting.
“We were thinking of events that could bring both social impact and consulting together, and that’s when I heard about Link Day,” Dwaraka said. “That idea, we thought was perfect. It wasn’t being done at the undergraduate level, and we figured we would start something that did.”
The idea for the consulting competition was first introduced to the club during the fall semester Dwaraka said. The group then sought out nonprofits and judges and coordinated with the university, she said. After delays and months of preparation, Liu said it felt amazing to see it happen.
Dwaraka said she had always been passionate about helping people. She couldn’t find a place at BU to make a positive social impact through applying the skills that she had, she said.
“I wasn’t really growing and applying the skills I was learning in the classroom while also helping people,” Dwaraka said. “We needed to bridge that gap, which is why I was inspired to start 180 Degrees.”
Throughout the academic school year, members of BU’s 180 Degrees chapter work on projects in teams usually consisting of six to eight people, Dwaraka said. These projects work directly with nonprofits and social impact organizations.
“That’s what we do as an organization, we help people who want to help other people,” Liu said.
The consulting services they offer range from social media to finance to human resources, according to Baian “Andy” Chen, a freshman in Questrom and a member of 180 Degrees.
“The thing about consulting, especially for nonprofits, is they have a really broad range of things you can help with,” Chen said. “That scope and uncertainty really excites me.”
Before coming to BU, Chen dabbled in consulting when he helped with production elements for a nonprofit with an impact in Uganda, he said. He appreciates the mentorship from the upperclassmen and hopes to be a project manager next semester.
“We’re not the only consulting organization on campus. What sets us apart from everybody else is that we work towards social impact while we consult,” Dwaraka said. “We want everything that we do to tell that story, and that includes events.”
Liu was elected as the club’s president for the 2019-20 school year, she said, and next year she wants to include elements of storytelling in the projects for clients. She also said she hopes the Consult for a Cause event will grow each time they host it.
Members of BU’s 180 Degrees met and debriefed after the event and analyzed what went well and what needs work for next time, according to Questrom senior Nikhil Johari, president of BU’s chapter of 180 Degrees.
Johari said they want the event to grow in the future and eventually become a conference on a national scale. Until then, he said they’ll work on marketing and community engagement.
“We believe that the event was a huge success,” Johari said. “It was our first major event on campus, and so far we have received a lot of positive feedback from not only the participants, but also from our clients and judges who really enjoyed the event.”