The winners of the 2021 UK Strategy Challenge worked remotely to help an organization dedicated to underserved students find a way to safely expand.
For children living in poverty in the UK, a state-school education can serve as a stepping stone to a better life than the ones their parents had. But often, these students require more resources to succeed than schools can provide, whether that means one-on-one tutoring or a mentor who can offer much-needed advice and behavior modeling. That’s where City Year UK comes in, an organization that trains and supports young people to volunteer in schools in underserved communities.
The organization has made headway in London, where it was founded, as well as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, where it has recently expanded. “Since 2010, over 1,500 young people have served as volunteer mentors, providing focused support to 8,000 students from disadvantaged communities,” says Kevin Munday, CEO of City Year UK.
But the nonprofit was facing a critical moment in its evolution, as it considered expanding into other locations, increasing the number of volunteers it relies on and funding new programs for the students it serves. To come up with a plan to make that happen, the nonprofit turned to Morgan Stanley’s Strategy Challenge pro-bono initiative for guidance, delivered in partnership with Pilotlight, an organization that helps charities increase their impact.
Each year, volunteer teams in the U.S. and UK, comprised of rising talent from within the firm, use their professional acumen to help charities tackle a strategic challenge that is impeding their ability to rise to the next level. After months of analysis and collaboration, the groups present their recommendations to a panel of experts both inside and outside the firm, and based on those presentations, a winning team is chosen in both the U.S. and the UK.
The winner of the 2021 UK Strategy Challenge, one of six teams to compete, supported City Year UK and presented a roadmap tailored to meet the organization’s specific issues. To do so, the team carefully analyzed the charity’s business model and financials to determine how and if the nonprofit should proceed with expansion.
Coming up with an answer wasn’t easy. Over nine weeks, Morgan Stanley’s City Year UK team worked hard to perfect its proposal. Alina Porter, a Vice President in Investment Banking who was a part of the team and who has an accounting, auditing and business strategy background, says, “It was an intensive process, and we had to do it all virtually [due to the pandemic]. Some wise advice I was given beforehand was: Do not underestimate the time you need to give and the complexity of the brief you need to deliver. In the end, it was very rewarding. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve helped a charity to create tangible, long-term impact."
For Vishnu Sakthivel, an Executive Director in Institutional Equities, the rewards came from leveraging his talents in a different way. “To use the skills that I have developed during my time at Morgan Stanley to help a nonprofit was an entirely new experience, but I found it to be incredibly fulfilling. You have the sole aim of trying to really get to the root of a problem that is holding back an organization doing amazing work for the community.”
In the case of City Year UK, the team concluded that it should proceed cautiously in any efforts to grow and scale its model. Sakthivel says, “We discovered that it would be most prudent to not expand the City Year UK program immediately. Instead, we helped set the organization up with a plan to make improvements to their operating model in order to enable an expansion in the future.”
Kevin Munday found the advice incredibly valuable. “The [Morgan Stanley team] came together to lend pro bono expertise that our charity would not otherwise have been able to access. The quality of people who volunteered for the challenge is so high that we ended up with a plan that is much more impressive than any one person could create.”
This year’s participating employees and charity partners also earned kudos from Morgan Stanley leadership. “We are extremely proud of the Morgan Stanley volunteers who worked so passionately to support these remarkable organizations, many of whom have been working on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Clare Woodman, Head of Morgan Stanley in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “With a health and economic crisis generating increasing demand for their services, charities are experiencing greater challenges than ever before. We hope the strategic recommendations provided by the Morgan Stanley employees will help City Year UK and the other participating nonprofits continue their important work and reach even more communities.”
Munday has no doubt that will be the case. “The practical materials and tools the Morgan Stanley team have developed will help us achieve our ambition to have an even greater impact on educational inequality.”