After receiving tough yet constructive advice from the winning Morgan Stanley U.S. Strategy Challenge team in 2019, The Family Center, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit, turned short-term disappointment into a financially viable, winning plan to expand its healthcare offerings.
Sometimes the way to “yes” takes a short detour through “no.” Throughout its 25+ year history, The Family Center (TFC), a nonprofit based in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, has progressed steadily from an organization specifically aimed at helping families coping with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis to taking on a broader array of challenges facing families impacted by crisis, illness and loss. In 2019, as it planned to tackle its latest expansion—a medical clinic for primary care—the organization looked to Morgan Stanley, whose 10-week Strategy Challenge pro bono program matches nonprofits with rising talent within the firm to address key strategic issues.
An Initial Setback
After a long and thorough review, the four-member Strategy Challenge team assigned to evaluate the organization came to a disappointing conclusion: TFC lacked the financial resources it needed for the expansion—and it would risk the stability of the organization were it to pursue its goals. In response, the team offered TFC a detailed framework it could use to evaluate future growth opportunities. The plan was so compelling that the team won that year’s Strategy Challenge. And two years later, TFC has been able to implement their vision—after receiving funding from a federal program.
“Offering integrated care was something in the organization’s mission statement, and they felt passionate about the idea,” says Teresa Brady, an Executive Director in Legal and Compliance at Morgan Stanley, and a member of the 2019 Strategy Challenge team. “But to their credit, they not only accepted the team’s answer, but kept looking for solutions.”
Transforming ‘No’ to ‘Yes, We Can’
The funding opportunity surfaced just a few months after the Strategy Challenge. “I remember my team and the Morgan Stanley group saying at the time: ‘this is no for now—but it’s not no forever,’” says TFC Co-Founder and Executive Director Ivy Gamble Cobb. So she was excited to learn in December 2019 about a new federal grant program for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC). Gamble and her team swung swiftly into action. “When this opportunity came around, we said: This is exactly what the Morgan Stanley team was talking about,” Cobb says. “We applied at the end of 2019 and by April of 2020, we found out we were awarded a contract.”
TFC received annual funding of $2 million for a two-year period—increasing the agency’s budget by nearly a third. With the new funds in hand, and after hiring 20 staff members and upgrading their technology systems—not an easy task during a pandemic—the clinic enrolled its first client last August.
The program now provides outpatient mental health and substance use services for children and adults—as well as integrated health screening and monitoring. To date it has served more than 100 children and adults.
As a second step, TFC recently got licensed by New York State's Office of Addiction Supports and Services. This will enable the organization to bill for providing services to substance users. It has also applied for state designation as a CCBHC. If approved, TFC could potentially qualify for a higher level of insurance reimbursement --an element included in the Strategy Challenge team's recommendations.
A Triumph for the Strategy Challenge Team, Too
It was a gratifying outcome for an organization the original Strategy Team had continued to maintain a close relationship with a year later: Teresa Brady was tapped for TFC's Board of Directors, joining Marika Pritchett, a Managing Director in Morgan Stanley’s Investment Management division, while her teammate Shamir Parmar, a Vice President in Internal Audit, is on their Leadership Council. "By joining the Leadership Council, I was able to keep leveraging my skills to help the Family Center reach its goals," says Parmar. "My teammates and I formed a deep bond with Ivy and her staff through the Strategy Challenge. We strongly believe in the value of the work they are doing, so being able to support that mission is incredibly rewarding."
And that belief fueled his and the rest of the team's resolve to stay hopeful. “I think it’s an especially useful reminder in the often fast-paced world of finance that just because something does not happen in an instant or on the first try does not mean that it’s never going to happen,” says Lili Driggs, a Vice President in the Fixed Income Division, who. along with Maya Venkatraman, a Vice President in Global Capital Markets, was tapped to be part of the four-member team. “It’s a great reminder that the long game is still a good game for a reason.”
For Arya Sekhar, a Managing Director in Risk Management, who advised the team, there was a key lesson for its members in the outcome of their work with TFC. “Though most of the time we try our best to find a solution for our clients, sometimes the best answer is ‘no because this is not the right time’ even if that is a difficult decision,” Sekhar said.
But in the end, the team was able to help find the right time—and the right solution—after all. Says Brady: “The Family Center team showed that if you’re passionate enough about an idea, even if someone says ‘no not now.’ you can keep looking for creative alternatives.”