What It Is
Strategy Challenge is Morgan Stanley's flagship pro bono program that brings together rising talent within the firm to help nonprofit organizations solve challenges that are critical to the organization’s ability to deliver on its mission.
Teams of employees in New York and London are paired with nonprofits based on their expertise for the challenge at hand to develop a strategic plan that addresses such issues as organizational expansion, scaling of operations and enhancements to efficiency and effectiveness through business and program models.
The eight- to 10-week program culminates in a presentation of recommendations to nonprofit sector experts and senior leaders at the firm, who then announce one winning team per region.
Why We Do It
“Our Strategy Challenge engages our best asset—our employees—from various divisions across the firm, and matches their expertise with local nonprofits to help them address a strategic question that they don’t have the resources to tackle,” says Joan Steinberg, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Philanthropy. “After weeks of collaboration and analysis, each nonprofit walks away with deep insights and recommendations that amplify their impact on the communities they serve. And our employees have the opportunity to broaden their career experience and use their professional skills to give back in an especially substantive and meaningful way.”
This Year's Winning U.S. Team
The winner of this year's U.S. Strategy Challenge was MEND, represented by MEND Executive Director Robin Peacock, four Morgan Stanley team members—Anna Bagley Chabon, Associate in Risk Management; Abby Balsamo, Vice President in Wealth Management and Investment Management Emerging Technology Strategy; Chris Manley, Vice President in the Institutional Equity Division; and Evis Pustina, Director in Internal Audit—as well as their advisor Mattias Backstrom, Managing Director in Legal and Compliance and Global Head of New Product Approval.
MEND, which stands for Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity, is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to fresh and healthy food for food insecure families in Essex County, New Jersey. Through a collaborative network of over 40 food pantries and community partners, MEND supported over 390,000 people in 2022, of whom 36% were children.1
MEND’s Strategic Challenge
MEND challenged their Morgan Stanley team to identify the demographics most in need of services and any partnerships that might maximize the impact of MEND on the Move, a program aimed at reducing barriers to fresh food access in food deserts and under-resourced communities through free monthly farmers markets and home deliveries. Nearly 79% of MEND’s mobile market’s operations take place in such food deserts, and it serves areas where the Child Opportunity Index—which measures a child’s ability to thrive using qualitative data based on where they live—is the lowest in the county.
After quadrupling its operations in its first year, MEND on the Move had to consider how it could sustain this momentum and shift to a more proactive approach for identifying and reaching individuals and families most in need of their services.
How It Was Addressed
Through researching the hunger relief landscape in Essex County, the team determined that many organizations and government programs serve broad demographics. Among those that are dedicated to subsets of the population, there was a gap for families with young children, which was therefore recommended as the priority population for MEND’s mobile food distribution services.
The team established criteria for assessing potential partners to reach this demographic and provided optimizations for MEND’s current operating model to expand the number of people served, all while upholding the high quality of their services and the food they provide. Among the recommendations: explore and expand on key partnerships with schools, social service providers and community organizers, which are best positioned to help MEND serve families with young children in Essex County. The team also suggested ways to increase revenue.