by Barbara Gould

As a consulting company that supports people at the center of change, Point B admires the transformational work of Junior Achievement (JA). For over 100 years, JA has helped kids learn how to have successful careers and personal lives. The power of JA is in its programming, which it brings to K-12 classrooms across the country. When the coronavirus pandemic hit and schools closed, JA’s Arizona team began looking for new ways to connect with kids, and Point B reached out to help. As part of Point B’s Community Lift program, we provided pro bono consulting services to help JA go digital with an online program that engages and inspires kids wherever they learn. Drawing on our partnership with Arizona State University (Point B and ASU Business Consulting, also referred to as “PABCO”) we recruited a team of MBA students to help develop and deliver a pilot for JA’s first digital program designed to reach students in their homes. This Q&A is a conversation with three of the leaders who made it happen:

Barbara Gould, Point B Portfolio Leader and executive sponsor for community initiatives in our Phoenix market. Barbara served as the Account Leader and Lead Workshop Facilitator for this engagement.

Sam Alpert, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Junior Achievement of Arizona. Sam represented the JA leadership team as our primary point of contact and customer on this engagement.

Julia Akselrud, an MBA graduate from ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business, led the team of MBA student volunteers on this project. Julia previously served as portfolio manager for the MBA Student Investment Management Fund at ASU and worked for the Bank of America Private Bank. Prior to her MBA, she worked in Development at Grameen America, the largest microfinance organization in the U.S.

 

How has Junior Achievement been affected by the pandemic?

SAM:  Junior Achievement engages volunteers from the community to deliver curriculum in person to primarily low-income K-12 students. That’s been our programming model for over 100 years, and for 65 years in Arizona. We send adults into the classroom or bring them to our Tempe facilities to mentor students and teach them about work, money, and how to prepare for a successful career and personal life.

When the pandemic hit in March, all in-person programming shut down. It’s down for the rest of the calendar year. And who knows how kids will be learning in 2021? We knew we needed to make a shift to digital. Point B reached out to me in April to ask if they could help. Of course, I said yes. Having worked with Point B before I came to JA, I knew they could help us.

BARBARA:  Sam shared what they were facing. They’d already been planning to explore how to reach students in a different way, most likely digitally, and they really wanted to think innovatively. We thought it was a great opportunity for Point B to facilitate a strategic planning workshop using human-centered design techniques that would help their team think through how they could innovate and how digital could work for them. With the help of ASU students, we also wanted to set them up to quickly pilot an idea coming out of the workshop and make sure they had a roadmap to implement new programs going forward.

What were the biggest challenges?

SAM:  Launching new programming is challenging. We’re talking about a longstanding business with an in-person curriculum that’s been successful for many years. We’d had a couple of design thinking sessions internally before engaging Point B, so we were getting into the mindset of trying to think innovatively. Point B and ASU really helped us take an objective view of our business and curriculum and think through what we needed to do to reach students differently, given the pandemic. They helped us accelerate our thinking and move quickly to launch a brand-new program from scratch.

JULIA:  The challenge was how to promote an innovation mindset within JA and cultivate this mindset once the engagement ended. How do we equip JA for success beyond the pilot and into the future?  In July and August, we helped the JA team think through what the pilot would look like and created the roadmap and timeline and led regular standup meetings to make sure everyone was equipped to pull it off. Beyond the pilot, JA wanted to establish a framework for continuing to innovate after Point B and ASU had gone. So, we always kept in mind how we could build the pilot’s roadmap to serve as a template for future endeavors.

BARBARA: Timing was another challenge. We needed to meet JA’s timeline to launch the pilot before kids went back to school so JA could see if they’d be able to offer new programming for the fall. Everyone was facing the volatility of the pandemic—not knowing where or how kids were going to be learning in the fall. Would they be in the classroom or not?

Can you tell us about the pilot?

SAM: We developed and launched a pilot for JA@Home, a five-week digital program on entrepreneurship for 5th and 6th graders. It’s based on what kids learn in our signature program, JA BizTown, where they come to our Tempe facilities, have jobs and run a business for a day. It teaches kids how to think like entrepreneurs. The pilot took 17 kids through the process of thinking through what kind of business they could start and what a business entails in terms of designing and marketing a product, bringing in revenue, and covering expenses. We brought in a real entrepreneur to speak to the kids and inspire them, which was amazing.

JULIA: The pilot tasked the kids to come up with a business idea and build it up, similar to the TV show Shark Tank. We really enjoyed sitting in on the kick-off meetings and the wrap-up meeting with the kids to hear what they came up with—to see the pilot come to life.

How did the pilot benefit the students? And JA?

SAM: For those students, it’s all about knowledge gain around entrepreneurship and work-readiness skills and concepts that get them thinking about their future success. We do pre- and post-testing. We asked the kids questions to understand their knowledge of entrepreneurship at the beginning. Then we took them through the five-week pilot and asked those questions again. The knowledge gain around entrepreneurship education and financial literacy increased about 39 percent—a very successful outcome for those students.

In terms of the pilot’s impact on JA, it’s shown us that we have the ability to launch something new and get students and partners involved – quickly.  We plan to continue the program with new cohorts of kids. We want to sustain it long-term from a funding standpoint, and that’s about getting partners involved. We’ve loved it, we’re marketing it already, and it’s gotten really good traction.

BARBARA: The JA team was understandably a bit overwhelmed at first by how to design and deliver a program so quickly and in such a different way. It was gratifying to see that initial hesitation change to such excitement coming out of the workshop with the ideas they generated—and then to launch a successful pilot so quickly. The JA team has the ideas and skills; they’re the experts at what they do programmatically. So, it was really about moving them to use a different platform and supporting them through that change.

JULIA: In addition to benefiting the kids who learned so much from the pilot, this project benefited the ASU students, too. As MBA students, it’s very rare to be given the type of autonomy that a Point B partnership like this one allows for. W. P. Carey is built on the belief that “Business is Personal.” As students, we aim to build personal connections and understand a client’s motivations in order to apply our learnings and advance their goals. Few opportunities allow us to engage with a client as we have here, as PABCO allows us to do. Having this opportunity is amazing.

What do you think was Point B’s greatest contribution to this project’s success?

SAM: Point B’s history, expertise and people—all that background and all those skills. They did such a great job of facilitating the entire process. We would not have been able to do this without Point B helping guide us through how to launch a program from scratch—the brainstorming, the steps it takes, and the ability to get it done quickly. Moving quickly for us can be a challenge. The fact that we were able to launch just a month after the brainstorming was amazing. And it was fun. Point B challenged us, which we needed, and they got us to the end.

JULIA: Another advantage was the shared trust between Point B, the MBA team, and JA. We utilized diverse perspectives and expertise to bring an idea to life. As Sam said, the facilitation was a huge asset that Point B brought to this engagement. Without that trust, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

Looking forward, how has this project strengthened JA for the future?

SAM: This project helped us get deeper into the digital education space. And we gained the confidence that we can create something ourselves, from start to finish, and on a tight timeline. This is moving us into the future. It has helped us think through how best to serve kids today and tomorrow and how to support us financially because we have to have the right programming to attract funding to be able to serve those students.

Virtual education is only going to grow, and I believe our digital programming could become an important programmatic model for us in the future. JA Arizona is one of 100 JA offices across the country, so it’s possible that others will be interested in this program as it grows.

JULIA:  JA was able to launch a digital program in a timely fashion. Creating a program that kids are able to get at home has strengthened JA for the future. The self-reliance that the JA team gained from the work we’ve done together is huge. Now they have a toolkit with the templates and roadmaps to keep innovating.

BARBARA:  We’re all dealing with the uncertainty and disruption of the pandemic, so this was a great opportunity to feel good about working together to solve a business problem quickly and make a difference for JA and the kids they serve. We saw it as a way we could help JA at a pivotal time, give our associates interesting work, offer MBA students a valuable customer-direct experience through our PABCO partnership with ASU, and give back to the larger community.  It was a fun project! It’s gratifying to give back to community and have something positive come out of this time.

SAM:  That’s a great point. In the midst of the pandemic, there’s a silver lining in this work. Our organization has gained confidence in our ability to align, innovate quickly, and keep reaching kids in new ways. This engagement has really jump-started what we’re going to do for the future.

Learn more about how Junior Achievement helps kids turn big ideas into reality.