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Kellogg’s Board Fellows group at graduation. Board Fellows is a rigorous 20-month experience in which Kellogg students engage in board service for a nonprofit organization. Courtesy photo
Sanat Daga is passionate about the intersection of housing and racial justice.
His interest was spurred by his upbringing; In the mid-1980s, his parents immigrated from Rajasthan, India to Chicago, Illinois; witnessing the sacrifices they made for him and his sisters impacted Daga in profound ways. “I think everyone should be able to get access to basic needs and community without having to work 80 hours per week and barely see their families,” he says.
As an undergrad, Daga studied economics and global poverty and practice at the University of California-Berkeley. He also worked at an elementary school as a director of a literacy program, where he realized how much privilege impacts opportunity.
“Each year, the number of students would decline due to no fault of their own,” he says. “It made me think a lot about why I’m able to have access to those resources that others aren’t given.”
CHOOSING KELLOGG TO FUEL HIS IMPACT CAREER
Sanat Daga. Courtesy photo
By the time he graduated from Berkeley in 2015, Daga knew he wanted to pursue a career in social impact. He became a project manager at Dalberg Advisors, a social impact consulting firm, where he gained experience working with foundations, nonprofits, and private sector accounts.
“We got to work on everything from youth unemployment in Rwanda to digital inclusion in San Jose,” he says. “But my main takeaway was how hard it is to scale social impact and make it sustainable.”
Interested in learning how to encourage bottom-up, community-driven decision making processes between society and nonprofits, he applied to Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management for his MBA. “I knew if I wanted to pursue a social justice career, I couldn’t just be making PowerPoint slides all day. I had to get some more experience and learn from people who’d been doing this work for a long time,” he explains.
Accepted into Kellogg’s full-time MBA program, he joined the school’s Board Fellows program — a rigorous 20-month experience that allows Kellogg students to engage in board service for a nonprofit organization.
“I grew up in the Chicago area. In some ways, going to Kellogg was a nice kind of homecoming,” he says.
ABOUT THE KELLOGG BOARD FELLOWS PROGRAM
Operating since 2003, the Board Fellows program connects 100 top Kellogg students to Chicago’s nonprofit organizations. Each year, it chooses 50 students as ‘fellows’ from Kellogg’s full-time, evening/weekend, and dual enrollment MBA programs. These students serve as ex-officio board members for nonprofit organizations and get to take two courses on board governance.
After students go through the program, they experience what it means to be a board member and leader in their community, according to Allison Henry, Adjunct Professor of Social Impact. “It helps students build confidence that they have the skills they need to contribute. Then, when they enter the real world again, they can confidently pursue opportunities to engage with their communities and make a difference.”
Since the program’s conception, over 700 students have been prepared for civic leadership and over 200 unique Chicago nonprofits have been served. This year, a record number of applicants — one third of the student body — applied and attended the information session. Plus, because of Covid, it was able to launch a pilot program that allowed students to work with nonprofits virtually outside of the Chicago area.
Recently, the program received a $3.5M gift from Golub Capital, who saw potential in Kellogg’s efforts to drive social impact. With hopes to strengthen the program even further, the school has added two social impact awards and will be hiring several postdocs to support faculty research.
Kellogg’s Board Fellows on a nighttime outing to the zoo
Kellogg’s Board Fellows program offered Sanat Daga the chance to participate in real-time decision-making. He believes that its value lies in the way it’s structured — the academic and practical components that allow students to learn the ins and outs of working on a board, as well as be part of a supportive community.
“This program was a great way to apply what I learned at Kellogg, continue to grow as a social impact leader, and bring it back to either city government or nonprofits in my next role,” Daga says. “It helped me prepare to sit on a board and learn how to create nonprofit plans using skills like finance, operations, and strategy.”
Henry says that although not everyone in the program wants to work for a nonprofit, school, or government, students can still engage in their community in meaningful ways through business. “My hope is that the Board Fellows program can build students’ confidence and skill set, and help them see that even when they don’t have the answers, they can ask the right questions to get to those answers,” she says.
HOUSING JUSTICE IN CHICAGO
A mandatory part of the Board Fellows program is a social impact project; Each fellow is assigned a board mentor and works in close collaboration with the executive director or CEO of a nonprofit organization throughout the duration of their board service.
Daga worked at an organization called La Casa Norte, which is a housing nonprofit in Chicago. He worked on a tiny home primer, looking at sustainable housing solutions and advocacy, developing marketing campaigns, and refreshing the organization’s strategy. “My job was to take stock of what was working, what could be improved upon, and how we could aspire to not only serve the directives, but elevate the stories of the communities we’re serving to create sustainable policy change that can lead to more housing justice in Chicago,” says Daga.
Daga credits some of his success in the Board Fellows program to the mentorship that was provided. Each month, he spoke with his mentor who worked in the local government. “Getting his perspective on not only the project, but also careers in general, was valuable.”
Aside from his time spent in Board Fellows, Daga also spent two quarters gaining practical experience with Chicago Public Schools and in the Chicago mayor’s office. Long-term, his goal is to work in city government. “My theory of change is that most of the biggest impact is scaled by the government. A lot of innovation happens here, and that’s the most democratic form of impact,” he says.
HOW AN MBA CAN ELEVATE BUSINESS LEADERS
Daga strongly believes that going to business school is a great start to pursuing a career in social impact. “I chose an MBA for my master’s because it’s so versatile. This degree gives a lot of opportunities to create impact across different sectors,” he says.
Drawn to Kellogg for the Board Fellows program, he also wanted to be part of a social impact-focused culture. Daga chose to specialize in Kellogg’s Social Impact Pathway, a cross-functional series of more than 34 courses — seven of which center on real-world experiential projects — that help students define social value and learn how to influence social change in many different sectors. These courses cover a range of social impact-related topics, such as sustainability, impact finance, nonprofit organizations, global health, public health, global development, and corporate responsibility. “The Social Impact Pathway was a phenomenal experience for me; I love how the faculty was constantly challenging my beliefs on impact,” he says.
Now, Daga is a Youn Impact Scholar along with 80 other alumni who are recognized for their passion and drive to create social change. Following graduation from Kellogg in June 2021, Daga has continued on with La Casa Norte in a full-time role as a Chief Strategy Officer. “Everyone has the ability to make an impact. When you recognize your own impact — whether positive or negative — you’re able to make change,” he says.
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