Business School Partners with Breast Cancer Organization

In the business world, non-profit organizations often face the unique challenge of striving to make an impact with limited resources. Here for the Girls, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides support to young women diagnosed with breast cancer, became interested in expanding their services due to the increased demand for their kind of support. The organization understood the complexities of expansion and the need for a road map in order to achieve this goal. Through the acceptance in the William & Mary School of Business’s Field Consultancy program, a partnership with the MBA students and the organization was developed. The project led by the William & Mary team resulted in a formalized business framework, which offered guidance in systematically and strategically planning the organization’s expansion.

In 2007, Mary Beth Gibson and Rene Bowditch, who met at a breast cancer retreat for women of all ages, became increasingly aware of the lack of resources available to young breast cancer survivors, as well as the simple lack of education on breast health available for women. Their call for action became Beyond Boobs!, a Williamsburg non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of young women affected by breast cancer. This organization is unique because it focuses on women under the age of 51, a population with challenges that are not typically the focus of breast cancer support. Through this program, survivors are offered peer-led support through the trials breast cancer often brings.

In 2016, Gibson and Bowditch acquired the non-profit organization Pink Link, an online support network, and in turn expanded their organization’s outreach. The decision was made to create Here for the Girls, Inc., which merged Beyond Boobs! and Pink Link under one organizational entity. The need to grow and provide more support to survivors across the country was still prevalent and became the driving force behind a collaboration with the Raymond A. Mason School of Business in 2017.

In the William & Mary Field Consultancy Program, full-time MBA students are given the ability to work with real businesses and organizations, like Here for the Girls, for several months that concludes with an in-depth report and final summary presentation. During the project with Here for the Girls, the students were able to be very hands-on and spent time working with the staff and volunteers of the organization to establish goals and provide intuitive suggestions for moving forward. Due to the close involvement the MBA team was able to have with the organization, the consultancy program provided real benefits for the students as well as for Here for the Girls.

The goal of the project was the expansion of Here for the Girls, specifically the in-person support element (Beyond Boobs!). The MBA students were able to work closely with the Williamsburg headquarters and also collaborated with the already established Florida and Texas branches to determine which expansion methods and procedures would produce the best outcome. Beyond simply recognizing the need for expansion, the MBA students and Here for the Girls joined forces to come up with a detailed, specific plan for establishing branches in new cities while still maintaining the culture and integrity of the organization.

Chris Schwab, the Managing Director of Here for the Girls, describes how each MBA student performed a different in-depth role in the project while working with several members of the organization. On any given day, the students could be working with staff members, volunteers, a member of the Board of Directors, or interviewing women served by Here for the Girls. Schwab explains that she gave the MBA students “the OK to not hold back and to have candid conversations with the organization.” Schwab believes it was this open communication protocol and the fact that “everyone was involved and in the loop at all times” that led the project to its success.

Schwab praises the work done by the team, especially the efforts the team made to understand the culture of the organization. She describes how “They adapted to a non-traditional workplace while maintaining complete professionalism.”

“The students were respectful and professional from day one, and they were so committed to this project. I could see their passion for helping those with breast cancer grow while working on this project, which gave the project its spark and allowed it to be so impactful,” says Schwab.

Perhaps most exciting, Here for the Girls has taken the recommendations to heart and is using the final report as a reference for daily operations. Schwab describes how “we knew before we even started this project that we were going to be all in. The work the students put in is not only appreciated, it is being executed.” Schwab also praises the work done by the advisors and the executive partners in the program who really helped pull all the moving parts of the project together.

Schwab sums up the project wonderfully when she states that “I commend this team for the dedication given to every aspect.” When asked if she would be interested in further collaborations with the business school and the field consultancy program in the future, she passionately confirms that “I would work with every one of them again.”