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Rowing, Team-building, Winning, and Businesses

The confluence of business and social interests! It is too much fun! Look at this one.

The confluence of business and social interests! It is too much fun! Look at this one.

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Harvard Business Review’s September issue features a piece called “Lessons from the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.” As an organizational ethnographer, the writer spent seven months studying the Cambridge University Boat Club and concluded that “few environments test the ability of team members to balance competitive and cooperative instincts” so well. Further, he claims that, “business teams aren’t rowing teams, of course, but the same principles of competition and coordination apply.”

I spend my life helping people find the nonprofit boards that will capture their hearts. The nonprofit board that captured mine was Row New York which I was inspired to join once I visited the girls practicing for a rowing regatta and then hung out with them one late afternoon. Row NY’s mission is to build young women’s academic and athletic strengths through a highly structured competitive rowing and academic program. Not only do the girls win races throughout the region and even the state, but the girls all go on to college, given the rigorous preparation and support provided by Row NY!

 Great idea, right? It all started with Amanda Kraus. Having been a varsity college rower, Kraus took her graduate work and nonprofit experience to envision and build this wonderful organization in the summer of 2002. Kraus imagined the potential to use rowing as a way to develop young girls who would otherwise not have this particular team experience to help them gain access to greater futures. Kraus formed the initial board of directors with former college rowers who had become successful in business. The board teams up to gain terrific corporate support!

This year, we piloted a summer internship program. At our request, and without a moment’s hesitation, the law firm Clifford Chance US LLP stepped up to be the first employer. The experience proved to be a win-win for the girls and the firm. Who could be more disciplined team-players and employees than girls who have gotten up for rowing practice from 8th grade to 11th grade every morning at 6 a.m. and faced the test that the organizational ethnographer talks about in HBR? What a boost to the spirit and camaraderie at Clifford Chance to have these enthusiastic, ambitious, high-energy young women! And most significantly, Clifford Chance provided these talented Row New Yorkers with their very first paid, office positions – meaningful, learning opportunities that will be stepping stones for their futures.

The benefits of the summer internship continue to build. After taking the girls to lunch and learning more about the organization, one of the firm’s attorneys just joined the board of Row New York and is eager to expand the organization’s network of support. Next, we’ll grow the summer internship program in 2009 to provide opportunities for more girls!

Everybody wins!

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About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions.

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