Peter MacEwan, WG’17, believes the nonprofit sector needs to transform dramatically. “(We need to) gain a better understanding of funding channels as well as how to measure and quantify impact,” he said.

Peter first became interested in the intersection of nonprofit and purposeful profit structures when he took on his current role as associate director of the Making Waves College and Alumni Program in San Francisco.

“I wanted to learn more about business frameworks and grow professionally,” he said. “I also want to help Making Waves expand so that we can serve students all over the country — pursuing an MBA seemed like a great way to achieve these objectives.”

Wharton’s reputation in finance is part of what attracted Peter to the MBA Program for Executives in San Francisco. “It isn’t my background, but I want to push myself out of my comfort zone and fill in knowledge gaps,” he said.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in American Studies and has worked as an educator in the Bay Area since 2001. After spending three years teaching junior high students, Peter transitioned to an administrative role within an educational nonprofit — first as an after-school coordinator and later in a business development role.

Peter teaching students

Currently, he works for the scholarship and support program at Making Waves, which provides comprehensive services, coaching, and financial support to low-income students in the Bay Area. The goal of the San Francisco-based nonprofit is to ensure that these students — who are typically the first in their families to attend college — acquire the skills necessary to get accepted to college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

At Wharton, Peter wants to learn how to scale the organization and make a bigger impact.

“We can learn how to apply the same frameworks used in the private sector for mission-driven organizations,” he said. “If we gain more clarity on how funding works and can compare organizations, we can better align expectations. Business knowledge is critical to achieving that level of understanding.”

Self-Sponsorship: An Investment in the Future

Deciding to go back to school is a big financial decision, especially for students working in the not-for-profit sector. Peter sees self-sponsorship as an investment in himself to expand his professional opportunities in the future.

Already, the business fundamentals and perspectives he’s gained on class weekends have added value during the workweek. “I am applying what I learn in my job all the time,” Peter said. “The management classes are ones where you reflect on the learning and apply it literally the next day. The marketing classes provide not only tools like analytics and statistics, but also insights into how people behave and how to predict what they will do – that has direct ties to the social sector. In finance, I’m gaining a solid understanding of how funding channels work, which is very valuable.”

In terms of taking steps toward achieving his goals, Peter has found the support and motivation from the Wharton community as beneficial as the practical knowledge he’s picked up in the classroom.

“I’m with a group of people who have accomplished a great deal but are dissatisfied with the status quo because they want to do more,” he said. “They are here to empower and enrich their lives. This creates a very supportive environment where we learn from each other and form a close community.”

He’s also discovered some new passions and skills. The vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem at Wharton San Francisco has already given Peter plenty of opportunities to explore this area with other students.

So far, he has worked with classmates on two different startups. The first was with Julian Baldwin, WG’17, on career-readiness nonprofit Career Day 365, which hosted more than 100 high school students from the Bay Area at the Wharton San Francisco campus for their first Career Day Summit in January.

Peter with Career Day 365 team.

As chief operating officer, Peter is responsible for the mentoring program and training curriculum at Career Day 365. The second startup he worked on began as a class project and evolved into a company called Fuelster — an on-demand fuel delivery app.

“I’m discovering that I like to build things, whether that’s working in an operational role or helping a startup,” Peter said.

Balancing Multiple Responsibilities

At the end of his first year at Wharton, Peter and his wife welcomed their second child. Balancing school, work, a four-year-old, and a new baby wasn’t an easy feat, but Peter gained a new sense of clarity about himself and his goals from the experience.

“This program has reinvigorated me to push myself to greater heights — I now see my future and my purpose more clearly,” he said. “It’s also important to remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Know when you can back off, and when to push the accelerator.”

Peter MacEwan with his kids

The program requires a significant time commitment so Peter learned an important lesson early on: be realistic about finding areas to cut back on.

“It’s helpful to always align expectations by keeping the lines of communication open at work and home,” he said. “If you have more than just work and school, something may have to give.” For instance, Peter doesn’t make it to every social event outside of class weekends, but he and his family participate in the family events.

“If you’re juggling a lot, you won’t be alone — people in this program get married, have babies, care for kids, and have challenging jobs,” he said. “We’re all balancing multiple responsibilities, but we support each other because we know what this program takes to succeed and that it’s worth the investment. If you’re ready, then this is the best thing you’ll ever do.”

Posted: November 22, 2016

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