SOARing Against the Odds with Carpe Mundi

10/19/20

It’s late on a Wednesday night, past my usual bedtime, and I’ve just finished facilitating a strategic planning exercise for one of our Challenge to Change Giveback partners based in Portland, OR. Like many organizations, the onslaught of the pandemic laid waste to their 2020 plans and, more broadly, a key element of their entire business model. Despite the exhaustion from a 15-hour workday that ended with a facilitated 90-minute workshop over Zoom, I was equally invigorated by the energy the group brought to the discussion.

Up until this past spring, the non-profit Carpe Mundi provided low-income, first-generation Portland college students with a year-long mentorship and scholarship program that included an experiential education study abroad program. Because of COVID-19, Carpe Mundi shut down their overseas operations and, like most of us, headed to the drawing board to map out the rest of the year.

So how did a Nashville-based sustainability consultant end up crossing paths with a non-profit thousands of miles away that specializes in experiential international education?

Back in April, when the world shifted in a seemingly endless earthquake of change, my Milepost colleagues and I found ourselves faced with the same set of challenges most companies faced – projects were put on pause, sales and revenues started drying up, potential reductions in force or pay cuts were on the table and so on. Thankfully, our leadership worked tirelessly to secure Payroll Protection Program funding that afforded us time to keep all of our staff gainfully employed while we continued to live our values of #world-class-client-delivery to our existing customers and chart a path to rebuild our pipeline. Out of a sense of gratitude and a calling to pay it forward, we created the Challenge to Change Giveback. We fired up an application process and scoring criteria, and competitively awarded three organizations – BEF (Bonneville Environmental Foundation), the Ohio Energy Project and Salmon-Safe – with 25 pro bono hours each of our services. While the specific scopes of work differed, they all had a common theme: what strategic steps they needed to take as a business to adapt and thrive, and how they should communicate with their stakeholders. 

Through our work with these organizations, we saw the opportunity to meet a broader market need for strategy and planning services – especially as the world kept shifting – and started work on a rapid strategic planning product that we piloted with several of the 30 organizations that submitted applications to our Challenge to Change Giveback. The product – which we continue to test, iterate and refine – involves a series of workshops that help organizations 1) identify their Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results (SOAR) through surveys, 2) develop SOAR-based goals and objectives and 3) complete a business model canvas to identify gaps and create action-oriented plans for future growth.

Despite an intense 90 minutes of discussion and dialogue, Carpe Mundi’s SOAR is still a work in progress. The team worked through the first phase of the exercise but ran out of time because of how thoughtful and intentional workshop participants were in analyzing and sorting out their SOAR survey responses. In the next several weeks, we’ll circle back up and complete the workshop. Carpe Mundi has taken its first large step in transitioning its focus from experiential abroad programs to supporting its students with the myriad challenges they face.

We at Milepost are a work in progress as well. True to form, we practiced what we preached by completing our own SOAR workshop as a learning opportunity. As a result, we have been able to leverage our team’s insights to identify new goals and objectives and see gaps beyond the obvious.

If your organization is in the market for quick but effective strategic planning that won’t break the bank, please reach out. I aspire to more late nights helping organizations shape their future.

Luke Gebhard
Luke Gebhard