First-year MBA student Ankit Girdhar, WG’20, reflects on his WISE Fellowship. As he learns, sometimes matching supply and demand isn’t as easy as one might think.

Coming to the lightning-speed world of Wharton and learning about the many opportunities available for students is an overwhelming experience. As I was attending countless info sessions during pre-term, the Wharton Impact Student Experience (WISE) Fellowship stood out for me as it would allow me to have a positive impact on the Philadelphia community that would be my home for the next two years.

Philadelphia is home to 34 universities and hospitals (also known as “anchor institutions” as they are the hubs of communities around them) which together spend $5.3 billion annually on goods and services. However, only $2.7 billion is currently spent in Philadelphia. At first glance, Sakib Ahmed (my WISE co-fellow) and I thought our project on procurement for these “anchor institutions” seemed like a simple supply-demand problem.

To create jobs and alleviate poverty in Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the U.S., it is essential to increase local spending by anchor institutions (such as Penn, Drexel, Einstein Healthcare System, etc.) to support local, diverse, and smaller vendors. The idea was simple enough—we would connect these anchor institutions with local firms that offer the goods and services they are currently purchasing from out-of-town.

But after meeting our project manager Mariya Khandros, Director of Shared Solutions at the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and a Wharton alum, Sakib and I started to appreciate the nuances and complexity of this challenge. The massive anchor institutions and small, local, and minority or women-owned businesses operate in completely different ecosystems, each with a diverse set of expectations. The small businesses do not know where to even begin with the lengthy and bureaucratic process of becoming a registered vendor and the anchor institutions do not know where to look for high-quality and price-competitive local suppliers without risking the experience of their patients or students.

And in some cases, the vendor doesn’t even exist. Taking the example of medical laundry, Philadelphia produces millions of pounds of medical laundry every year which is currently sent at least 100 miles from Philadelphia, incurring much higher costs and supply chain risks. There is no local industrial laundry service large enough to accommodate this gigantic demand, so anchor institutions have no choice. On the other hand, no entrepreneur or existing smaller vendor is willing to risk building a massive facility without certainty of revenue.

Going back to the days of MGMT610, this is a perfect vacuum to be filled by a “boundary spanner” — someone who understands two different sets of stakeholders and enables cross-team cooperation.

That’s exactly what PAGE (Philadelphia Anchors for Growth and Equity) does. It is a partnership between Economy League of Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia, and more than a dozen anchor institutions committed to increasing local spending and strengthening the local economy. Just one of their successes includes playing a pivotal role in supporting a local entrepreneur to build an industrial scale laundry service for Philadelphia hospital while generating up to 100 jobs.

Sakib and I had an amazing opportunity working with PAGE and engaging with both anchor institutions and local suppliers to better understand how to bridge the gap between the two. We helped formalize the selection and screening process for local vendors in a way that is acceptable to anchor institutions and not too burdensome for smaller businesses.

Working as a WISE Fellow has been one of my most rewarding Wharton experiences not only because it allowed me to hone my problem-solving skills and practically use concepts taught in class, but also because it helped me have a positive impact on the community where I live.

— Ankit Girdhar

Posted: January 14, 2019

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