Student Run Management Consulting Firms

OVER the last 3 years we have witnessed the birth of student run management consulting firms in Australia.

Student run management consulting firms harness the energy and enthusiasm of capable students to help non-profits enhance their social impact, and provide a platform to foster mutually beneficial relationships between students and the non-profit sector. Students benefit because they have the opportunity to take ownership of real world projects, learn valuable consulting and leadership skills, make a meaningful contribution to local communities, and take responsibility for their personal and professional development.  At the same time, non-profits benefit because they receive pro bono consulting advice targeted to their specific organisational needs.

Spawned in Sydney

In 2007, Nathaniel Ware founded Australia’s first student run consultancy to help socially conscious organisations achieve a greater social impact. 180 Degrees Consulting started at Sydney University and now has chapters in Sydney, Stockholm, Mexico City and Vladivostok as well as working with affiliated student groups in India, the UK, South Africa, the USA and Romania. During its short history, 180 Degrees has worked with a wide range of nonprofits including Youth Off the Streets, Make a Difference, STARTTS, Kiva, Energy in Common, and the Red Cross.

You can contact 180 Degrees here.

Multiplying in Melbourne

In 2009, Fabian BurmeisterShiraj De Silva and Samantha Fu brought the buzz of student consulting to Melbourne. The Graduate Consulting Group (GCG) has its roots at Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Management and has already worked with a range of nonprofits including The Aussie Hands Foundations, Kenya Australian Charity Organization and the Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project.

Your correspondent was recently in touch with GCG’s Advisory Board Member Max Teo and others, and was delighted by the professionalism and passion that this budding young group has for making a positive impact in the social sector. Alice Hu, one of GCG’s project consultants on the recently completed Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project, had the following to say about her reasons for joining GCG:

I joined GCG because I believe something more rewarding can be derived from obtaining a degree at one of the world’s leading tertiary institutions. GCG gives me a platform to contribute to our community by directly assisting and supporting those on the frontline of our nation’s not-for-profit causes.

Tak Wong, Head of Marketing, outlined that GCG differentiates itself from traditional student consulting firms on three fronts:

  1. Advisory Board: Perhaps the most significant differentiator is that GCG has a team of consulting professionals who support GCG in an advisory capacity. Beyond providing general advice, Advisory Board Members help structure problem solving efforts on client engagements and run training workshops to help student consultants hone their skills. GCG aims to support its members with top tier training, and give them the support they need to provide high value results for clients.
  2. Diverse pool of candidates: GCG consultants are not just undergraduates, they are also postgraduates, MBA students and recent graduates. They’re all high performing and hand-picked via GCG’s case interview process.
  3. Functional roles: GCG has a range of functional roles, which provide opportunities for students who might not necessarily want to get into consulting – e.g. Marketing, HR and Finance. These roles allow students to take up responsibilities that they would not usually be entitled to as a fresh graduate, and are valuable in supporting GCG’s mission to help non-profits achieve their full potential.

You can contact GCG here.

Subscribe to our mailing list


10 Replies to “Student Run Management Consulting Firms”

  1. Tom,

    What’s your take on the quality of these outfits? Are all their clients small and cute type organisations? Do they work probono? A slight barrage of questions, but I’m curious if you think it’s about adding value for the consultants or adding value for clients.


  2. Para,

    Good questions as always.

    Both groups work pro bono and appear to be well placed to foster mutually beneficial relationships between students and the non-profit sector. 180 Degrees has worked with a few particularly well known non-profits including Youth Off the Streets and the Red Cross.

    What’s my take on the quality of these outfits? I think these outfits have the potential to provide significant value to nonprofits, especially the ones that cannot afford to employ for-profit consulting firms.

    My view is that the quality of these groups is a function of 3 things: talent, passion and experience.

    Firstly, do they have the talent? My feeling is that they do. The founders of GCG are academic high achievers and I understand that GCG has a selective recruitment process in place to ensure the quality of consultants. I would assume that 180 Degrees also has a strong talent pool on the basis that (1) they were founded by Nat Ware (2011 NSW Rhodes Scholar) and (2) they have a stated quality assurance process in place.

    Secondly, do they have the passion? My feeling is that they do. I was recently in touch with GCG’s Max Teo and Tak Wong and it is clear to me that GCG is very passionate about making an impact in the social sector. I would assume that 180 Degrees is similarly placed.

    Thirdly, do they have the experience? I think this is the real question and is worth considering. Students generally have less experience than seasoned professionals and as each year group graduates a new group of students take their place. On first glance, it may therefore appear that these groups lack the experience needed to provide quality consulting advice. However, there are a number of reasons why this may not be the case:

    1. The groups focus on recruiting high performing students only
    2. The groups appear committed to providing general and project specific training
    3. Both groups engage experienced advisors. 180 Degrees engages university professors as mentors for student consultant teams. GCG has an Advisory Board composed of practising consultants who can provide general or project specific advice
    4. Students have more time on their hands than professional consultants. Any lack of experience can be compensated for by more hours devoted to the project and by seeking advice from experienced advisors (see point 3)

    It is worth noting that if nonprofits require highly time sensitive advice then the lack of experience question may come into play. In such cases, firms like SVA or other for-profit consultancies may be the best bet.

    What are your thoughts?

  3. Prashan, Tom,

    Thought I would take this opportunity to chime in. Prashan to your questions

    Q: What’s your take on the quality of these outfits?

    A: Define quality. If you’re comparing us to a Bridgespan or the Australian equivalent, Social Ventures Australia, – then of course we cannot compete with what these entities offer in terms of services. We simply do not have the funding or depth of talent to match. These guys have paid full time staff with a professional background dedicated to serving the not-for-profit sector.

    GCG has a team of passionate volunteers giving up their weekdays, weekends and evenings. Everyone involved is either a full time student, or working full time. Personally, I fit in the pro-bono consulting on the back of a 60 hour work weeks during flights between Melbourne and Sydney.

    From an output perspective, GCG is differentiated from other student run consulting outfits in that we have an advisory board providing QA for the projects, and even some industry consultants taking charge of projects. For example, I recently took charge of an engagement for one of our clients last year in which I invested as much consulting process and vigour into that engagement as I would in real life – issue trees, pyramid communications, etc All that good stuff strategy consultants do. Our outputs went to the client’s Board of Directors – that should speak amply to the quality of our output. If not, then the fact that we were referred to another client by a member on this Board should speak amply to the quality of our work.

    We’re not just a bunch of university students doing a not-for-profit assignment.

    Q: Are all their clients small and cute type organisations?

    A: Have a look on our website about the clients we have served. If you want to discuss specifics about the scope of the work we do, feel free to drop me a note [email protected]

    I suspect however our clients would take offence at the ‘cute’ classification

    Q:Do they work probono?

    A: All our services are pro-bono. We are the last stop for those who can’t afford consultants but who probably need consultants the most.

    Admittedly, our operations are constrained by a dearth of funding and we are looking for the right corporate sponsor to invest in us so we can serve a greater number of not-for-profits.

    Q: A slight barrage of questions, but I’m curious if you think it’s about adding value for the consultants or adding value for clients.

    A: We add value on both fronts. I invest heavily in coaching the students to give them the skills they need to be effective.

    I run a consulting 101 workshop teaching pyramid communications, issue based work planning and just going through the end to end consulting process. On engagements, I provide a lot of on the job mentoring and feedback such as on client interactions, slide preparation, synthesis of analysis and story boarding.

    In terms of value add to clients, put it this way – our client’s time is valuable. If they thought we were of no value, that we were wasting their time, there would be no follow on work and no client referrals. We have both.

    We also make it a point to turn down clients when we can’t deliver to our expected level of quality because we cant find the right people.

    This is why we are so selective about who we take on. We don’t want people to join us for the wrong reasons, because I invest a lot of time in training, the problems are real and the client is real.

    Prashan, I hope that I have adequately answered your questions.

    Best Regards,
    Max Teo
    Graduate Consulting Group

  4. Max, Tom,

    Thanks for your replies. Tom, your post was a thoughful, descriptive account of 180 degrees and GCG. I was just curious about your evaluation/opinion which I guess is always a little more difficult to comment on in a public post (but nearly always more interesting) – hence the rather blunt questions. Max, sounds like an interesting idea, and clearly you have a market. Good luck with it.


  5. Hi Tom,

    It has been a long term goal of mine to create my own not-for-profit management consulting firm after years of working in the industry, but as a student to hear that there other students out there doing this before any real consulting position inspires me and makes me wonder if I should get my University into this action.

  6. Hey Tom,

    I’m at Monash University (transferred from Melbourne Uni) doing Commerce/Arts, with this year and next year to go. I already emailed 180 degrees to have a chat, because I’m not sure where I would start with creating an initiative like this.

  7. Hey Tom,
    The Graduate Consulting Club at Harvard has been doing this for a few years now. My experience says it is a great idea for both the consultants and the clients.

Comments are closed.