Fairmount InSights
Margarita Mirkil

No summer lull for Fairmount this year – our office is buzzing with new projects and new team members to help advance our work for the nonprofit sector. We’ve been fortunate to spend these months with three hugely talented students assisting with our client services, and our own capacity-building efforts.

Intern Cristina Bermudez (Yale University, BA, Psychology and Economics, Class of 2021) has spent her summer working hand-in-hand with our admin team on operational data analysis, systems-building, and enhancement. Graduate-level Research Assistants Ibrahim Choudhry (University of Pennsylvania, MPA, Fels Institute of Government/MSW, School of Social Policy and Practice, Class of 2018) and Mollie Williamson (University of Pennsylvania, MPA, Fels Institute of Government Class of 2019) deploy their keen research and analytical skills to benefit a range of planning and fundraising project teams. We asked them to share more about their expertise and their experiences working at Fairmount Ventures.

FV: What drew you to working at Fairmount as you pursue your studies?

CB: My goal was to get involved in an organization that would allow me to delve into its operations, experience its everyday dynamic, and learn. Simply listening and immersing myself in different environments with devoted, experienced teams has given me the most useful insight I have to date. Working at Fairmount fit exactly what I wanted to experience this summer as I pursue my interest in the intersection of Psychology and Economics.  As [FV President] Don [Kligerman] put it, I wanted to see “how the sausage gets made.” And, although I went vegan after watching how sausages are made on How It’s Made, working at Fairmount – considering its size and the open, welcoming mentality of its staff – has allowed me to do just that.

IC: I first learned about Fairmount when Don was a guest lecturer in one of my graduate courses last year! After hearing his passion for social justice and discovering Fairmount’s unique and consistent track record supporting countless Philadelphia nonprofit organizations, I quickly jumped at the chance to work here. As I am pursuing dual Masters degrees in public administration and macro social work, I am discovering that sustainable social change requires broad cross-sector coordination coupled with rigorous research and data-driven analysis. At Fairmount, I have the opportunity to immediately apply my multidisciplinary social science and public policy research tools I am learning in grad school, while gaining insight into the workings of a high-performing nonprofit consulting firm. What’s unique about Fairmount is the collaborative and creative work environment that challenges me to be a little more curious and think more deeply about what it means to create social impact.

MW: I co-founded and was the executive director of a small nonprofit organization in South Carolina before moving here to pursue my MPA, which helped me appreciate just how important intentional strategies are for managing progress. I was drawn to Fairmount when Don gave a presentation to my Management class; I liked the way he described the relationships that Fairmount cultivates with its clients. Consulting is a field I’m interested in pursuing after graduation; consulting in a nonprofit sphere specifically, where it is so often difficult to define what “success” looks like, is fascinating to me.

FV: How do your personal, academic, & professional experiences inform your work at Fairmount?

CB: I apply what I learn anywhere, whether it be in a line for the bathroom or in a lecture hall, to all the work I do, including the projects I helped advance at Fairmount. I had the privilege of immigrating to the United States and consistently moving to new cities and schools as I grew up. Because I was immersed in entirely different cultures and surrounded by people whose customs and perspectives frequently conflicted, I started to question why people made decisions and acted the way they did. This triggered my academic interest in cultural, environmental, and social psychology and – applied to economic institutions and organizations – in behavioral economics and organizational behavior. The common thread in my professional experiences is that they have allowed me to directly and indirectly explore my academic interests (driven by personal experiences) in more depth.

IC: I moved from Lahore, Pakistan to a small farming community in Ohio with my mom, younger brother, and sister when I was nine. I mention this because my multinational upbringing, biracial identity, and experiences being raised by a strong and compassionate woman – my mother – continues to guide my work. Before graduate school, I spent over seven years working in social services and community health organizations, witnessing the many unique and often non-intuitive challenges faced by historically neglected and underserved communities. I then built on my personal experiences by pursuing an interdisciplinary career and educational trajectory. My dual MPA/MSW allows me to plug into multiple lenses and frameworks that add important diversity of thought and critical analysis, enabling me to elevate voices that are often overlooked to the table. While I strongly believe in the missions of many nonprofits, I also have seen firsthand that many social impact organizations may not fully understand how to expand upon their strengths or make the necessary improvements. These experiences inform my work at Fairmount by ensuring my research and data are always connected to empowering the people our clients are serving.

MW: I’ve been working with nonprofits and doing community organizing for over a decade now, and I deeply believe that people have a right to access high-quality, effective, and sustainable services and opportunities. Fairmount works with organizations that are trying to provide these, whether by streamlining programming, securing resources, or engaging in strategic planning to continue to foster growth. The work I do to support client organizations – researching donors and funding strategies, collecting socio-economic data, and finding best practices in a variety of fields – helps to continue this progress.

FV: What are some of your favorite Philadelphia extracurricular activities?

CB:  Philadelphia is, in my opinion, the best place in which my family has lived so far. I try to incorporate the city into my exercise schedule as much as possible – this includes biking and running to different places; Manayunk is definitely a favorite. I also love live music, so I dig until I find it. My usual for live music is the Art Museum on Friday nights. Other than that, you’ll find me anywhere with art.

IC: I love Philly! I’ve had the opportunity to live in several cities throughout the U.S.– from NYC to San Francisco – and I have been so amazed by Philly’s vibrant art, music, and diverse cultural festivals. I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life and am always struck by the depth of people’s collective pride, history, and communal solidarity in improving the city. I love having my family and friends visit because I get to show them all Philly has to offer and why it’s such an exciting, beautiful place to live.

MW: I like to volunteer with Girls Rock Philly, do karaoke at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, go see boxing matches at James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym, and try to frequent places with good jukeboxes as often as possible.

Summer may be ending (sniff), but we’re still looking for outstanding graduate-level Research Assistants for the fall and beyond. If you know – or are! – someone whose experience and interests could be a fit with our team, please see our Careers page for more information and application details.

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