Interning at Arabella Advisors

During the summer of 2019, Sophia Valner (MBA/MPA '20) interned at Arabella Advisors. Read on to learn more about her time there:

When I began the recruitment process for a summer internship last spring, I had clear expectations for what I hoped to get out of my summer.  As a dual degree MBA / MPA, I always envisioned the first of my two summers focusing on the business-side of my degrees and the second summer focusing on the policy and social impact side.  After interning in investment banking last summer, it was important to me to apply my MPA degree by working at an organization focused on impact this summer.  However, what I did not anticipate was that I would find an opportunity that would so clearly allow me to apply both – my business and impact experiences— to the role.  My role as a Strategy Intern at Arabella Advisors has allowed me to do just that.

Arabella Advisors helps foundations, philanthropists, and investors who are serious about impact achieve the greatest good with their resources. At Arabella, I am working with the Chief Operating Officer on firm strategy.  This includes working with the executive team to plan for the firm’s future: where they envision the firm in 3-5 years, whether they would like to pursue growth opportunities and how they think about their products and services.  This role allows me to apply skills from various prior experiences in ways I did not envision possible. Specifically, I leverage my prior role on the Strategic Projects team at GLG in developing frameworks, creating presentations and thinking about firm strategy. I apply skills from NYU coursework such as Stern’s Strategy courses and Wagner’s Managing the Financial and Social Returns of the Social Enterprises.  I apply financial and analytical skills from last summer’s banking internship as I think through the quantitative and financial considerations related to Arabella’s strategy.  When I initially envisioned an internship in which I would apply my MPA skills, I envisioned working purely in policy or in social impact.  However, in this role I have the chance to merge skills from various past experiences.

While I have been able to apply past skills to my current role, there are also clear differences.  Given that I spent last summer in finance, this summer is starkly different culturally.  For one, Arabella is a B-Corp and prides itself on its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) as well as on its flexible work environment.

Specifically, I’ve been struck by the firm’s commitment to DEI.  I’ve learned through experience that many firms that may say they are committed to DEI, but don’t apply a DEI lens to day to day operations.  However, in my time at Arabella, I have heard directly from the founding members on how they actively think about DEI.  As we discuss firm strategy, various members of management have, in different circumstances, brought up questions related to DEI to ensure that our plans reflect Arabella’s DEI commitment.  Arabella has a working taskforce of employees in various cities, seniority levels and roles that meet regularly to think about DEI initiatives.  Further, Arabella is upfront about where there is room to grow.  When DEI targets are not met, the firm relays this to employees and develops plans to work to improve their efforts.

I also had strong expectations about workplace flexibility having spent last summer working 15-hour days on Wall Street. Arabella prides itself on its flexible work environment.  Several employees, including senior leadership, work remotely.  Employees with special situations have relocated to permanently work remotely and others can work from home when needed. The concept of “face time,” something I was well aware of last summer, is not prevalent here.  However, from my experiences, the flexible work culture is a bonus for the firm. For senior leaders located in cities that Arabella does not have a formal office in, they can expand Arabella’s network and develop industry relationships in new markets.  For employees that can work from home on a regular basis to meet their lifestyle needs, their productivity in the office is boosted.  Lastly, this policy helps the company source talent and allows employees to work more efficiently.

While my two summers have been starkly different from one another, what I did not envision was how I’d be able to apply skills from one role to the other. I enjoyed having the opportunity to apply my strategy, financial and analytical skills to help Arabella think about firm strategy and future growth, and overall found the internship both interesting and rewarding.