Students start consultancy for charities

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Cherry Li, 21, and Imogene Gibson, 19, helped found Synergy in November last year.
Cherry Li, 21, and Imogene Gibson, 19, helped found Synergy in November last year.

Four University of Auckland students have started up a free consultancy service for charities.

Cherry Li, 21, and Imogene Gibson, 19, helped found Synergy in November last year after realising that students looking for work experience could help out charities who often had no money to spend on consultancy services.

Both are studying towards a Bachelor of Commerce and Miss Li says Synergy provides a fresh perspective for charity organisations.

"They have problems that they have been stuck with for a long time, and they are not sure how to solve it. As students we step in with a fresh perspective and also we've got that academic background, which they don't always have.

"Students need the working experience, especially as consultants. It's a growing industry. So a lot of students are actually interested in getting the work experience. Other opportunities around Uni at the moment don't provide real life experience, so that's where the value comes in."

2014 saw students offering consultancy services for the first time and Miss Gibson says the most challenging part was finding that first client.

She says proving themselves without a track record meant that sometimes charities didn't particularly believe in them.

World Vision did believe in them, Miss Gibson, who is Synergy's chief projects officer, was involved as a consultant.

She says students find it satisfying when they go through the process and find the client is actually going to use some of their ideas.

Synergy has grown significantly already, with around 30 people now involved in the organisation.

Miss Li says charities apply to them, and they aim to take three or four a semester who they feel they can offer the most to.

Synergy then invites University of Auckland students to apply to work with the charities.

Around 30 students applied in the first semester.

Students are trained and mentored throughout the semester, with external professionals providing knowledge and experience to help give them the confidence that they are on the right track.

Synergy had little guidance as they established themselves: "We had friends and older people along the way, but no boss," says Miss Li.

Both agree the breakthrough came when World Vision said yes.

"That was the moment we were like, 'we have to do this now', we are interacting. It's not just ideas anymore," says Miss Li.

Longer term hope to establish themselves in the future as a separate entity from the University of Auckland.

"We never really saw ourselves as a Uni club. We saw ourselves more as a charitable organisation."

- The Aucklander

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