This year’s Banana Republic challenge raises awareness for a nonprofit and makes a personal impact.

My host organization, Net Impact recently held the final round of the 2014 Banana Republic Grad Students Challenge at our San Francisco headquarters.

This challenge asks graduate students to develop a marketing campaign that increases awareness among Banana Republic’s customers about the work the company does with This Way Ahead (TWA). TWA provides leadership development to underserved youth, and its curriculum includes a rigorous round of job readiness workshops, followed by potential placement in a Gap, Old Navy, or Banana Republic store.

Earlier this year, 279 teams from around the world signed up for the competition, and the participants submitted one-page marketing plans and visual mock-ups for their ideas. Net Impact and Banana Republic narrowed the competition down to 10 teams, and then the final three: USD, UCLA, and Ryerson University. Those top teams came to San Francisco to pitch their idea to Banana Republic executives (as added bonuses, they got a Banana Republic wardrobe and a tour of the city).

As the Net Impact staffer who got to know the participants best, I loved seeing them in action and really appreciated the positive tone of the competition. The three teams bonded during their whirlwind tour of San Francisco and encouraged each other during their presentations. The executives chose the team from Ryerson (MBA students Angela and Kate) as the winner, impressed by their creativity and depth of analysis.

The other two teams received helpful comments from the judges, too, and the students and executives ended the day with a happy hour. The finalists’ trip to San Francisco was about more than just the competition. They got to know each other better, and they got to know themselves better as they developed their skills.

It’s understood that everyone wants to win in a competition like this one. But when those involved can strike a balance between ambition, drive, and determination on the one hand, and humility, sportsmanship, and integrity on the other, everyone reaps the benefits. That’s what I saw first-hand as the final day of the challenge unfolded.

Of course, the competition also benefits the students who participate in This Way Ahead, and this year’s focus really hits home for one of our Net Impact fellows, Marie Lim.

“I am such an advocate for youth development programs because I was a part of one,” says Marie. “Under Enterprise for High School Students, which also oversees TWA in San Francisco, I landed my very first job. I learned so much about networking and communicating and data management. And here’s the best part: I met my mentor, Joanna Spoth of Net Impact, through the program. Now she’s my co-supervisor. I’m amazed at how I came full circle – all these skills, these personal development opportunities, these professional relationships—I never would have had access to any of this if it hadn’t been for the youth leadership program. THIS is what TWA means to underserved youth. I was that youth. THIS is the impact.”

It’s exciting to see the kind of personal impact competitions like this one with Banana Republic can make, connecting the dots between companies, customers, nonprofits, and the next generation of leaders.

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