Launching a New Urban Center for Outward Bound

Outward Bound approached the Alumni Consulting Team to help answer the question: What would it take to create a successful Outward Bound Urban Center in the Bay Area?

October 15, 2010


Outward Bound rafters on a river

In 2006 Outward Bound approached ACT to help answer the question: What would it take to create a successful Outward Bound Urban Center in the Bay Area?

Outward Bound Reaches out to Urban Youth

Adventure. Challenge. Self discovery. These are the tenets of the Outward Bound experience. This year, Outward Bound brought these values to the youth of San Francisco through a new Urban Center, thanks in part to the work of the Alumni Consulting Team (ACT).

Since 1961 Outward Bound has helped young people test their limits and build self confidence and life skills through adventure-based wilderness experiences. In order to reach more urban youth, the organization began establishing Urban Centers on the East Coast in the mid ’80s, starting in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and Atlanta.

Outward Bound small group

Outward Bound students gather at Crissy Field to brainstorm ideas for bringing outdoor programs to their peers.

Creating a Five Year Plan

An ACT team of 10 Stanford GSB students and alumni spent 10 months researching this question. After analyzing the financial and operating models of Outward Bound’s East Coast centers, they interviewed school leaders and teachers in public and charter schools in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Mateo, and developed a detailed operating plan to lead the center through three stages of expansion over five years.

By spring 2008 just one year after the ACT team presented the plan Outward Bound was able to find funding, space, and a staff member. The center has established program partnerships with three public schools in San Francisco, and has plans to reach several hundred kids in the 2008-09 school year.

Designing a Project Roadmap

“The ACT team provided a roadmap for Outward Bound. Their work gave everyone confidence that there was a plan, and it could be done,” explained Woody Scal, MBA ‘85, who began as a member of the ACT team, then joined the project’s new working board, a local group charged with moving forward on the plan.

“A project of this scope can be daunting,” said Scal, “with funding to secure, facilities to build, partnerships to develop, and participants to engage.” The team’s feasibility study defined the issues clearly and researched the market, but the team went beyond this to lay out a working plan that detailed step by step the phases and tasks that project implementation required. With ACT’s roadmap, the Outward Bound Advisory Council in San Francisco felt confident in moving forward.

Driving Successful Implementation

Scal believes that several factors helped drive Outward Bound’s successful implementation. First, a well-conceived plan that made the vision concrete helped to convince all the stakeholders Outward Bound’s national and local board, the local Outward Bound staff, school partners, and potential funders that the project could be done.

For example, based on the ACT team’s plan, the Hewlett Foundation provided $200,000 in grant funding to serve as startup capital for the San Francisco center. Second, the ACT plan proposed practical targets and timeframes. The schedule balanced a sense of urgency with the reality that things take time. Third, the Outward Bound project benefitted from continuity: people involved in planning the project (Scal and board member Rajan Dalal) helped to lead the implementation effort. And finally, the organization was able to hire Vanessa Mendillo, who had a wealth of experience with Outward Bound in several different cities and signed on to become the center’s project manager.

Growing Capacity

The ACT plan encouraged Outward Bound San Francisco to start in one place, do a great job there, and then grow its capacity. The process will take a major step forward this fall when Outward Bound plans to open the doors of its new center building in the Presidio to welcome its first group of San Francisco students. In the future, Scal believes there is plenty of potential for the center to reach out to schools in Oakland, Richmond, and beyond to bring the Outward Bound experience to thousands of kids throughout the Bay Area.

ACT Consultants

  • Susan Breslin, MBA ’00
  • Tracy Roeder, MBA ’98
  • Annie Adams, MBA ’08
  • Margaret (Riley) Devine, MBA ’08
  • Kevin Goldstein, MBA ’02
  • Amy Jacobs, MBA ’99
  • Nadia Pierce, MBA ’08
  • Debbie Rosler, MBA ’00
  • Woody Scal, MBA ’85
  • Melinda Su, MBA ’95

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