The Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab housed in the Marshall School of Business recently named Martine Singer, president and CEO of Para Los Niños, a senior fellow. Singer will work with students in the lab as a mentor and career resource.
The BSEL, established in 2008, works with Marshall students to address social issues with business practices. Singer’s background with PLN, a nonprofit dedicated to academic access and opportunities for children living in poverty in the Los Angeles area, provides expertise in the field.
“The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial about children playing on skid row in broken glass and feces-filled areas,” said Patrick Sinclair, vice president of development and Communications for PLN. “A social worker and an actress read that article and decided to do something about it.”
Founded in 1980, PLN worked to bring various facilities, including eight charter preschools and social work facilities to the metro area — all serving the purpose of helping low-income children receive an education.
Singer has worked with PLN since 2012, but has a diverse and unique background. Her work at Hollygrove, an L.A. nonprofit dedicated to helping at-risk children and their families, oversaw a transformation from primarily community-based services to a merger with a statewide organization.
“I began as a tutor and eventually got to know the woman who was running the organization and found that I had skills that would be helpful from my experience doing consulting,” Singer said.
Singer did not always work for the nonprofit sector. With an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management, as well as past work with The New York Times and the L.A. Times, she perfected the art of utilizing skills from one sector in another.
“The expectation [at the Yale School of Management] was that you would cross-fertilize going from one sector to the other,” Singer said. “I think that’s turned out to be very true. You’re a better nonprofit leader having had experience in another space. When you work only in the business sector, you don’t necessarily have an appreciation for the social impact of the work you do.”
Sinclair agrees that Singer’s ability to synthesize her business background with an innovative outlook will make her a great mentor and career resource for Marshall students.
“She’s extremely creative,” Sinclair said. “In a world like this, where you’re dealing with acute problems in dealing with families and children or huge bureaucratic snafus because you’re dealing with county agencies and things like that, Martine is good at either finding ways around the obstacles to better serve the families and the children or to find ways to get the agency to meet the needs we’re trying to meet.”
Today, Singer’s duties as president and CEO include managing a $32 million budget, planning the restructuring activities necessary to turn a social services agency into an education provider and engaging the community in educational awareness programs among various other functions. She acknowledged the many challenges faced in the nonprofit sector.
“Resources are always tight in nonprofits,” Singer said. “Not just money, but time — everyone is stretched really thin. I don’t think a lot of nonprofit leaders necessarily have the experience in business to give them the confidence to do something like this. Sometimes there is a lack among leadership of deep understanding of business.”
Singer said she believes a business background and experiences like the social enterprise lab bring special insight and problem-solving skills to such challenges.
“It gives [students] insight into the practical application of what they’re learning,” Singer said. “It gives them the opportunity to operationalize some of the things that they might be studying in a classroom environment. It’s a way of seeing things come to life.”
For students interested in pursuing social entrepreneurship, Singer offered some advice.
“They need to get some practical experience as interns or volunteers at non-profit [organizations],” she said. “They can bring a tremendous level of innovation and energy to a sector that isn’t necessarily always considered the most creative or the most entrepreneurial. They have a lot to offer if they can find a way in.”