GRC Project Spotlight: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)

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This article is part of a series called GRC Project Spotlights, where GRC project team members illustrate their experience on a GRC project, the skills they leveraged from their experience, and the lessons they hope to take forward.

Beginning in February of this year, four of our Kellogg GRC team members worked closely with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a global nonprofit focused on eradicating Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is thought to have genetic, environmental, or viral origins with symptoms surfacing at an earlier age (hence, juvenile diabetes), versus the much more prevalent adult-onset type 2 diabetes which is affected by diet and lifestyle. As one of the few organizations focused specifically on T1D, JDRF is a global leader that funds research, advocates for policies, and provides patient support in the fight against T1D.

With this core mission, JDRF has been seeking to expand their operations into new regions to reach populations with unmet T1D needs. The foundation and current breadth of JDRF is based primarily on partnerships with grassroots organizations to bolster research and advocacy efforts, with a presence in Australia, North America, and Europe but lacking in the rest of the world. Our team was tasked with delivering a strategy for JDRF’s global expansion, broken down into three different phases: building comprehensive overviews of the different global regions evaluated on key segments (Phase I), creating a template to perform research on and assess individual countries along with quantitative and qualitative profiles of the top 20-25 countries of interest (Phase II), and developing country-specific guidelines with contact information and interview guides to inform strategy on five recommended countries for initial implementation (Phase III).

Our final deliverable was built on three key principles: being robust, data-driven, and scalable. Being robust meant creating several different resources for JDRF: a quantitative database of key metrics on each country, qualitative profiles of the global regions and individual countries, a template for performing research on new countries, and interview guides for future contacts. Being data-driven meant sourcing metrics that could be used to quantifiably compare several different countries, resulting in a comprehensive database incorporating both existing JDRF data on T1D and our own research. Being scalable meant developing clear methodologies and templates for research - qualitative and quantitative - to allow JDRF to use the provided tools for further work.

This experience - my first project with GRC and first formal consulting experience - was challenging, yet insightful and rewarding. Initially heading into the project, I was hesitant about my lack of experience and the amount of work that was required - especially for such a high-profile client with JDRF, it seemed surprising how an international nonprofit organization would turn to a team of college students for ideas and development of their global expansion strategy. My thoughts were further enhanced when - a month into our project as were continuing through Phase I - we were suddenly forced to remain physically distant due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. Nonetheless, JDRF remained confident in our abilities to provide them a global expansion strategy despite the setback. We realized the importance of JDRF’s mission given the pandemic and how those with T1D face more serious complications when infected with COVID-19. As we continued on, I also realized how much I could actually do even given my relative inexperience - gathering information from a variety of sources and summarizing them concisely in a clear manner for JDRF to be able to read and analyze clearly, creating an informative and intuitive spreadsheet not only visually simple but also quite organized, contacting and interviewing professors and academics, and collaborating and communicating with a team through numerous Zoom calls.

The highlight of the experience in my opinion had to be the receptiveness and communication of our client, specifically in working with the CEO of JDRF Australia, Mike Wilson. Although the initial 3-phased proposal seemed daunting, throughout the course of the project we maintained constant communication with Mike and a couple other leaders within JDRF. Having access to their existing resources, understanding their goals and mission, adjusting the direction of our work based on their feedback and the ongoing situation, and just being recognized and valued as contributors on this project were invaluable and made the process run smoothly. By the time we presented our final deliverable, our team was comfortable talking with Mike and discussing suggestions, and our presentation was very well received - the consistent receptiveness, respect, and encouragement of JDRF were invaluable elements to our success.

One reflection I had about the project was accepting the fact that some of the ideas we had formulated over the course of the project were left somewhat incomplete when we ultimately handed over our deliverable to JDRF, due to the limited scope of our time. For instance, one aspect of the project that we had started discussing as a potential source of information in the beginning phase - conducting interviews with relevant professors who could provide expertise on specific countries, regions, or topics (global health, nonprofits, etc.) - was not very fruitful in our first attempt when building global region profiles. However, later on in the project, we returned to the idea of building interview guides and conducting some initial interviews, now with a more targeted focus on our final five countries; additionally, we began looking into professors outside of Northwestern, now comfortable with conducintg interviews over video. We only ended up interviewing one professor by the end of the project - this was not something that was expected of us by JDRF, but just knowing that we could have continued to gather useful information and build relationships with future resources for JDRF was something we just had to accept.

Overall, working with JDRF was an outstanding first experience as a member of Kellogg GRC. I was able to apply tangible skills to meaningful research towards their global market entry strategy, and am confident that our work can be an invaluable resource for initiatives within JDRF down the road. Moving forward, I’m excited to tackle future projects with this experience under my belt - now able to more confidently work with a project team, collaborate and coordinate on deliverables throughout the process, and communicate and present to clients. I look forward to seeing what lies ahead for JDRF, and the future projects we as Kellogg GRC will take on to continue to drive social impact on a global scale.

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GRC Project Spotlight: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)
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