In celebration of International Women’s Day, Darden’s #MBAoftheweek is not one, but three Darden MBA women. Katie Dodds, Lila Wilmerding and Effie Nicholaou are Class of 2021 students participating in a unique independent study led by Professor Tami Kim. They are currently working with an international nonprofit, Women in Olive Oil, whose mission is to contribute to the individual and societal advancement of women through the common link of olive oil.

The students’ independent study goal is “to create a business development plan for Women in Olive Oil, a young international nonprofit organization focused on equity in the industry through education, community and policy. Through interviews, workshops and market research, we are gaining an understanding of the priorities and struggles of women in the olive oil industry so to create a series of short- and long-term initiatives that WIOO leadership can enact to sustainably grow membership and organizational impact.”

Pictured from left: Katie Dodds, Effie Nicholaou and Lila Wilmerding

Each of the women shared their insights on the independent study:

Katie Dodds: We all have our reasons for doing this, but for me it was an opportunity to meet women leaders in an industry parallel to wine, which was where I spent much of my pre-MBA career. It’s been a way explore the value-adds our Darden knowledge can bring to this sector, through identifying and prioritizing goals and mile-markers, cementing brand identity and providing decision-making frameworks for the organization.  This independent study is proving to be an inspiring way to help lend structure to the passion and artisanry thriving within this community of women growers, sommeliers and researchers.

Lila Wilmerding: In between high school and college, I spent a few months working on a farm in Tuscany, where I participated in the olive harvest and pressing. It was hard work, but tasting the freshly-pressed oil remains one of my favorite memories. That experience ingrained a passion for sustainability and equity within the food industry. When we crossed paths with the Women in Olive Oil team, I was excited to help them build out their strategic direction for the organization. WIOO is an already-strong global network whose support will make a real difference to women looking to expand the reach of their businesses.

Effie Nicholaou: When I met Jill and the Women in Olive Oil team, I was thrilled they were willing to take us on. I immediately brought in my classmates Lila and Katie, both with extensive background in the food and beverage industry, to form an independent study led by Tami Kim. The quick growth of the WIOO community was strong evidence that they were supporting women in a much-needed way, and we wanted to support them in defining a strategic path forward that would keep up the momentum of their first six months. After working this past summer for a beverage start-up, I realized that my pre-Darden experience in human-centered design and market research could be applied to helping young organizations define their vision and map out a strategic path forward. I have enjoyed getting to know leaders in the olive oil industry across the globe, and cannot wait to see the impact that WIOO makes on creating a more equitable and sustainable industry.

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