Sophie Bai (HBS 2020) is working with classmates Danielle Waldman (HBS 2020), Elaine Liu (HBS 2020), Natalie Knipp (HBS 2020), Graham Lieberman (HBS 2017), Arting Chang (HBS2020), Qimei Luo, Matthew Wozny (HBS 2019), Anna Ike (HBS 2021), Judy Kim (HBS 2021), Jess Yuan (HBS 2021) and Giang Nguyen (HBS 2021) to raise money to purchase PPE for local Boston Hospitals.

The Beginning…

Our initiative started in late March with an MBA student, Sophie Bai (HBS 2020), and an HBS professor, Jeff Bussgang. Having witnessed the spread of the virus in China a few months earlier and spotting the growing need for personal protective equipment (“PPE”) in the US, Sophie began exploring ways to bring these supplies to Boston. Jeff, spotting an opportunity to create a scaled initiative, jumped in and together the two of them began ordering bulk supplies for local hospitals. In a matter of days, Sophie and Jeff had launched a philanthropic fund through The Boston Foundation! With the scaffolding in place, it was then time to build a team. In the span of one weekend Sophie gathered a team of 10+ friends and classmates to help raise more money, place more orders for PPE, and deliver more supplies to the local hospitals and clinics. 

Scaling Our Project 

Over the next few weeks, we worked together to fundraise $3.5 million and purchase over 1.9 million pieces of PPE. In true start-up fashion, we moved quickly and had to iron out some kinks along the way, but eventually settled into a system.

The first step in our process is raising donations, which is led by Jeff, Danielle, Arting and Jess, and enabled by The Boston Foundation. The fundraising team raised contributions from local Boston donors, as well as faculty, students and a number of generous groups in China. With the funds in hand, we then turn to our resident MD/MBA – Graham – for direction on which products to purchase. Graham spends considerable time interfacing with each of the hospitals and clinics to gather insights on their latest PPE needs. Our process then turns to Sophie and Qimei who work through the night (China day) to procure the needed supplies. Once the orders are placed, Natalie and Jess work with The Boston Foundation and Flywire (a local fintech start-up) to submit the payments, often across borders and across currencies. Over the next few weeks, the products move from China to the US, navigating the ever-evolving customs clearance guidelines. Our logistics experts – Elaine and Matt – work with third parties including Flexport and Grossman Marketing to oversee this process. Finally, Graham and Danielle synthesize the needs of the various Massachusetts hospitals and allocate the PPE accordingly, with Elaine overseeing the final delivery. From start to finish, our process involves a high degree of collaboration both across the internal team as well as across the various third parties – which in this new virtual world has meant an endless amount of emails, Zoom calls and text messages.

What Has This Experience Meant?

In January, we heard about the Coronavirus in China; by the beginning of March we had classes moved online and shortly thereafter we saw stay-at-home orders issued across the state, the country and the world. As the virus spread, hospitals became overrun and PPE supplies dwindled, PPEople First became a way for all of us contribute to the community in a meaningful way. Each order we placed and each delivery we dropped off we saw immediately put to work on the front line. The urgency of it all was at times stressful but this same urgency is what has made the effort so rewarding for all of us.

But this isn’t the only reason that PPEople First has been so meaningful to me. In a time when everything is moving from in-person to virtual, it’s easy to feel disconnected. But with daily zoom calls with friends, donors and hospital workers, PPEople First made me feel more deeply connected with the Boston community than I had since moving here 2 years ago. The opportunity gave me a real start up experience and an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and have impact. I feel lucky to be graduating HBS with such a meaningful experience and excited to see what everyone from this team and others in the community do next as we navigate these challenging times.