02 Feb 2021

HBSAAA in 2021: Revitalized, Restructured, and Making a Difference


by Shona Simkin

George Ellis (MBA 1984), Beverly Anderson (MBA 1997), Sara Clarke (MBA 1997), and Lewis Long (MBA 1991)

At the close of AASU50, the 2018 landmark African American Student Union (AASU) 50th anniversary celebration, members of the HBS Black community and the African-American Alumni Association (HBSAAA) were energized, inspired, and determined to do more to advance racial equity. Step one, said HBSAAA co-president Beverly Anderson (MBA 1997) was a revitalization and restructuring of the organization.

Amid the global pandemic in the summer of 2020, bylaws had just been rewritten, new board members were elected and seated, and processes and strategies were being determined when the racial protests and unrest surrounding the murder of George Floyd unfolded across the world. It was yet another moment for reflection and revitalization, and to engage in the urgent efforts of the School’s Plan for Racial Equity.

“We began to think about how we serve our larger community, scale our impact, and how we think about the future for ourselves and our constituencies—the communities we serve and the people who look like us, and provide contribution back to HBS,” said Anderson. “Our vision is around inspiring, equipping, and elevating our members' power to serve each other and our community. Our mission is to strengthen the future and current members’ ability to reach their greatest potential and aspirations. Our activities are focused around lifelong learning, elevating black businesses, and facilitating economic equality through capital deployment.”

At the urging of HBSAAA’s Board Chairperson George Ellis (MBA 1984), a new community engagement task force was deployed to create a vision, resulting in a three-pronged approach to address the persistent barriers to Black wealth growth.

  • The Capital Access Hub will create two databases to match vetted enterprises and founders in need of capital with investors within the HBSAAA network of alumni and allies.
  • The Opportunity & Performance Network will bolster those matched enterprises, and lead meaningful growth through connections that can offer expertise in such areas as expanding a customer base, new vendor relations, or securing contracts.
  • High Impact Giving will focus on leveraging HBSAAA’s shared skills and expertise towards charities that help extend or strengthen the pipeline of potential future business leaders and MBA students.

Alumni leaders for all three initiatives are strategically located in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago—areas with high Black populations and historical legacies of Black wealth creation.

“With these three areas, we believe we can have a tremendous impact on the trajectory of black business, building Black wealth, and creating a pipeline so that the program regenerates and continues,” said Lewis Long (MBA 1991), HBSAAA executive vice-president.

Simultaneously, HBSAAA has rolled out a record number of activities—webinars, newsletters, seminars, networking circles, and town halls among them—to motivate Black alumni to re-engage with the School. To date, their webinars have attracted more than 570 attendees, and the organization has gained or renewed 112 new members. Plans are underway for a new marketplace that will connect members and alumni with opportunities for career growth, board memberships, and roles as HBS case protagonists. Over the summer, members worked with the Case Writing and Research Group to help identify more than 45 potential Black case protagonists.

HBSAAA Co-presidents Anderson and Sara Clarke (MBA 1997) and AASU Co-president Alexis Jackson (MBA 2021) spearheaded a new mentorship program to virtually connect current students with alumni for career advice, networking, and community. In January, 51 first- and second-year MBA students and alumni were matched by career aspiration and professional experience. While the program is still in its infancy, AASU alumni representative and program organizer Cathy Chukwulebe (MBA 2021) hopes that future iterations expand the pairing criteria to include leadership roles, community cultivation, inclusivity, and location.

“The program is a way to create a bridge and ongoing relationships between the student population and alumni,” said Chukwulebe. “The two years we’re on campus goes by quicker than we think. It's important for us to start forming relationships and seeing what it means to be a leader and mentor.” For Chukwulebe, it’s also a way to extend gratitude to a formative aspect of her HBS experience. “The AASU community has been one of the strongest personal, professional, and social communities that I've been a part of. These are my friends, and this is where I feel like I belong. This is a way for me to pay it forward for my peers and help the community extend beyond our time here.”

Four members of HBSAAA are on the Dean’s Anti-Racism Task Force, and the entire organization is excited and engaged as a key partner towards driving the actionability, accountability, and measurement of the racial equity plan, said Anderson.

“Our alums are all over the country and world, and are in roles to advance—and cheerlead—every aspect of the plan,” concurred Long.

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