07 Apr 2020
MBA Students Lead the Fight Against COVID-19
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On March 23, as a result of the global pandemic, the Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA program switched from in-person to online learning for the first time in the School’s history. This swift change to the community and campus experience left many students wondering how they might be able to help. Two second-year MBA students, Amina Edwards (MBA 2020) and Sarika Mendu (MBA 2020), felt that there had to be a way to put the talent and resources at HBS to use in a meaningful way. As a result, they created MBAs Fight COVID-19, a matching platform built in partnership with Catalant, a Boston technology company led by Rob Biederman (MBA 2014) and Pat Petitti (MBA 2014) that connects MBA students with projects that need MBA skills. We spoke with Amina and Sarika about what they hope to achieve.

How did the idea for MBAs Fight COVID-19 come about?

Sarika: Last semester, we both took Public Entrepreneurship, a second-year elective course taught by Senior Lecturer Mitch Weiss. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, fellow course participants and Prof. Weiss came together to discuss how to mobilize. MBAs Fight COVID-19 was one of many student initiatives born from this discussion. We’ve been blown away not only by the sheer size of the MBA response (100+ students signed up in the first week of launch!), but by how thoughtful our peers have been in submitting their stories of why and how they want to contribute.

What types of projects are participants working on and how are you growing the list of projects that need assistance?

Amina: It has been inspiring to see how ready students are to help others, especially because many students are facing personal challenges themselves. We currently have more than 150 MBA students working on more than 30 projects, both here in Massachusetts and around the country. Examples of projects include:

Working with small businesses to access funding in the wake of the CARES act and scaling best practices to cities and businesses across the country

Deploying digital health tools with the innovation team of a large US healthcare provider

Collecting first-hand accounts of how quarantine procedures were enforced in the Hubei Province and elsewhere in China (with Associate Professor Meg Rithmire)

Researching how banks that serve low-income consumers are responding to customer needs. The faculty/student team is documenting public responses to the crisis by the largest 100 banks’ commitments to waive deposit account fees (with Assistant Professor Emily Williams and Professor Marco Di Maggio)

Sarika: We’ve also been working across HBS and beyond to identify organizations that need student support. The Social Enterprise Initiative, Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, Young American Leaders Program, and 15 HBS faculty members, serving as both project sponsors and mentors, have been instrumental in identifying ways that we can support the business community. Several of our project sponsors are also HBS alums, including the CEO of Tenent Health Carolyn Jackson (MBA 2002), and Managing Director of Public Policy and External Engagement at Harlem Children’s Zone Hayling Price (MBA/MPP 2016). It is amazing to see collaboration being forged in so many ways.

Given that this pandemic situation is constantly changing, what are the short and long-term goals for this taskforce?

Amina: We are inspired by medical professionals that are fighting coronavirus on the front lines. Our goal is to provide support wherever we can. We believe business leaders can play an important role in times of crisis—and MBA students can, too. During this pandemic, non-profits, businesses, and governments will require tremendous support, not only today, but also over the next several years. We’ve spoken to student leaders at more than 10 business schools across the country so far and are excited to see how we can grow this effort together.

How are other students on campus responding to the crisis?

Sarika: MBA student leaders have stepped up across campus to lead many initiatives. The MBA Student Association Community Team, led by Billy Tabrizi (MBA 2020), has launched a series of virtual talks with HBS faculty members, which kicked off with Senior Fellow Arthur Brooks talking about how to stay happy during this crisis. Vimala Nandula (MBA 2020) has spearheaded gathering a coalition of student clubs to donate a portion of their club’s funding to organizations in financial need. Clubs have already raised more than $170,000 to donate to COVID-related causes. Steve Moore (MBA 2020) and Amy Villaseñor (MBA 2020) have written an open letter to Fortune 500 CEOs on corporate responsibility during this time of crisis.

Amina: It’s been great to see entrepreneurial responses to the crisis across campus. GiftForward is a student startup that’s helping small businesses sell gift cards to help them bring in some revenue during the crisis. CommunityVs is connecting those that need help with organizations who can offer it. We have students who are teaching online workout classes, and another that has started a fund for COVID-19 protective equipment. Students have even partnered with experts at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to launch Corona Comments, a daily newsletter that focuses on key coronavirus subject areas. Seeing the HBS community reach out to care for those in need has been the silver lining of this crisis.

MBA students who are looking to get involved or organizations that are looking for support should visit https://www.mbasfightcovid19.com/ or email MBAsFightCOVID19@gmail.com.

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