At HBS: Giving Generously of Time, Talent, and Treasure
How does a school of management manage itself? Here is the latest installment of a new series called Up Close, featuring the day-to-day work of the School and the people who do it.
22 Feb 2018   Zeenat Potia

In his book Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing, Harvard Business School professor Joseph Badaracco extolls the virtues of the “quiet leader.” These are not your typical heroes who are always in the limelight. Quiet leaders, as Badaracco explains, work on lots of small and medium-sized endeavors that take leadership, effort, and patience. Their motivations reflect the words of the ancient Hebrew philosopher and theologian Hillel the Elder, words Badaracco recalls in his book, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But when I am for myself, then what am I?” Thus, although we must take care of ourselves, at the same time we are obliged to be bigger than ourselves.

Harvard Business School has a long history of giving back, and this spirit is reflected in the work and activities of MBA and Doctoral students, Executive Education participants, faculty, alumni, and staff.

HBS faculty members have served on nonprofit boards for many years. Kevin Mohan, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration, for example, serves as chair of Boys Town, an organization committed to improving the lives of children. Prof. Emeritus Warren McFarlan served for over ten years on hospital boards in Boston, including a stint as chair of Mount Auburn Hospital. Both McFarlan and Prof. Herman “Dutch” Leonard have also written extensively about nonprofit governance. Also, many faculty have presented lectures for Allston-Brighton neighbors at the Harvard Education Portal, including Tarun Khanna, Karen Mills, Kristen Mugford, Steven Rogers, and Len Schlesinger.

Volunteer consulting teams from the MBA Consulting for Impact club and the HBS Alumni Association of Greater Boston’s Community Action Partners each have provided countless hours of free consulting to local non-profits, and they host several of those meetings on campus, including at the Harvard i-Lab.

As for students, the Social Enterprise Club’s mission is to inspire, educate, and connect leaders who will create social change in the world. The Volunteer Corps is involved in giving back by regularly sending MBA students to mentor pupils in the Gardner Pilot Academy.

The Armed Forces Alumni Association, which is made up for students whose members are alumni of armed services from all countries has a long standing collaboration with the New England Center for Homeless Veterans. Annually, they put up a military style tent on the Spangler Center lawn to raise funds for the Center. As well, the School has provided sponsorship for the NECHV’s annual dinner, which is attended by some members of the AFAA and veterans on the HBS staff, such as Chief of Operations, Andy O’Brien.

Many staff members are involved in numerous volunteer efforts that embody Badaracco’s qualities of “quiet leadership.” Agatha Oehlkers in HBS Human Resources manages that department’s volunteer program. She coordinates opportunities for HBS volunteers, with options ranging from Habitat for Humanity and Cradles to Crayons to the Mobile Market Food Bank at the Charles River Community Health Center and a pen pals program with the Gardner Pilot Academy. “Most of our partnerships are with organizations in the local Allston community, and so it’s rewarding to have an impact right here in our neighborhood,” Oehlkers said. “Working at HBS gives employees a mission-driven focus, and these volunteer programs provide a way to extend that mission beyond the School. By mentoring students at the Gardner Pilot Academy and providing children with the supplies they need to thrive through Cradles to Crayons, we are making a difference in the lives of future leaders.”

The MBA & Doctoral Cares Committee, which has been around for a couple of decades, has routinely sourced volunteer opportunities for HBS staff. Knowledge and Library Services has given back to Community Cooks, Drumlin Farms, the Greater Boston Food Bank, and other organizations. With a dedicated community-building team that focuses on service and morale-building initiatives for their department, IT has organized a cross-departmental food drive for the Allston Brighton Food Pantry. In their first effort in 2015, they donated over 1,000 pounds of canned goods. During the past two winters, IT and Operations combined forces, and organized a friendly competition to collect items for donation to Cradles for Crayons for deserving kids.

According to Gabe Handel, Assistant Dean for Administrative and Educational Affairs, “It speaks volumes about the HBS community that the same spirit of connection and collaboration people feel within the School extends to individuals’ and departments’ engagement with the neighborhood and the city.”

We talked with a few super volunteer staff members and asked them about their experiences:

All of us at HBS are privileged to have the jobs and community we do, so I find it very rewarding to give some of that back to our neighbors here in the Boston area. I’ve volunteered at Cradles to Crayons at least three times and participated in the on-campus bike building event in 2017. Even just a couple hours of your time volunteering is an indication of your actively choosing to make a difference in the world. That small choice could change a child’s year for the better or could help inspire others to volunteer their own time – all creating a greater net effect than you might imagine. Aside from the obvious benefits of giving time and energy to a good cause, I’ve found that volunteering through HBS is a wonderful way to bond with your coworkers and feel connected to a broader portion of the community.

  • Melissa Duncan
  • Faculty Support Specialist

I enjoy doing things that involve giving back to the community or helping others. Sharing the experiences with others at HBS not only makes the volunteer effort more enjoyable but often results in forming new relationships with people I may not interact with much in my role on campus. I’ve volunteered once at Cradles to Crayons, once at the Greater Boston Food Mobile Market, and twice with Habitat for Humanity. Educating leaders doesn’t have to be limited to students. Staff members who volunteer in the community are the embodiment of the mission; they are leaders making a difference in the world. The volunteer experiences tend to be humbling as well as rewarding. It helps me appreciate the opportunities I’ve been afforded and drives me to continue volunteering.

  • Jason Gerdom
  • Technology Support Services

Mobile Market is a good reminder that at HBS we are part of a very diverse community in Boston. It is so nice to be able to help in a small way. The doctors at the clinic where the market is held have noticed an improvement in the health of the participants, especially the children. Any time I volunteer outside of HBS, I am happy to be an ambassador for the School and show that we care about our community.

  • Erika McCaffrey
  • (Erika is a recently retired staff member who has stayed involved in volunteer programs.)

I have a pen pal from the Gardner Charter School here in Allston. By writing and visiting with the students, we get a chance to give back to the community. I especially enjoy the end-of -year cookout on the Spangler Lawn. The students love coming to campus and visiting the different buildings.

  • Margaret Mitropolous
  • Assistant Director, Financial Operations and Reimbursements

Being able to interact with the community that surrounds us is a wonderful experience. I get to meet people, hear their stories, and learn from them. I like feeling connected and being able to give back in any way I can. I also get to meet other people from HBS that I might not normally run across, so it helps contribute to camaraderie at work as well. I have volunteered at several places, and each one has been a great experience. I’ve been lucky to work with other HBS staff, such as clothes “shopping,” at the clothing swap, and volunteering at Cradles to Crayons, and I’ve had wonderful face time with people in the Greater Boston area handing out food at the Mobile Food Bank. I have had nothing but positive experiences from my time volunteering. I’ve left each session happy and wanting to do more. If one hour a month can generate that much positivity, imagine what we could do if we all gave a little more. We all have busy lives and hectic schedules, but if we can devote one hour a week to doing something that helps the greater good, we would all be better off.

  • Krys Mroczkowski
  • Assistant Director, Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator

Below is a list of ongoing volunteer opportunities at HBS. For anyone who’s interested in joining in, please contact Agatha Oelkers ( in HR unless noted otherwise. Most of these opportunities require only a couple hours of your time in a week or any given volunteer period. And we guarantee you’ll walk away from these events with a big smile on your face.

Pen pals program - Every academic year, HBS partners with our neighbor, the Gardner Pilot Academy, on the pen pals program. The goal of this program is to help students practice and improve their writing skills as well as to provide them with an opportunity to interact with adult role models. HBS staff correspond with students once a month and have a chance to meet their pen pals during a cookout at HBS to celebrate the end of the school year.

Habitat for Humanity - Since 1976, Habitat has built more than 125,000 houses in more than 80 countries, including some 45,000 houses across the United States. HBS staff are often invited to participate in the construction of homes -- no experience is necessary.

Cradles to Crayons - Cradles to Crayons (C2C) collects and distributes used and/or new clothing and supplies to deserving children ages 1-12. Their mission is to provide children some of the most important basics of life for free. In addition to sending volunteer teams to help with various projects, HBS helpers also run donation drives on campus to collect clothing and supplies for children.

Mobile Market Food Bank - Join colleagues at the Charles River Community Health Center (just up the street on Western Ave) to help package and distribute food from the Greater Boston Bank. HBS sends volunteers on the third Tuesday of every month.

Other programs/partnerships - Green Team Clothing Swap, Boston Shines (an annual city-wide clean-up event), Toys for Tots (an annual drive run in December to help provide toys for children at the holidays), Cosmetics drive-run in February (to collect cosmetics and toiletries for women’s shelters), Walk for Hunger (that supports the Greater Boston Food Bank). In addition, department-specific volunteer activities occur throughout the year.

Harvard University wide volunteer opportunities

Read more about how the School is having an impact in the community.


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