30 May 2018

Harvard Business School Holds First “HBS Hacks” Event in San Francisco


HBS alumni gather for the first "HBS Hacks" event

BOSTON—Four Harvard Business School (HBS) organizations, including the Social Enterprise Initiative, the HBS Association of Northern California’s (HBSANC) Community Partners (alumni who apply their business and management skills as pro bono consultants working on strategic projects in the nonprofit sector), the California Research Center, and the Managing the Future of Work research project, teamed up recently in San Francisco to present the first “HBS Hacks” event, an innovative, hands-on, interactive occasion that brought together HBS alumni from diverse backgrounds to tackle social challenges using elements of a tech hackathon and principles of design thinking.

Focusing on solving problems relating to the future of work in San Francisco, HBS Hacks involved more than 70 HBS alumni in collaboration with the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Google.org, IDEO, California community colleges, and Goodwill of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin, to brainstorm ideas and propose solutions to a panel of judges for managing the transition of Bay Area workers to a more automated work environment. Amid news reports of increasing inequality and the escalating encroachment of robotics and artificial intelligence upon traditional employment activities, many HBS alumni were eager to use their knowledge and skills to have input and impact on these important issues.

HBS Hacks divided participants into nine teams to focus on three different scenarios. The teams were curated to bring a diverse range of experience and perspectives to each challenge. Three fictional scenarios reflected plausible imminent situations the Bay Area community may face: a grocery store displacing dozens of workers by automating its checkout process; a professional services firm adopting software that automates its bookkeeping process, threatening the jobs of employees in its accounting group; and an underprivileged high school seniors assessing their options for post-graduation employment.

“We know that HBS alumni are eager to address social issues and want a meaningful way to engage in solving the challenges facing our communities,” said Margaret Busse, Associate Director of HBS’s Social Enterprise Initiative. “Organizing HBS Hacks was an exciting way to generate ideas and create a real dialogue among the various constituencies involved.”

Participants were first briefed by representatives of the City of San Francisco, the California community college system, and leading nonprofit organizations about their capabilities and challenges. A discussion based on a case study written by the School’s California Research Center helped ground participants in the facts about the impending automation of various industries and the complexity of its potential impact. Facilitators from IDEO and other organizations coached teams in design thinking techniques. “The future of work presents challenges to communities that can only be met by collective action,” explained HBS professor William Kerr, faculty co-chair of the HBS Managing the Future of Work project and co-author of the case study. “Business leaders must be part of the solution, and HBS Hacks got us all thinking about creative responses to important problems.”

For the grocery store worker scenario, the judges chose Alumni Team “Baker” as the winner for their “Talented” website, which enabled soon-to-be-displaced individuals to meet with local employers with job openings and also connected them with training sources if they needed some skill upgrades for new positions.

In the bookkeepers challenge, Team “Morgan” took the prize with their ASPIRE prototype, which used a website matching approach connecting bookkeepers with training opportunities from local educators, nonprofits, and companies in need of particular skill sets.

The winning team for helping underprivileged high school seniors looking for post-graduation employment was Team “Shad” with Future Finders, a comprehensive online, real time marketplace for matching high school graduates with projects, internships, and jobs as well as ongoing learning opportunities for sustainable employment.

All these ideas did not end with the day’s event. HBSANC’s Community Partners will work with key HBS Hacks participants to follow up on the winning solutions to further develop and test them in the real world. “This event gave our alumni in northern California the opportunity to increase their knowledge of what really works and also makes it possible for them to remain involved in addressing these collective challenges,” said Elaine MacDonald, the Executive Director of HBSANC’s Community Partners.

About the Social Enterprise Initiative: The HBS Social Enterprise Initiative applies innovative business practices and managerial disciplines to drive sustained, high-impact social change. It is grounded in the mission of Harvard Business School and aims to educate, support, and inspire leaders across all sectors to tackle society’s toughest challenges and make a difference in the world.


Margaret Busse

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.