SHINING A LIGHT ON COMMUNITY SERVICE
Socially Responsible Business Club works to add
"I have the capacity to do more in the world than be a capitalist," remarks Brian Chu, SM '01. Chu is explaining why he's been working to add community leadership to Sloan's agenda. He and eight other students, members of Professor Ed Schein's change management course, are engaged in a project to find socially responsible outlets for Sloan students to apply their business and leadership skills. Chu seeks to gain administrative and faculty support for offering academic credit to students who do volunteer consulting with nonprofits.
He and two other team members also cochair Sloan's newly revived Socially Responsible Business Club (SRBC). The SRBC was started a few years ago to shine a light on community service within the Sloan community. It subsequently became inactive, but was revived this year by Executive Director Wendy Maldonado, SM '01; Chu; and four other second-year students, all of whom share cochair responsibilities. Today, about one-third of the students in the MBA program are SRBC members.
MBA skills with a twist
Among the SRBC initiatives is a club-sponsored speaker series. The series features nonprofit and for-profit leaders discussing management topics with a socially responsible twist. One session, for example, dealt with measuring and evaluating results in the context of improving donor strategies. Another showed how a for-profit model can work in a traditionally nonprofit role.
For students eager to roll up their sleeves, SRBC offers hands-on programs and activities like the City Year Servathon, work with at-risk youth in Roxbury, and Habitat for Humanity. And there are lots of one-on-one opportunities: 36 first- and second-year students are tutoring or mentoring kids in the Cambridge school system.
Some SRBC members hone their management skills by working as volunteer consultants with local nonprofits. Believing projects like these are just as worthy of academic credit as for-profit consulting, Chu has started talking with administration and faculty about tying service learning to Sloan's leadership skills curriculum.
Why they care
What makes some students look beyond their own futures to the needs of the greater community? For Wendy Maldonado, community service was an integral part of her high school and college life. She's missed it at Sloan and wonders if other students feel the same way. The more she probes, the more untapped interest she finds among classmates who have also done community service in the past.
Brian Chu worked as CIO for Boston Health Care for the Homeless before coming to Sloan. He views his Sloan education as a tool for serving the community in a leadership role. And he thinks other students might feel the same way, given the opportunity. "We're expected to become community leaders," he explains. "So I'd like to create outlets for students to develop leadership skills from more than just a professional standpoint."
The question is whether or not there exists a critical mass of students interested in service. Maldonado acknowledges that MBA students anywhere tend to be motivated by self-interest. On the other hand, she observes, "Sloan is known for its collaborative culture—it's not such a stretch to carry that into the larger community." Which is exactly what SRBC activities and programs have done. The aim is to awaken the dormant interest of those who have done community service and pique the curiosity of those who have not.
Building for the future
SRBC cochairs are determined to keep the club alive after they graduate this year. To that end, they're working to lay a foundation of supportive faculty and administrators. And they're building a team of first-year students to carry the torch. One of those is Mark Giordono, SM '02, a returned Peace Corps volunteer who came away from his Peace Corps service believing that the business sector can be an effective starting point for social change. He came to Sloan because he wanted to dovetail his MBA with socially responsible activities. Sloan was the only school visited where he "got the sense that people here respect a good idea, no matter what sector it targets."
Giordono is one of a cadre of first-year students opting to consult with inner-city firms over the midterm. When asked why he chose this over a more typical consulting project, Giordono replies, "If I can help an inner-city business thrive, it creates a ripple effect that goes beyond the value of my work."
As they work to promote the notion that service learning sharpens leadership skills, both Chu and Maldonado agree that their own leadership skills have improved. Explains Maldonado, "I've learned how to assess a situation, take some risks, and spearhead efforts to get a core group committed to an idea. It's been a great personal development experience." She expects to see community service become an integral part of a Sloan education, much as global awareness is today. "Recognizing the consequences of our actions within the global community is part of the air we breathe at Sloan. I would like to see the same thing happen with service."