The mission of Harvard Business School (HBS) is to educate leaders who will make a difference in the world. That mission was put to work in New Orleans, La., in early January. During a trip that was the first step of a long-term, student-led relief initiative, a group of 57 MBA students, administrators and faculty traveled to New Orleans January 3 to contribute their efforts and expertise to the city’s rebuilding and resurgence.
Working in various teams, trek participants were involved in a wide range of activities, including consulting projects with the Economic Development Committee of the Bring New Orleans Back (BNOB) Commission; community debris removal in the 9th Ward with HillTop Rescue and Relief; economic development with the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta and Operation Hope; assessment of the public school system; and higher education strategy with Dillard University. The group enjoyed ardent support from many businesses, non-profit organizations, and government officials based in the region in preparation for the trek, including the New Orleans Hotel Association, which sponsored all hotel rooms for student trek members.
Doug Ahlers, member of the Economic Development Committee for the BNOB Commission, expressed his support for the involvement of the HBS team, saying: “Never before has a modern American city suffered the enormity of devastation as did New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina and never before has an American city had such a rare opportunity to redesign itself. Such an enormous challenge and opportunity must be met with the best minds and the best thinking. We are fortunate to have a dedicated team of Harvard Business School students and faculty to help us with the task of rebuilding this great American city.”
Recognizing the opportunity to mobilize support for rebuilding efforts in the region and to provide aid to those affected by the disaster, several HBS students formed the Student Association Hurricane Relief Committee in early September to develop ways to help. In addition to launching fundraising efforts that gathered over $40,000 in 6 weeks, the 15-member committee sought to identify projects where unique skills and experiences could be leveraged to make a real difference.
To that end, the committee planned this trek during winter break to establish relationships with business and government leaders in New Orleans, gather and assess information on the current situation, and leverage the resources of the greater Harvard University community.
Hurricane Relief Committee member Anthony D’Avella stated, “We knew that we could not solve the problems of New Orleans in one week. But we did begin to learn from leaders and citizens of the affected region in order to understand how HBS and other schools in the Harvard community could help in the months and years to come.”
The Hurricane Relief Committee envisions a long-term student commitment to the city and people of New Orleans through the creation of field studies, summer internships, case studies, and employment opportunities. HBS alumni who are from Louisiana or who reside there were also invited to join trek participants and discuss opportunities for future involvement.
Professor Rick Ruback, senior associate dean, MBA program chair and trek participant, praised the students’ initiative and involvement: “I think that these students – working closely with MBA program administration – have done a fantastic job. The trek gave all of us an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the recovery efforts.”
The SA Hurricane Relief Committee would like to thank the following people, organizations and clubs for their vital support to make this trek possible:
The 48 RC and EC students who gave up their intersession break to lend their energy and talent to the rebuilding of New Orleans. We cannot thank you enough.
HBS faculty, administration and staff that participated on this trek alongside us and supported us for the days and months leading up to the trek – thank you so much for being on our team: Steve Nelson, Kelly Diamond, Rick Ruback, Dave Thomas, Stacey Childress, Dutch Leonard and Melissa Tritter
HBS faculty, administration and staff that took the time to meet with us last year and ensure that our trek was a success: Paul Marshall, Laura Moon, Margot Dushin, Jim Aisner, Kerry Parke, Betsy Brink and Richard Tedlow
The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative for helping us think about longer term efforts: Mike Van Rooyen and Jennifer Leaning
The Student Association leadership for their generous $2,000 donation to fund transportation costs: Akram Zaman, Alex Michael, Gita Swamy and Julie Scully
The Southeast Club for their kind $500 donation to fund transportation costs.
And HBS for sponsoring our opening welcome dinner.
We could not have done it without you! Thank you so very much!
The SA Hurricane Relief Committee
Silo: “Bring New Orleans Back” Economic Development Committee
Fifteen students worked on two projects for the mayor’s “Bring New Orleans Back” Commission. The first team was asked by the mayor’s commission to submit recommendations that would create an attractive, dynamic and diverse business climate. The team wrote a report that included the proposal of an independent economic development corporation. As envisioned, the corporation would act in coordination with city government and serve as the primary vehicle for economic development and growth. Its mission would be to rebuild and revitalize New Orleans in the short-term and promote sustained long-term economic growth through partnerships with civic, business and community leaders. The proposal was delivered to the mayor’s commission last week and is currently under review.
The second project collected and analyzed New Orleans’ key industries. The team evaluated the economic impact and necessity of various industries throughout the Greater New Orleans Area. In addition, the team provided a framework through which the industries could be redeveloped, including offering possible incentives, funding requirements and necessary stakeholder commitments. The team’s report will be presented to the public by the mayor’s commission on Friday, January 20.
Silo: Economic Development
Imagine that your business lost all its suppliers, employees and customers in just one week. That’s exactly what happened in New Orleans, a city driven by small businesses (fewer than 60 companies in the city employed more than 100 people before the storm). HBS teams consulted four local and one national non- profit, but these weren’t your average consulting gig as trek members multi-tasked between writing business plans and grant proposals, answering phones, cold-calling churches and running to the post office. Each organization was very well run, each was short staffed, and each was trying to rebuild itself while at the same time reshape its mission in the wake of the hurricane.
Elizabeth Rha and Eric Wong brainstormed long-range strategy and helped prepare a board presentation for KIDsmART, a program that formerly ran art programs for nearly 2,000 students in New Orleans’ public schools. Steve Holmberg and Melissa Hayes wrote a business plan and funding proposal for the new Minority Business Development Collaborative. Andrei Muresianu, Vicki Shier, and Will McMullan revamped the website and communications tools for The Green Project, a non-profit helping homeowners recycle, reuse, or sell architecturally significant construction elements from destroyed houses.
Rahul Vinnakota and Lauren Wagner worked as volunteers for Hope Coalition America, part of the national Operation Hope financial literacy program, in the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Saint Bernard Parish. Working out of a tent in the parking lot of a still-shuttered Wal-Mart, Lauren and Rahul helped affected people connect with the right financial resources to get back on their feet. Tawan Davis, Adam Weber, Anthony D’Avella, Pa
rker Hume, and Mike Stern worked with the Hope Community Credit Union/Enterprise Corporation of the Delta to reach out to area non-profits and churches to offer financial education and banking services to people not traditionally served by banks. This team also ate lunch across the street at Cafe Reconcile, where good food and innuendo were a daily occurrence.
We worked much harder on the trip than anyone anticipated, but we also learned far more. In New Orleans there is a unique opportunity to build a great and good city, though it will take years to come. We are privileged to have been a small part of that effort.
Silo: Public School Education Reform
The Education Reform silo had an amazing Trek. The devastation left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has uncovered a remarkable opportunity: a chance to redesign a failing public education system.
We began the week with a morning meeting with Tulane University President Dr. Cowen who was head of the Education Steering Committee on the Bring New Orleans Back Commission. He and his assistant Shannon Jones gave us an overview of the new model for public education in the city of New Orleans. After we had a better grasp on the vision of the redesigned public school system, we left Uptown to head Downtown to meet the Principal and staff of McDonogh 35, a public school struggling to find its place in the new model.
While the city would prefer that McDonogh 35 re-open as a “regular” public school, the principal and staff would rather seize the opportunity to become a charter school. Becoming a charter school would mean that the principal would become the equivalent of a CEO in addition to his role as principal. HBS hopes to help McDonogh 35 become a charter school and refine its charter school application through the creation of a field study for an EC student this term.
After our meeting with McDonogh 35, we crossed over to the West Bank to meet with Michelle Lewis’ team at Alvarez and Marsal, the turnaround firm that was hired pre-Katrina to remedy the public schools. There, we received a tour of their “office,” which consisted of a small classroom with miniature-sized desks at Behrman Charter School, one of the newly-chartered schools in the Algiers Charter School Assocation. The HBS team was then divided into two groups. Those members of the HBS team who were knowledgeable about education and charter schools gave their recommendations on key performance measures and curriculum ideas.
At the same time, others who were more experienced in marketing and human resources were given the daunting task of helping Alvarez and Marsal position and advertise the job openings that would be available in the Algiers Charter School Association once Alvarez and Marsal’s contract ends in March. These openings would present the right EC student with an amazing opportunity to revolutionize an industry, revitalize a community and shape his/her career.
The day culminated in a dinner at The Upperline Restaurant with Sagan George, the Managing Director at Alvarez and Marsal who is overseeing the turnaround of the New Orleans public schools. He recounted the dire state of recordkeeping and accounting he found when first installed as COO of the New Orleans public schools. All in all, it was a tremendously productive, yet exhausting first day.
The remainder of the week was spent cleaning up two of the city’s top public schools, Benjamin Franklin High School and Lusher School, both now converted from traditional public schools to charter schools. Ben Franklin was scheduled to open January 17, the 300th birthday of Ben Franklin himself. While the second and third floors of the school looked just as they had for the past 10 years, the first floor was completely devastated by the storm. The school lost an expensive TV studio, many musical instruments, its library and gymnasium. The students would soon have gym class in a new location: a classroom on the third floor. Lusher, since it is located Uptown rather than on the Lakefront, fared much better. Our main task was redistributing desks and chairs from one classroom to another since the number of students per class was expected to change.
We balanced manual labor with evening hours developing the curriculum and HR suggestions we would present to Michelle Lewis on the final day of our trek. After researching and brainstorming, we came up with a detailed plan for curriculum, and HR and presented it to Michelle Lewis in an hour-long meeting the final day.
We hope to continue to make an impact on the situation in New Orleans by informing other business schools of our trek and encouraging them to organize one of their own. Additionally, Professors David Thomas and Stacey Childress have been instrumental in connecting McDonogh 35 and Alvarez and Marsal with key people and organizations that will serve as valuable resources as they execute their plans.
Members of the HBS Education Reform Silo included: Nikki Baker, Christopher Kim, Monica Lee, Brigit McEvily, Jill Regen, Heather Thompson and Professors David Thomas and Stacey Childress.
Silo: Higher Education – Dillard University
As part of the Higher Education silo, Anthony D’Avella, Jean-Philippe Odunlami, Steve Nelson and Professor David Thomas met with various people at Dillard University. Dillard is a historically black undergraduate liberal arts institution located in the Gentilly area of New Orleans. The Dillard’s motto to develop graduates who are “concerned with improving the human condition” seemed to make it a perfect fit for HBS. Over the years, Dillard has had a considerable impact on its graduates, many of whom came from under-privileged areas, and the local community.
First, the group was given a tour of the university campus, which had sustained considerable damage. Returning the (previously) gorgeous campus and its “Avenue of the Oaks” to pre-Katrina condition will cost over $400M, a considerable amount when compared to the university’s $40M endowment. During the flood, buildings sat in 8-plus feet of water, so entire floors, technology systems and records were destroyed, while mold spread throughout the hallways.
After the tour, the group headed downtown to the New Orleans Riverside Hilton where Dillard University temporarily offices. Student registration was in full effect, taking place in one of several large conference rooms. Despite the circumstances, the mood was positive, as students were excited seeing their friends again, University staff was pleased by the turnout, and Hilton representatives were excited to have the business after a difficult slow period. In fact, Dillard expected 800 students out of 2,000 to come back, but more than 1,100 showed up. The press was also quite interested in the situation, as cameras from CNN and Associated Press writers interviewed students and staff.
Subsequently, Anthony, JP, Steve and David met with Dillard’s Provost Bettye Parker-Smith and a group of representative from the President’s Office, the Division of Business and Career Services. After discussing the current state of the university, the participants talked about ways in which the two institutions could partner. The overarching need for Dillard seemed to be strategic planning, as most resources have been tied up in day-to-day efforts. In addition, Dillard expressed an interest in receiving assistance with economic development projects, which is key for the university given its role in the Gentilly area, one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in New Orleans. Additionally, opportunities to provide advanced training to Dillard staff and faculty through some of HBS’ executive education programs were explored. Finally, the Division of Business discussed the challenges it faces in rebuilding its infrastructure, as computers, software, conference rooms and other common business resources have been wiped out by Katrina.
In conclusion, the Dillard silo sprung the beginning of a great partnership between the two institutions. Field study and summer internshi
p opportunities are expected to be formalized shortly. A case study may also be in the works, as well as economic development projects and academic exchanges. Importantly, Dillard will provide HBS students an outlet to apply leadership, business, development and strategic planning skills in a challenging setting with immediate and rewarding impact.
Silo: Community Re-building
A total of 16 students, partners and administrators (listed below) participated in physical relief efforts with HillTop Rescue and Relief, an organization focused on providing assistance to individuals and families affected by natural disasters. Most of the homes in impacted areas are not yet ready for rebuilding so the group focused on preparing homes for rebuilding assessments performed by federal and local agencies. Specifically, the team helped homeowners remove furniture, personal belongings, debris, and mud. Most homes were then completely gutted, down to the frame, depending on the height of water damage.
We started in the Upper 9th Ward where homes had four to six feet of water before moving to Chalmette where homes had over 12 feet of water, as well as oil from a nearby refinery. The team completed five homes that are now ready to be treated for mold and inspected by FEMA for potential rebuilding. Although this was challenging physical work, we were fortunate to spend time with remarkable homeowners and other relief volunteers from around the country who shared their experiences with us.
Participants included Cassie Kearney, Alexis DePree, Andrew Marwaha, Alissa Marwaha, Chris Rafferty, Chris Staudt, Davis Walmsley, Jamie Linden, Kate Lavin, Lauren Walsh, Mike Morse, Blaire McCorduck, Reese Neumann, Sonali Pathak, Chris Osgood and Kelly Diamond.
By Anthony D’Avella and Nikki Baker (Overview), Cassie Kearney (Community Rebuilding), Mike Stern and Parker Hume (Economic Development), Brendan Kennealey, Lydie Hudson and Steven Denny (Bring New Orleans Back Commission), Nikki Baker and Heather Thompson (Public School Education), Jean-Philippe Odunlami and Anthony D’Avella (Higher Education: Dillard University)