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2007 HBS Service Immersion to New Orleans, LA

40 HBS students embarked on the business school experience of a lifetime, to positively impact lives that have been affected by the devastation of hurricane Katrina by applying highly sought after business skills learned through classroom instruction and work experience.

It was football fever time in New Orleans. On January 3, the LSU Tigers played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Sugar Bowl, one of the most important events this year in a city still struggling to revive its largely tourism based economy. The entire French Quarter was packed with fans clutching hurricanes, popular local rum-based concoctions, stopping in and out of crowded bars and music venues. As strands of gold and purple beads rained down from the balconies of Bourbon Street it was easy, for a moment, to forget that the massive physical, economic and psychological damage of Hurricane Katrina is still very much real.

From January 3 to 13, 40 Harvard Business School students along with four faculty and four staffers, traveled to New Orleans for the 2nd Annual HBS Service Immersion. What we saw was a place full of tremendous hope, promise and resilience that still has a long way to go. The signs of the enormity of the Katrina devastation were everywhere. Thousands of former New Orleans residents are still scattered in trailer park camps around the state and around the country. Abandoned houses with chunks of roof torn off still bear orange watermarks from the levee flooding as high up as the second floor. Business and government leaders are still trying to untangle a knot of interrelated issues including: transportation problems, the severe tourism slow down, the redevelopment of critical infrastructure like education and health services, and a lack of affordable rental housing for the working poor that is keeping many who want to come home away.

Anthony D’Avella (OA), who went on the trip noted, “I can’t think of an area of the United States that needs our help more right now. Too many people have forgotten that the crisis isn’t over. This is a tremendous educational opportunity for students to get out of the classroom and learn.”

And get out of the classroom the trekkers did! HBS students worked with a number of local organizations including Louisiana Association for Non-Profit Organizations, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Dillard University, New Schools for New Orleans and the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Students worked on a diverse range of projects. One group canvassed the struggling Middle City neighborhood, developing a survey and proposal for redeveloping a blighted urban commercial corridor. Others counseled underserved students at Dillard, one of the local universities that suffered the most destruction due to Katrina. Others developed affordable housing strategies, wrote strategic planning documents related to serving displaced people in local trailer parks and helped write business plans for education organizations looking to reform a local school system that was already widely considered one of the lowest performing in the nation pre-Katrina.

For many service immersion participants, our time in New Orleans was a unique opportunity to see how the specific skills and experiences that HBS has imbued us with can be used to add value to amazing Louisiana organizations that are strapped for cash and people power. As business students we can leverage our resources-business skills, strategy consulting know-how, financial savvy and, yes, even our dexterity with a good looking PowerPoint deck-to create tremendous social impact.

Part of the mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who will make a difference in their companies, communities and beyond. The New Orleans Service Immersion was one opportunity to see this mission spring to life. Our trip would not have been possible without the generosity and support of the Greater New Orleans Hotel Association (especially Darrius Gray), all the hotel rooms that were completely donated by the Holiday Inn French Quarter, Intercontinental, Hilton Riverside, Royal Sonesta and Astor Crowne Plaza and, last but certainly not least, all of our local program partners.

The 2008 HBS Service Immersion will return to New Orleans, LA in January 2008. For more information, please contact Sarah Tudryn at studryn@mba2008.hbs.edu

The HBS Service Immersion Committee would like to especially thank Professors Stacey Childress and Dutch Leonard and MBA Administrators Steve Nelson, Kelly Diamond, Betsy Brink and Laura Moon for their unwavering support throughout the execution of this 2007 HBS Service Immersion. We could not have done it without them.

February 12, 2007
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