The Volunteer Consulting Organization (VCO) is unique among what seems like millions of student clubs at HBS. The reason: it makes a significant impact on people outside of HBS.
VCO attracts students that are interested in volunteerism as well as many interested in consulting, and a wide variety of non-profit organizations hosted VCO projects last year, from education to healthcare. My team’s client was the Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (YEA), a nonprofit aimed at helping low-income teens realize their economic potential and take steps toward financial independence by owning and running viable businesses through after-school programs. A major difficulty that YEA faced was imparting a sense of ethics among its student entrepreneurs. There were issues of stealing company materials and false advertising, among other improprieties, and YEA did not know how to teach their students about the importance of ethical behavior in business. Along came my VCO team.
Made up of five members, each of whom had legitimate experience in educating underserved youth, our team was charged with the task of designing a new component of YEA’s afterschool curriculum around integrity and ethics. We had a number of ideas of how to do this. First, we thought we could create some case studies modeled after HBS’ beloved LCA course, but we realized that these high-school kids were unlikely to engage in an active case discussion. We then considered a lecture-based lesson; however, it quickly became apparent that these students have a very short attention span and do not retain lecture material particularly well. Another issue we faced is that these students would not be able to understand or relate to the types of broad business ethics issues that we as HBS students study in our first year; instead, it was essential that we make the principles of the lessons as relevant to their student businesses as possible.
After getting to know students through visits to a school’s YEA program and iterating ideas with our client, our team came up with an ideal ethics curriculum design for YEA. We designed four interactive case study exercises around topics that are closely related to the businesses they run: 1) Developing a code of ethics, 2) Non-discriminative hiring practices, 3) Avoiding anticompetitive behavior, and 4) Truth in advertising. Our proposed curriculum included a variety of teaching and communication methods to maximize engagement by the students; these methods included YouTube, small group breakouts, role-play videos, and votes on key decision points that arise. Additionally, the case studies were designed to encourage, but not require, leadership and oral participation by having leaders selected within each breakout group present their team’s decision. The final couple months of our project primarily involved executing on our curriculum proposal by developing comprehensive teaching guides complete with videos and interactive media content. The project turned out to be a success, evidenced by the positive reactions from our client, a “VCO Project of the Year” award, and a VCO team that was ecstatic to have made a lasting influence on many groups of underprivileged teenagers. The project was so interesting that members from our team remain active with YEA during EC year.
It is wonderful to know that an active student organization such as VCO exists at HBS to try to make an impact on someone other than ourselves. Despite the many among us that are tempted to give up on their volunteering days now that they have gotten into HBS, VCO proves that volunteerism certainly has not lost its lust.
Thanks to my wonderful and talented Section F teammates (Courtney Bass, Lindsey Henken, Dana Hopp Peritz, Shaila Ittycheria) for making VCO a rewarding experience during my RC year.
Rohit Burju was born and raised in the Midwestern United States. Determined to “be a leader who makes a difference in the world”, he joined HBS’ Class of 2010 and plans to take the extremely unconventional career path of management consulting post-MBA.