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HBS Students' Initiatives Work To Assist Those Affected By COVID-19

The Harvard Business School is located across the Charles River from Harvard College's main campus.
The Harvard Business School is located across the Charles River from Harvard College's main campus. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Haemaru Chung, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Business School students have rallied to create several initiatives — including a COVID-19 Task Force — in an effort to provide assistance and solutions for the hospitals, businesses, and workers who have encountered difficulties due to pandemic-induced complications.

The COVID-19 Task Force, led by two MBA students, Amina Edwards and Sarika Mendu, is split into two main branches: MBAs Fight COVID-19 and The MBA 1200. MBAs Fight COVID-19 has partnered with the Boston technology company Catalant, and attempts to match struggling organizations and businesses with MBA students who can offer their skills and expertise.

“We’re really just looking for ways for MBAs to serve,” Edwards said. “We’ve seen such an incredible outpouring of interest in service from the MBA community and we want to make sure that’s directed towards useful projects.”

According to Mendu, there are more than 350 MBA students signed up for MBAs Fight COVID-19. More than 150 of them are currently working on projects.

One such project is called the “City of Birmingham SBA Loan Filing,” where students assist those applying for small business loans in Birmingham, Ala. Students working on another project, dubbed “Project Meltblown,” research how to manufacture the Meltblown polypropylene material used in N95 masks domestically.

The MBA 1200, the other pillar of the HBS COVID-19 Task Force, is headed by MBA students Rebecca Milian and Carmi Medoff. This fundraising campaign encourages MBA students to donate a portion of their stimulus checks to relief funds, local residents, and businesses in need.

“When the CARES Act was introduced, Becca and I saw an opportunity to try to motivate our classmates with the stimulus checks coming in,” Medoff said.

Though the CARES Act provides $2 trillion for economic relief, The MBA 1200’s website said that speaking with small local businesses made it clear to the team that “donations are needed to support ongoing and future needs.”

Milian and Medoff designed the website so students can easily donate directly to The MBA 1200’s partner organizations or any other organization, increasing “speed and transparency,” according to Milian. Partner organizations include the Boston Impact Initiative-People Guarantee Pool, the Robin Hood Relief Fund, and Connections for the Homeless.

Besides the efforts coordinated by the HBS COVID-19 Task Force, there are several other independently-run initiatives to help those who are struggling during the pandemic.

MBA student Sophie Bai is focusing on raising money for personal protective equipment and facilitating large shipments of PPE supplies from China to Boston. Because she has friends who are doctors working in Boston hospitals, Bai said she knew just how drastically the “massive PPE shortage” was affecting healthcare workers each day.

“In order to be able to treat patients and be able to combat COVID-19 in an effective way, you have to have enough PPE,” Bai said.

Bai has direct access to supplies and an export infrastructure thanks to a family friend who works as an established medical equipment distributor, according to WGBH. Bai said in an interview with The Crimson that her team is taking a more “customized approach” by asking each hospital what they need directly and delivering those exact supplies.

Bai has collaborated with numerous people and organizations, including the Boston Foundation and Flywire, law firms, and Business School professor Jeffrey J. Bussgang ’91.

“It really is a community effort to pull this together in such a short period of time,” Bai said.

Bai said her team has raised over $3 million. Moreover, she said, the team has procured more than 1.5 million pieces of PPE — a third of which has already been delivered to hospitals in Boston.

In a collective effort to help workers during the pandemic, 1,000 MBA students also signed an open letter to the Fortune 500 CEOs that implores them to help and care for their employees, and provides guidance for those measures. The letter was written by Mendu and classmates Amy Villaseñor and Steve Moore, who said they were inspired by workers’ stories of “stress and insecurity.”

“You must set the tone for the corporate world’s collective response to COVID-19 by caring foremost for those closest to home – your employees,” the letter reads, adding that “it is the moral imperative in times of crisis.”

Mendu said she hopes this letter shows Fortune 500 CEOs that this generation of students “is watching and will remember the actions that employers are taking right now.”

—Staff writer Haemaru Chung can be reached at haemaru.chung@thecrimson.com.

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Harvard Business SchoolUniversityCoronavirus