“Did you know that nearly 80 percent of HBS alumni are asked to serve in nonprofit boards at some point in their lives post-HBS?” asks Harvard Business School (HBS) second-year MBA student Molly Palmersheim in a post this week on the HBS MBA Voices student blog. That statistic spurred Palmershein and other students—as part of an independent study in their EC year with HBS Professors Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Nien-hê Hsieh—to design a course that could help train students for these roles they were so likely to take with nonprofit community organizations.
For Palmershein, part of being the kind of “difference-making” leader HBS students are educated toward becoming would naturally involve volunteering with community organizations. “I came to HBS knowing that community leadership would live alongside my professional and personal lives post-HBS,” she writes. But she didn’t realize how the skillset she was developing at HBS could change how she worked with nonprofits.
Recognizing inequality as a critical challenge facing the world today, Palmershein and her classmates designed a four-week course to help students look at the drivers of inequality in income, education, race and gender.
Palmershein calls the result, “Nonprofit Clinic: Tackling Inequality”—one of her “most treasured HBS experiences.” Read on to learn more. Our thanks to Palmershein for giving permission to repost her piece here.
The following post has been republished in its entirety from its original source, “MBA Voices,” the HBS student blog.
Tackling Inequlity—An HBS Independent Project
By Molly Palmersheim
At HBS, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would become a “leader who makes a difference in the world.” It was on my mind as I attended career development programs, agonized over internship opportunities and prepared yet another case that featured a Fortune 500 CEO making a critical business decision. At times, being a leader who makes a difference in the world felt like a task for a much older, more experienced, more powerful future-self.
In reality, we are tasked with being “difference-making” leaders today, and in roles with far less power and influence than a Fortune 500 CEO. Like many of my classmates, I embraced this type of leadership prior to HBS by volunteering with community organizations. I came to HBS knowing that community leadership would live alongside my professional and personal lives post-HBS. What I didn’t fully appreciate was just how my interactions with these organizations might change as I gained a different set of skills and experiences throughout my MBA.
Did you know that nearly 80 percent of HBS alumni are asked to serve in nonprofit boards at some point in their lives post-HBS? In the first semester of my EC year, I had the opportunity to work on an independent project with a group of women who, like me, were surprised and energized by this statistic. We recognized that we had countless courses that asked us to consider our post-HBS leadership within our careers, but none that trained us for the roles we were very likely to have within nonprofit community organizations.
Over our first semester, Vatsala Deora, Sara Gentile, Cait Haught, Shannon Nelson, Shireen Soheili and I worked with Professors Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Nien-hê Hsieh to sketch a course that would fill that curriculum gap. Recognizing that inequality is a critical challenge of our time, we decided to structure the course around inequality in income, education, race and gender.
We designed a four-week classroom module that challenged students to understand what the biggest drivers of inequality are, whether they think inequality is a problem that needs to be tackled and, if so, how to tackle it. We designed a second, eight-week module that asked students to apply business skills to projects within a dozen local nonprofit organizations that work to reduce inequality in some form. With the help of our faculty advisors, we peppered the course with guest appearances from notable nonprofit executives, researchers and alumni board members.
During our second semester, we had the opportunity to actually take the course in its pilot form. Along with 21 other students, we struggled to wrap our heads around staggering trends in inequality and examined the organizations that have been created to stem the tide. We studied affordable housing legislation, affirmative action practices and innovative charter school models. We heard from accomplished economists, seasoned nonprofit executives and HBS alums with a variety of board experiences. We had real conversations with classmates about confusing and uncomfortable topics and heard unfiltered critiques from nonprofit leaders about the unique challenges facing mission-driven organizations.
This course—officially titled “Nonprofit Clinic: Tackling Inequality”—is one of my most treasured HBS experiences. In taking the course, I learned a lot about an incredibly important topic and had the opportunity to impact the Boston community through my project with a local shelter. In designing the course, I forged friendships with some incredibly talented and passionate women and created something that will live on past my time at HBS. And hopefully, throughout the process, I made a difference.