A group of current and incoming MBA students have recently united in an effort to educate and raise funds to fight racial injustices. The group launched the MBA Students Care fundraiser on Wednesday, June 3 to raise $20,000 for Color of Change. Within 24 hours, the fundraiser had already netted about $30,000.
“I’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support, especially from my classmates,” says Lauren Abuouf, who just finished her first year in the full-time MBA program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
While the campaign is meant to raise awareness and money to fight systemic racial injustices, it hones in on the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American woman who was shot dead by police in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky on March 13. “Today, June 5th, is Breonna Taylor’s birthday; she would have turned 27 years old,” the campaign says. “Instead we are left to mourn her loss because of another senseless act of police, anti-Black brutality.” Taylor was shot eight-times when police used a battering ram to crash into her apartment shortly after midnight. Police were executing a judge-issued so-called no-knock warrant while investigating two men who did not live at the apartment for selling drugs.
MBAs STARTED THINKING ABOUT SOCIAL ACTIVISM AND RACIAL INJUSTICES WHILE SHELTERING-IN-PLACE
The fundraiser was launched amid days of unrest across the country after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd — a 46-year-old African-American man — was killed by a white police officer who had his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes despite Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Since then protests have now formed in all 50 states and multiple countries calling for police reform.
“The last week has really been eye-opening for me,” says Harshita Pilla, an incoming full-time MBA student at Michigan’s Ross School of Business who has helped create and lead the MBA Students Care fundraiser. “It’s been exhausting and heartbreaking in so many ways but I do think there is a great opportunity to get people motivated across the nation.”
Abuouf says time spent in quarantine has given her time to reflect about her role as a business student and how she can get more involved in social activism. “Prior to the murder of George Floyd we were already talking about how we could use quarantine to be more intentional about our relationships here at school,” Abuouf says. Then when Amy Cooper, who earned her MBA from the Chicago Booth School of Business, was fired after charging a black man who asked her to abide by Central Park leash laws and put her dog on a leash, Abuouf started thinking more about her time spent as an MBA student. “Knowing that Amy Cooper was an MBA student, I started thinking about how are we going to use this time to make sure we’re not repeating the cycle,” Abuouf says.
NEW CAMPAIGN GOAL: RAISING $100K
Meanwhile, Pilla was communicating with hundreds of other incoming MBA students on a GroupMe chat with other Consortium members. Pilla reached out to the group proposing a fundraiser for Color of Change. “Within four hours of me posting that, I was connected with Lauren (Abuouf) via a Ross connection,” she says. It was serendipitous timing. “It was a moment that I realized as I’m growing in my career, the onus really is on us to step up and shape that conversation,” Abuouf says. Abuouf brought the idea to other Michigan Ross student leaders and with the other interested Consortium students, they decided to launch the campaign.
“We recognized that we had people’s attention and wanted to act quickly,” Pilla says. “Color of Change is also interested in bringing these conversations to corporations and challenging corporations and the business world to be better. So I think that that also particularly aligned with the students of the Consortium and MBA students overall.”
After crushing their goal of raising $20,000, the student organizers have upped the ante and are aiming to raise $100,000 by June 15. The campaign has currently raised about $43,000.
ENCOURAGED BY MBA STUDENTS BUT MORE WORK TO DO
Abuouf says overall current MBA students do a fairly good job of creating an inclusive community.
“This is a safe space,” Abuouf says of business school and particularly the Ross School of Business. “This is our time to try things and fail. I’ve been really encouraged about who we are as MBA students heading into the workforce.”
Janki Patel, who is also one of the organizers of the campaign and is getting ready to start her first year at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business, agrees. “I’ve been really delighted about how many people are willing to talk about what’s going on,” she says.
BUSINESS SCHOOLS CAN DO BETTER
However, all three women say there is still much work to be done within B-school walls.
“We’re going to be entering spaces where these conversations will mean something and I felt like based on the conversations on campus there is still a lack of awareness about some of these issues,” Abuouf says.
There are things business schools can do within the curriculum to support minorities in B-school and the workforce.
“We talk about classic things in management and leadership like how diversity in a group creates better decisions,” Abuouf says. “But we never talk about how if we have an ethnically diverse board, those companies have a better financial performance. We never talk about that in business school. Ever. That’s something you come across on HBR or LinkedIn.”
Pilla also says it shouldn’t take a tragedy — like Floyd’s murder — to move the needle.
“We need to do this,” she says. “MBA students do have a lot of hold on the corporations and business environments that everyone is going to be exposed to. We have a huge presence in those spaces and we need to be able to have those conversations.”
“How do we become better allies to those that need it and how do we start those conversations early? It shouldn’t always be in response to a tragedy like what has happened now. We should be able to see into the future and help our classmates and our colleagues.”