Last year, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School created the world’s first major racial justice case competition. Now the John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition is back for a sophomore go-round, with major changes to the format.
“We are partnering with four other universities that will host preliminary rounds, each focused on an industry,” says Kegan Baird, a second-year Emory Goizueta MBA student and managing director of the competition this year. Emory will then host the final round.
Cornell University, Yale University, Rice University, and Howard University are partnering with Emory, joined by several major companies as sponsors.
STUDENTS STEPPING UP
When the world witnessed the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others in 2020, there was a lot of momentum in the corporate sector, says Baird. While there was talk of donations and a need for change, there wasn’t enough action.
Students, on the other hand, were eager to help, he says.
“It was a natural pairing to fit the two together and create a case competition where students are working directly with corporations to solve their specific issues of racial injustice, all done by Willie Sullivan,” says Baird. Sullivan, who created the competition in honor of the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon, was previously the managing director; he has since graduated. “This year, we’re doing it again but trying to expand and follow in his footsteps,” Baird says.
Last year, more than 500 students from 52 universities participated virtually and generated 24 corporate racial justice action plans. Walmart, Salesforce, HP, Johnson&Johnson, Southern Company, Truist, and Momentive.ai (formerly SurveyMonkey) were among the event’s sponsors. The winning team from the University of Southern California created a plan for Johnson&Johnson to use products and incentives to inspire one million Black girls to study STEM.
‘THIS YEAR IS ABOUT EXPANSION’
The John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition is one of the only competitions that donates half the total winnings, in this case to a non-profit of the winners’ choice. It’s a difference that Lynne Segall, Emory Goizueta’s associate dean for management practice initiatives and faculty advisor for the student-run competition, considers innovative.
Last year’s competition helped raise $32,500 for organizations that are working toward racial equality and justice, such as Circles and Ciphers, Surge Employment Solutions, Step Up, and Black Girls Code.
“We actually heard from students who applied last year, and a part of why they wanted to compete was because it was a way to direct their talents for good, not just for the sponsoring organization, but because some of their prize money was going to be going into an organization that they identified in their application,” says Segall.
Still, this year-old competition has a long way to go.
“If you think about the first year, it was a start-up and we were scrappy,” she says. “This year is about expansion with these university partners and streamlining of processes and procedures so that we can scale even more.”
A big part of that is efforts to increase participation by widening the net of participants, says Baird. “More than 90% of our applicants last year were MBA students,” he says. “But we were using a lot of our network, which happens to be other MBA students. So, this year, we’re focused on improving HBCU, BBA, and non-business major applications.”
Kegan Baird’s team also wants to reach out to interested students and guide them through what makes a strong application.
“Last year, we didn’t know what made a strong application until we got them in,” says Segall.
In the application, which is due November 19, students are expected to create a seven-slide presentation that acts as a statement of interest based on a specific industry, such as healthcare or fast food.
Baird says the presentation should answer four key questions: Where do you see issues of racial injustice in the chosen industry? What are the preliminary recommendations to solve these issues? How would your team work together? And lastly, how would your team use the prize money?
Semi-finalists, who will be notified on December 6, will be paired with a sponsor and a university. They will have six weeks to connect with sponsors, create a budget and allocate parts of it towards primary and secondary research, and, finally, develop recommendations. The presentations should be 20 minutes long with 10 minutes allotted for questions.
“For the preliminary and semifinals, our judging pool was much more regional, based on alumni. But having some geographic diversity among our partner schools and also network diversity is going to mean that our overall judging pool is going to be more national, and more diverse,” she says.
LATE CONGRESSMAN’S FAMILY SUPPORTS THE COMPETITION
They have also adjusted the rubric for student evaluation and will prepare the judges for consistent results.
“We see this as the beginning, not the destination. We see the competition as a flagship in a constellation of initiatives. There are all kinds of educational opportunities in and around the competition, and we are looking to explore leadership development,” says Segall.
“There are opportunities to… connect and build communities across industries of leaders and drive more systematic positive change,” she adds.
The late John Lewis’s family have supported this initiative. “I think that’s been a really special part of this competition that we can connect back to Congressman Lewis’s vision and his mantra of encouraging us to get into good trouble,” says Segall. “That’s the guiding light for us.”
Learn more about the John Lewis Case Competition here.
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