Philanthropy In Our Hands

The afternoon of April 15th saw Hamilton Lounge abuzz with a peculiar group of people: Did the Executive Education program organize a mixer? (Yes it did, but this wasn’t it.) It was, rather, the Harbus Foundation Grant Reception which was the culmination of six months of work by members of the Foundation. The Trustees, Management, Grant Teams, Harbus News Corporation’s Board of Directors, and – by far the most important – the grant recipients, all came together to commemorate the closing of the 2007-2008 grant-making cycle.

The only student-run foundation in the US, the Harbus Foundation is entrusted with the dual mission of promoting student involvement in social enterprise and generating positive social impact, especially in the areas of education, literacy and journalism. The Foundation is funded by generous contributions from the profits of the Harbus News Corporation currently led by Publisher, Aastha Gurbax on the business side and Editors, David Rawlinson and Karen Singson on the content side. The Venture Philanthropy Project, launched in 2003 to complement the grant-making abilities of the Foundation, enables HBS students to be actively involved in helping early to mid-stage nonprofit organizations address financial constraints as well as overcome strategic and operational challenges. Since October last year, 24 RCs and ECs in six grant-making and Venture Philanthropy teams have been working with nonprofits in the greater Boston community to identify urgent but unmet funding needs that could benefit from the Harbus Foundation grants.

The reception was kicked off with an introduction by the Harbus Foundation trustees, Kate Randall, Peter Park and Peter Stone. This was followed by presentations by the grant teams on their award decisions. Beaming faces were not in short supply as team after team gave commendations to the vision and drive of the respective nonprofit organizations they have been working with, and proceeded to present each grantee with the $10,000 award.

All these organizations already had spending programs lined up for the funds. Spare Change News, for instance, will be using the grant to support a long-term marketing strategy to increase the awareness of the organization amongst the general public and generate broader distribution and commensurate aid for its vendors. Centro Latino de Chelsea, on the other hand, will be allocating the grant towards building more capacity across its service programs aimed at workforce training and integration for immigrants.

For St Mary’s Women and Children Center (SMWCC) the funds will be used to develop the GRLZ Radio mentoring program and to enable their participants to organize more outreach events in schools and communities with at-risk teenage girls. 15-year old DJ Baby Girl was the spokesperson for GRLZ Radio and she described how the after-school program run by SMWCC in Dorchester helped her to find her voice and build confidence. According to Judy Beckler, SMWCC President, “the importance of the broadcasted word in helping to bolster girls with positive self-esteem cannot be understated. GRLZ Radio aims to teach young girls to be more discriminating of the messages they listen to and choose to accept.” The GRLZ Radio participants are ambassadors in this mission, and the Harbus Foundation grant will have a real multiplier effect as it will enable GRLZ to take on more community projects, which will in turn allow the participants to reach out to more teenagers and broaden their listener base.

The six grant recipients were not the only beneficiaries of the Harbus Foundation initiative. The HBS students who have been involved in the grant-making process had positive takeaways as well. Shanti Grandhi (NA) was quick to remark, “Doing both grant-making and consulting together for Excel Academy Charter Middle School got me thinking a lot more deeply about the sustainability of the project being funded, and on the overall strategy of the organization. I’ve never been in a grant-giving role before, so this has been a valuable learning experience.”

Rounding off the event, the Harbus News Corporation donated $50,000 from its 2007/08 revenues to the Foundation. Aastha Gurbax spoke about the challenges of running Harbus News Corporation in the past year due to the volatile job market and the loss of advertiser revenue from some of the biggest Harbus News Corp sponsors. In response, the Harbus News Corp team had to devise new forms of revenue generation such as publishing the Second Edition of the 65 Successful Harvard Business School Essays book, due to hit the book shelves in fall 2009. She also thanked the entire Harbus Student Leadership Team as well as the three non-student Harbus News Corp staff (Lauren Sullivan, Christie Cuthbert and Marianne Bakula) who helped the organization function like a well-oiled machine day after day. The $50,000 donation this year is about three times the average donation usually given by the Harbus News Corporation. This new injection of financing will surely help the grants that the Foundation will disburse next year through a similar process.

Before the crowd dispersed, an amazing thing happened – the recipient organizations, after hearing the presentations and realizing the opportunities for collaboration between them, began to network with one another. Contact information was traded and handshakes were exchanged between people who had been strangers till an hour ago. This was a great example of how the positive social impact of the Harbus Foundation extends beyond the dollar sum of its grants.

Philanthropy may begin in Hamilton Lounge, but where it ends depends on all of us. Even the smallest or simplest of gestures can make a difference. With bated breath we look forward to reviewing how this year’s awards will add value to the Boston community, and to next year’s grant-making cycle. MBA students interested in positions on the management board of the Harbus Foundation should contact the author [email protected] for further details.