01 Mar 2005
Changing Lives One Computer at a Timeby Margie KelleyTopics:
The HBS African-American Alumni Association (HBSAAA) has joined forces with Dell to put computers into the hands of promising young students who might not otherwise have access them.
Working through Dell's TechKnow initiative, HBSAAA volunteers in the New York metropolitan area are helping to teach middle-school students how to take apart, reassemble, and use refurbished Dell computers, which will then be given to each student to keep. The goal is to help close the digital divide that exists in low-income communities where many families don't have a computer at home.
"It's such a compelling idea," says Edward Olebe (MBA '99), who has coordinated the project for the HBSAAA in New York. "Not only do these kids get to learn a valuable skill, but they can take away a valuable tool — a computer. They will be on par with fellow students who have a computer at home."
Since the project's launch last October, more than a dozen HBSAAA volunteers have dedicated several hours every other Saturday to serve as mentors to eighteen middle-school students from the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy, an innovative arts-focused charter school in the South Bronx.
Dell has run the TechKnow program in 38 communities nationwide and served 4,100 students since early 2002. But the HBSAAA partnership, with its team of volunteer facilitators, is an innovation. Although the program usually consists of one teacher and the students, the involvement of adult facilitators has proven to be a powerful added benefit for both the children and the HBS volunteers.
Dell will share the HBSAAA volunteer model as a best practice as the program expands, says Michele Glaze, communication director for TechKnow. "We see this as a great innovative model," she explains.
The project was the brainchild of HBSAAA president Ken Powell (MBA '74), who was looking for a new opportunity for alumni to connect with the community. "It's important that we invest in our youth," says Powell, who brought Dell and the middle school together for the innovative collaboration. Making the project easy for alumni to participate in has been a key to its success.
"Dell came out and trained us," adds Olebe, a director of marketing at American Express who convinced many of his Amex colleagues — all HBS alumni — to volunteer as well. "Volunteers don't have to be experts in how to take a computer apart. Their main task is to be role models for students who might not otherwise have access to people of color who are professionals and who are successful in their careers. The individual attention has been a big factor."
Those relationships have been as powerful for the HBSAAA volunteers as they have been for the students. "I've just had a phenomenal time," says Beverly Anderson (MBA '97), a colleague of Olebe's at Amex. "The kids are just fantastic. They're smart, engaged, and totally curious. I'm thrilled to be a part of this."
Powell says the project has been a resounding success. "We have received excellent feedback and plan to continue next year," he adds. With Dell's help, the program can easily be rolled out for alumni groups in other cities as well. Indeed, HBSAAA members in Chicago and Washington, D.C., hope to begin similar programs soon, and alumni nationwide are showing interest as well.
"It's inspiring," concludes Olebe. "You can see ways the program can be expanded after you experience its impact. It gives you the feeling that this is a good thing we're doing."
— Margie Kelley
Class of MBA 1999, Section I