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Board Fellows Give Back by Taking a Seat

David Brown, MBA’12

David Brown, MBA’12

Photo: Webb Chappell

Giving back has been important to David Brown, MBA’12, since he was 6 years old, when he first volunteered at the Double H Ranch. The Lake Luzerne, N.Y., camp, one of actor Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camps for children confronting serious illnesses, became a part of Brown’s life for the next 13 years. At first, he hung out with campers, one kid helping other kids feel normal through the simple act of playing together, and as the years went on he became a counselor and helped with administration.

The camp taught him hard lessons about life and death. “You got to know people who disappeared over time,” Brown says. The camp also impressed on him how people coming together can make a difference. Today, that community spirit still inspires Brown, who has worked at an AIDS clinic in the African country of Lesotho and who eventually hopes to land a job with a social venture creating economic development in poor neighborhoods.

He also was one of the participants in The Lewis Institute’s Board Fellows program, which places MBA students and recent alumni on the boards of nonprofit organizations. Serving as nonvoting members, the fellows attend board meetings, sit on committees, perform special projects, and offer input whenever it’s needed. “This is truly experiential learning,” says Emily Weiner, The Lewis Institute’s assistant director, who manages the Board Fellows program. “The point is to give them an authentic experience.”

For the school year just completed, the program had 13 fellows (11 students, two alumni). That’s up from nine fellows the previous year, when the program was launched. It’s also expanding to include San Francisco Fast Track students in the future. “Our goal is to steadily grow,” Weiner says.

Hosting students are six nonprofits, each offering its own set of needed services, from mediation assistance to resources for parents and educators to support for people with mental disabilities. Brown sat on the board of Neighbor Brigade, which mobilizes volunteers to provide meals and transportation for those facing serious medical conditions or other crises. “They’re a community response team,” Brown says. He watched as the new organization, founded in 2010 in Wayland, Mass., worked to find the right structure for its board, and he learned about fundraising as he helped the Brigade write grants and find sponsors and partners.

Jess Grande, MBA’12

Jess Grande, MBA’12

Photo: Ben Staples

Another participating institution is the SpeakEasy Stage Company, a Boston theater company committed to premiering socially relevant productions. Fellow Jess Grande, MBA’12, sat on its board. She comes from a family dedicated to service. “Most of my family members are policemen or firefighters,” she says. “I have done a lot of volunteering.”

In the past, Grande volunteered at a children’s hospital and Habitat for Humanity, and she’s currently assisting the Healthworks Foundation, which runs gyms in disadvantaged areas, by giving guests health assessments and teaching them how to use workout machines. Having spent so much time volunteering for nonprofits, she became a fellow to better understand how such organizations are run. “It’s interesting to get a different perspective,” says Grande, an Evening MBA student who works as a client adviser at Bainco International Investors in Boston.

At SpeakEasy, Grande was involved with the board’s marketing committee, helping it with such tasks as navigating the tricky balance in ticket pricing that allows the company to offer an affordable ticket while still putting on a quality show. About 15 people sit on the company’s board, some of whom are current or former performers, which makes for a boisterous atmosphere during meetings. “People shout out ideas,” says Grande. “They get down to business, but I don’t feel like I’m at a board meeting.”

Weiner says the nonprofits appreciate the entrepreneurial skills that Babson students offer, particularly during this economic downturn, which has cut into donations and forced organizations to do more with less. “Nonprofits are beating down our door,” she says. “I receive requests to be a part of the program all the time.”  —JC