Rediscovering my passion for volunteerism at Kellogg Cares Day
This content was originally published in Poets & Quants.
Debashree Chakraborty ’23 is a student in the Kellogg 2Y MBA program where she is an Austin Scholar. Before starting her MBA at Kellogg, she worked with a global bank in digital transformation and has engaged with nonprofits across Asia extensively. Her work primarily spans women’s empowerment and awareness programs. Here, she shares her experience at Kellogg Cares Day, an annual tradition that brings together hundreds of Kellogg community members to serve local nonprofits.
Coming to business school, I was determined to pursue my passion for volunteerism. However, not knowing how intense my experience would be, I wasn’t sure how feasible this was. Kellogg Cares Day (KCD) provided me with a platform to volunteer and connect with the local Chicago-community.
This event appealed to me in several ways. As I began my first quarter at Kellogg, I applied to become the marketing director for KCD, and I started my Kellogg experience intertwining two things I cared very much about — service and social media marketing. Additionally, the event is solely run by first-year students at Kellogg. In other words, it offers the creative freedom and unprecedented leadership opportunities right at the start of the business school experience. It helped me find my purpose early and grow in the process.
The history of Kellogg Cares Day
Kellogg Cares Day was started in 2004 with the mission to mobilize the Kellogg community to engage with local, Chicago-based communities and organizations, creating the opportunity for meaningful, long-lasting relationships through service. Since then, KCD has become an annual Kellogg tradition that brings together hundreds of students, faculty, staff, joint-ventures, and alumni to serve Chicagoland nonprofits.
Historically, KCD has been held in-person and involved teams visiting organizations onsite and helping with meaningful activities. However, when we started brainstorming for the event during COVID-19, we knew that logistically, things would look different.
Therefore, the first thing we worked on was finding our purpose for the event. As new business school students — and for myself and others joining from various countries — KCD was our first of many experiences in extremely diverse and transformative team settings.
Leveraging diversity to redefine volunteerism during COVID-19
Being inquisitive about different cultures and leveraging diversity as a strength is a crucial part of the Kellogg experience. This is exciting because it teaches students how to listen effectively and think holistically. More than that, it helps student leaders to empathize. Therefore, when our 11-member core team included individuals from different nationalities, professions, and experiences, I was not surprised at all. In fact, I was excited to welcome different perspectives and experiences.
Most of KCD’s leadership team was recruited before students arrived in Evanston. I certainly wondered how the team would work together, and if we would communicate effectively. However, our shared passion for volunteerism shined strong from our first virtual meeting. What ensued was weeks of brainstorming, story-boarding, and sharing personal volunteering experiences.
This led us to the theme for the Fall Service Day event, where we touched three of the most relevant current social issues: environmental sustainability, social inequality and self-care/mental health.
Blending social impact consulting with volunteerism to make a lasting difference
Given the challenges that nonprofit organizations are facing both in terms of scale and kind, our team wants to ensure that the time Kellogg devotes during KCD has a lasting impact. Therefore, this past Fall, we blended social impact with volunteerism, proposing a new format where we partnered with 4 organizations: Alliance for Great Lakes, Threshold, Zion Hill and Territory Chicago. These organizations worked with teams of Kellogg students to model realistic solutions to the following challenges:
- What stakeholder engagement and activities should Alliance for Great Lakes prioritize in year one of its 3-year strategic plan? What does an outreach and engagement strategy look like?
- What are some creative strategies that recruiters could use to target students and professionals for a potential career of social impact in employment services at Thresholds?
- How can Zion Hill secure corporate sponsorship on issues that require a long-term commitment and are not just issues du jour?
- What could be a viable a go-to-market strategy for Territory Chicago? How do we find partners to work with us?
The participants spent the day under the supervision of Professor Liz Howard, Executive Director of Kellogg’s Center for Nonprofit Management and a clinical professor of management. She develops and teaches curriculum for MBA students and nonprofit executives. Professor Howard also brings with her a wealth of philanthropic experiences, both in terms of impact consulting and social impact program execution, along with enthusiasm and energy! The biggest advice that Professor Howard had for all of us was to be intentional about “zooming in” our focus for every problem. Over the course of the day, we learned that being able to do so requires curiosity, empathy, and personal leadership which our teams practiced by putting themselves in the nonprofits’ shoes.
Here’s one example: Amna, a fellow Kellogg batchmate and a member of the KCD planning committee, coordinated the solution development for eradicating homelessness by helping Zion Hill seek sustainable corporate funding. While reflecting on her experience, she highlighted how she and her team members had limited experience with homeless shelters. Through deep conversations with Zion Hill representatives, they were able to collaborate and come up with an action plan for Zion Hill to demonstrate their vision to the corporates in an impactful manner. I am certain that everyone learned something new in the process.
After a long day full of solving meaningful problems and presenting working solutions, we ended our day with an evening reception in true Kellogg spirit. During the reception, we partnered with Street Samaritans and Thresholds to host a clothing drive that would keep a few souls warm this winter. We also included opportunities to facilitate ongoing volunteerism by encouraging students to sign up as career mentors and help individuals with disabilities and fewer resources find jobs in the state. Throughout the day, we also had representatives from not-for-profits collaborate with us closely and offer advice or a hand to help whenever necessary. So we decided to give back by writing holiday cards and sending back some Christmas cheer.
Kellogg Cares Day and my personal journey
Kellogg Cares Day 2021 was the beginning of my personal leadership journey at Kellogg. Through it, I lived my Kellogg dream of becoming a well-rounded leader and working effectively in diverse teams. Along the way, I found meaningful friendships that will outlast my time at Kellogg and heard several inspiring stories of volunteerism that have changed my personal perspectives fundamentally. For example, Edward, a Kellogg second-year student, has been volunteering for years and most recently took an entire course at Kellogg during which he worked on a social impact project for a Puerto Rican island. His experience underscores how it is always possible to give back, as long as there is a strong desire to help. I know that volunteering and social impact will be an integral part of my career going forward and I look forward to grow at Kellogg.