Harvard Business School: Final Reflections

Well, I’m home from an amazing seven days at HBS. From noon last Sunday to noon Saturday, this was a whirlwind of learning and thinking like I’ve never experienced. Those of you in nonprofit leadership, you have to go. It’s offered every July and is worth every penny.  Check it out.

Final Reflections

Here are some final thoughts on the experience:

  • What an opportunity to meet the most interesting people!
    • I think I met almost everyone. There were 157 attendees and we met each other at two receptions and all the meals. We came from all over the world, including Kyrgyzstan, and covered the full range of nonprofit work. Some were brand new to their CEO positions and some were “long in the tooth.”
    • We were divided into two sections, so I got to know these people much better through our classroom discussions.
    • We lived in groups of eight, and the seven other people in my living group are amazing people. I got to know their work, their challenges and their paths to where they are now. We shared advice and encouragement. Every one of them is an inspiration to me! My world has expanded by making such good friends through this shared experience.
  • The HBS faculty and support staff executed a flawless experience for us. This was a prime example of a team that has thought through the student experience from every conceivable angle and carefully crafted the entire experience we would have with them. From dorm rooms to food to potential rain (they gave us HBS umbrellas) to website postings, it was absolutely flawless. If they said something would be posted, it was posted within the hour. If we said we’d like a sortable database of participants, it was up the next day. The Social Enterprise group at HBS has it nailed to perfection. What a model for us all. Although, for example, I already think through the experience our annual conference participants will have, they have challenged me to take this to a new level of thoroughness so that they will have an amazing experience with us.
  • At the last moments of the class, just when we thought they had nothing more to give us, they gave everyone a DVD of a lecture (the only lecture we’ll have from this week) and a free book Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector by the HBS faculty. BUY IT!! It’s $91 in Canada, but I’m sure it will be worth every penny. (Or you can attend the course and hope they give it away for free again.) Then they gave us a free one year subscription to the Harvard Business Review. The value just keeps adding up!!!!
  • I have work to do now.
    • I already knew mission statements are important, but now I see just how important they are, and also how useful they are. I think that my own organization’s mission statement needs to be rethought in terms of end result and the claims that it makes. Once that’s done, then we need to develop a theory of change that forms the logic model for how we design our programs and services. Then we need to work through what programs and services are needed to fulfill the mission. Perhaps we’ll find opportunities and perhaps we’ll find unnecessary work that we can stop. Then we can build the dashboard to monitor how effective we are at every step in the logic model. This is what will take my charity to the next level of performance and effectiveness.
    • I also need a Statement Zero. This tool was so powerful. It answers the question I blogged about a few days ago: What do you do? In the closing class, about twenty of us were asked to give our Statement Zero. It was so inspirational to hear what everyone said. The format is “We are (organization name) and we (what you do).” Here’s one just posted by George Roter of Engineers Without Borders CanadaWe are Engineers Without Borders, and we are creating a movement of engineers who will contribute to a life of dignity and opportunity for the next generation of Africans by addressing the root causes of systemic injustice and extreme poverty. My best attempt right now for my organization is We are the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and we are strengthening the ability of Christian ministries to fulfill their missions by providing advice and services to their leaders and support functions. I’m sure we’ll end up with something energizing and compelling.
  • The most inspirational moment was actually two moments.
    • The final case was about an eye surgery hospital in India (Aravind Hospital) that was the dream of a 58 year old retired ophthalmologist. His hospital is seven times more efficient than other eye hospitals and it has become the world’s best hospital for eye surgery. I can’t even begin to get into the amazing things Dr. Venkataswamy did to put together a hospital that has 40% paying patients, 60% free patients and that makes a surplus every year of 50%, which is plowed back into the hospital. Just to emphasize, that 50% margin is after paying the cost of all the free surgeries! This was our concluding case and let’s just say he had a clear mission, clear logic model and applied continuous improvement to achieve his high standards. It was an amazing testimony to what can be done when we set our minds to it.
    • Then “Dutch” Leonard closed the week with the story of the construction of the Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park, Montana. Not only was that an incredible story of doing something against all odds, but then to top it off he said that someone had written a song about the building of the road and that it really applied just as much to the work of nonprofits as it does to the history of this road. We thought he was going to read us the words to the song, but without any accompaniment, he bravely sang the song to us. This was a genuine, heartfelt tribute by the faculty to the good work we are all doing and it spoke volumes to the sincerity of the commitment of the business faculty to nonprofit work. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house! The song is by David Walburn.

    I must give abundant and effusive thanks to my board for sending me on this most amazing educational experience!

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