How an MBA gives you a platform to tackle the COVID-19 crisis head on.
In April of 2020, just as the worldwide pandemic shook global economies, Cambridge MBA students Srishti Warman (MBA 2019) and Matt Lisonbee (MBA 2019) felt the urge to help small to medium size businesses that had been turned upside down. So, they put their MBA skills in action and founded Cambridge Judge against COVID-19 (CJAC).
CJAC was an independent initiative, offering free consulting services to mainly British companies, to tackle issues posed by the global coronavirus crisis.
During the initial call out in May 2020, expecting to only complete around 12-15 projects with 35-40 volunteers, the response was overwhelming. Nearly 50 companies responded and almost 100 Cambridge Judge MBA students volunteered their time and consulting expertise as part of CJAC. With great success, over the following four months 28 CJAC pro-bono team consulting projects were completed for those companies, by Cambridge MBAs.
Clients responding to the call out, ranged from those in the EdTech sector, the consumer goods sector, and the financial services sector, right across to the hospitality sector and even those in the much-needed medical sector. The variety of responses from many small businesses across the UK was phenomenal.
CJAC clients, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups, were facing business disruption, and even devastation, during the pandemic, and for some, the offer of a lifeline was something they could not ignore.
Impact of the CJAC projects
We caught up with Srishti Warman and Matt Lisonbee, to get an update on the impact of CJAC projects and how this unfolded.
Motivated by a wish to make change, Matt, formerly Director of Marketing and Sales at 4Life Research based in the USA, explains how the project started, “Watching global events unfold, I thought there must be something we can do with all of the amazing talent in our cohort to help those devastated by the crisis.”
It was Srishti’s passion and leadership that took this idea to the next level, “I had been thinking how the collective talent of the class could help support businesses at this time,” explains Srishti, a Product Manager and Senior Business Analyst at Barclays, India, before coming to Cambridge.
Matt expands, “It’s amazing how focusing on serving and helping someone else, no matter how difficult your own circumstance might be, seems to always make you feel a little bit happier. The student cohort were looking for reasons to be useful, and perhaps a greater sense of purpose. Starting this project, I think helped those involved to get out of a routine of worry and self-concern, and instead focus on helping others in need.’
CJAC reached out to the many Cambridge Judge community networks, including the global CJBS alumni network, the academic community, as well the thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem in Cambridge and London, through CJBS platforms like Accelerate and the CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre.
“While not all fledgling startups, we had some businesses that had been established as long as 10 or even 20 years. We even had one client project that was based in the USA,” Srishti explains. “The original idea was to help people who needed and wanted help but couldn’t necessarily help themselves. The smaller businesses were being devastated and didn’t necessarily have the funds or the experience to pivot in this crisis.”
One consumer-based client said, “The Cambridge MBA students were all very engaged, keen to work and to add value through their work with our business. The project overall was very well co-ordinated throughout, and each team member was clear on both their roles and deliverables. The resulting outputs delivered will be incredibly useful for the online launch of our retail brand and its subsequent expansion. This is an important pivot for our business, in response to the challenges brought by COVID-19. The entire experience with Cambridge Judge students was fantastic.”
Another, Rebecca Page Ltd, a global sewing pattern company, exclaimed, “Our board were impressed and delighted with the collaboration and teamwork undertaken by the volunteer team from Cambridge Judge – they delivered a creative, data driven, timely and aligned outcome. This has assisted us to skillfully navigate our business, during a challenging time, towards a positive future.”
Over the 28 projects completed and since surveyed about their outputs, the CJAC clients were generally ‘extremely satisfied’ and felt that a ‘great deal’ of impact had been made on their business by the CJAC student teams.
Srishti concludes, “That is why the Cambridge MBAs were so invaluable. We could use our knowledge from our MBA year, and we could apply it immediately in the moment.”
The MBA learnings through projects
CJAC was led by the MBA Class of 2019, but the incoming MBA Class of 2020 also responded to the call out, as they were eager to develop their consulting experience during their forthcoming MBA year.
For the students involved it was not just about outcomes during a crisis. The CJAC initiative led to some inner reflection across the cohort, as well as some additional MBA learnings.
Connie Zhang, an MBA volunteer, explains, “CJAC provided me with a great opportunity to build and strengthen my networks. It allowed me to give something back to the wider business community, while also sharpening the skills I had learned during my Cambridge MBA year. It further enabled me to develop my industry knowledge and insights. It was one of the most rewarding experiences for me at Cambridge Judge.”
The global COVID-19 crisis also brought out the best in the cohort, and leaders from across the class stood up to the challenge.
“In class we talk about going out into the world and being leaders. During the pandemic you would see the leaders who would rise up, take charge and turn this into action,” says Matt. “Srishti rose up during the pandemic. She wasn’t asked to, but she felt there was an opportunity to do something, and she did.”
Matt continues, “It was so devastating to read about the businesses, small businesses, with real people and real employees or those who had invested their life into their business for two, three or more years. To see them receive help in a way that was all about the support and the impact for a solution, that was the most rewarding thing for me.”
Srishti expands, “That’s when you can put your own situation into a larger perspective, and so we were just driven to help support their business journey.
“This initiative has given us the opportunity to feel empowered to make change, as well as helping us understand our own position within an extraordinary time. As future leaders in global industries, this experience will remain as a reminder to us all to step up and join forces to help each other in times of crisis.”
Srishti concludes, “For me, CJAC reflected the Cambridge Judge essence of being truly collaborative, as well as working together as a community to make a better society.”