My name’s Sean, and among some of the hats that I wear, I Co-Chair the Graduate Business Council (GBC) Social Impact and Sustainability Committee with Aditya Srinath. I was asked to write about my experience in Social Impact at Booth, so let me set the scene and start from the beginning…
I grew up in the Northwest ‘burbs of Chicago and in true Irish Catholic fashion, I am the 7th of 12 children—I often joke that I have exponential middle child syndrome. Due to my uniquely gigantic family situation, I was always convinced we were poor due to our financial position relative to my peers. I subsequently carried a chip on my shoulder that in many ways I still carry today. Thinking back on this attitude, I’m embarrassed. Because even as the self-perceived low man on the totem pole, I had plenty of things going for me that I completely took for granted—a loving family, great schooling, a supportive community, etc. All of these “pillars” in my life cultivated an environment in which opportunities for success weren’t just attainable, but expected. I was in an echo chamber before echo chambers were a thing. The real world and how good I actually had it didn’t hit me until I moved downtown after undergrad.
At the suggestion of my sister, I began to mentor Chicago youth deemed “at-risk” at a local non-profit called Midtown Educational Foundation (MEF). I’ve been paired with two middle school boys since I started six years ago, both the sons of first-generation immigrants from Mexico. I saw a lot of myself in both students and eventually became closer with their families, including having meals regularly at their house or taking the boys to Bulls games. Right away, I was shocked by the difference in opportunities and access these boys had compared to what I was afforded. Whether it was school quality, neighborhood safety, or future college or career expectations, their worlds couldn’t have been more different, even though they lived only a handful of miles separated where we grew up. As a result, a fire was lit within me and I sought to find more ways to get involved and even the playing field on a larger scale.
I later joined MEF’s Auxiliary Board and also became an Associate Board of My Block, My Hood, My City, another organization focused on expanding community, access, and opportunity. What began as a way to generally “get involved” a few years back has profoundly shaped my perspective and the person I am today. Since coming to Booth, I have tried to help cultivate an attitude amongst my classmates that as future business and community leaders, we have a responsibility as stewards to our neighbors, even if doing so doesn’t necessarily help us get into a great school or land that dream internship–both of which have been big motivators for me in social impact in the past and I’m guessing I’m not alone.
So how have we done that at Booth? Well for one, when you go to business school, you’ll quickly discover that there are A LOT of opportunities to get involved. At Booth, between various student groups, Booth Centers, Faculty, and the UChicago community at-large, there are a whole bunch of great people doing great things in the impact space, but it can often be hard to navigate where one opportunity ends and another begins. The committee and I set out to make this more easily digestible for those wide-eyed students ready to hit the ground running like myself just a little over a year ago. I’ve since talked with 11 different organizations either directly or tangentially involved with Booth in the space and aggregated the following information: mission, ways to get involved, contact info, and any membership requirements if applicable. I’m now working with some folks at the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation to find a permanent home for this info, as well as planning a Social Impact and Sustainability Activities Fair with all the organizations to showcase what they do and answer questions, complete with a signature speaker and free lunch for student attendees (the latter is always a big draw with the MBA crowd!).
Our committee also just wrapped up the Annual Boothgiving Cohort Fundraising Competition to benefit The Greater Chicago Food Depository. It was a fantastic opportunity to get the student body into the giving spirit as we got into the holiday season, and we absolutely crushed our goal and surpassed last year’s fundraising total by over 90% due to a strong finish. Though I’m sure my classmates are happy that it’s over as I won’t be bugging them to donate anymore, my hope is that this becomes a beloved annual tradition at Booth and continues to promote a giving spirit within our community year after year. Well, that’s a little bit about me and my experience in the impact space. I’m evidence that the beauty of going to Booth is that you can really carve your own path. You have two years in school to leave it better than when you got there, and I hope that if anything, my legacy will be that students at Booth view giving back as a responsibility rather than a chore.