Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No Carpenters Here

Winter quarter finals just finished up for us at the Chicago Booth School of Business, and rather than heading to some tropical locale to escape the never-ending Chicago winter, I’ve just taken off on a week-long alternative spring break trip with 7 fellow classmates to New Orleans.

When people I tell about the trip hear the words, “New Orleans,” most think we are going to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, then smile and nod when I explain our real purpose. While that’s definitely a worthy cause, I’m no carpenter--I’m an MBA. In terms of “practical” skills, I’ve got nothing. The last thing I put together was a dresser from IKEA, and despite its simple Swedish design and clear pictorial directions, it’s a little shaky.

Instead we’ll put our business skills to good use consulting with Tessa, Sarah, and Ian from Affordable Housing Support Corporation. Their organization is looking to rebuild New Orleans by acting as a developer for small multi-family residences that will be rented out as affordable housing units. We’ll be working with them to conduct market research and evaluate their business plan’s financial feasibility. Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us over the next week.

In preparation for the trip, several of us watched the 4 hour Spike Lee documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Heavy. With all of the hurricane’s destruction, many people were displaced from their homes and rebuilding has slowed still further due to the current economic downturn and credit crunch. In the greater New Orleans region, half of the housing stock was damaged or destroyed, so developing new affordable residences is an especially important task.

Everyone’s motivation for taking part in the trip is a little bit different. Some of us have never been to New Orleans and want to do something significant while we’re here. Others grew up Louisiana and want to give back to this special place. After traveling to China and Honduras as a tourist and seeing the heartbreaking poverty there, I felt guilty for doing nothing of social value on those trips save bringing American dollars to their economies. My one week here is but a small deposit in helping out those in need in my own country. In all, we hope our education will serve us well while we’re here.

Celeste K. Liou
Chicago Booth
MBA Candidate, Class of 2010

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