Alumni join forces to help those affected by COVID-19

In a perfect example of using business as a #forceforgood, a group of alumni from the MBA‘19D promotion recently came together to form Project Green for Impact. The initiative aims to forge connections and draw on the power of the INSEAD global alumni network to come out in force and help countries hit hardest by COVID-19.

As nations struggle with trying to contain what the World Health Organization has now called a pandemic, the stark reality is that the demand for medical facilities and supplies has far surpassed the existing capacity of many healthcare systems. Many countries find themselves sorely lacking in hospital space to dedicate to isolation and intensive care, respiratory support equipment and machinery, and protective materials such as surgical masks, all while facing an increasingly uncertain and ever-changing state of affairs.

“I felt compelled to act and help in whatever way I could,” said Andrew Chen MBA’19D, who was inspired to form Project Green for Impact after witnessing first-hand the critical situation in China while visiting his grandparents in Xining at the start of January 2020. “I discussed the idea with some of my friends from INSEAD and we realised that many of us had the same idea.”

The beginnings of Project Green for Impact
With this in mind, the group believed the best way to help was by connecting the needs of those in affected areas with the knowledge and resources our global alumni community could provide. Hence, Project Green for Impact. Despite trying circumstances – team members under quarantine, taking care of sick loved ones, dealing with stress and anxiety caused by the virus – Project Green for Impact started operating at scale by the end of January. 

Originally called INSEADers for Wuhan, the team decided to change their name to INSEADers for Wuhan & Hubei when the crisis spread to the entire province. When Dean of Degree Programmes Urs Peyer commented that they were on their way to building their own Red Cross, it inspired them to come up with the name Project Green for Impact, in honour of the INSEAD green.  

With the support of the school and the INSEAD Alumni Association (IAA), a closed Facebook group was set up for members of the INSEAD community to lend a hand and make a difference. In a matter of weeks, the group witnessed an explosion of 1,692 members and 2,300 engagements – a powerful display of INSEAD solidarity with everyone affected by the crisis.

Alumni pitch in
So far, the initiative has led to the distribution of 22,000 pairs of medical sterile gloves, 718 protective suits, 160 masks and 20 ventilators to China. An ultrasonic diagnostic device was also jointly purchased with the Wuhan University Alumni Association and is now functioning in the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University. Another 800 protective suits were jointly purchased with the Harvard Alumni Association.

The team is also currently looking for ways to support Italy through the power of the INSEAD alumni network, as cases in these countries continue to soar. In the words of Noemi Zito MBA’18D and Giulia Giovannone MBA’19D, who have since joined the efforts, “In a few days, COVID-19 had transformed from a distant threat into a critical daily reality.” More than 100 members of the community have since pitched in to secure 5 Non-Invasive Ventilators (NIV) Respirators Floton 30 for the hospital in Pieve di Coriano.

Apart from being able to provide much-needed medical supplies for hospitals, the initiative has also encouragingly seen alumni, students, faculty and staff far and wide come together to share requests, problems, knowledge and solutions to help meet the needs of communities impacted by COVID-19 and prevent the spread of the virus.

Challenging times
However, with demand comes less-than-desirable suppliers looking for a quick pay check. “When we first started, the situation was quickly deteriorating. Hospitals were overwhelmed and we were essentially looking for anything we could lay our hands on. Soon after, discussions started surfacing around supplies being donated to hospitals which were ultimately unusable,” said Joy Qiao MBA’19D. The team is therefore very cautious about authenticity and quality when sourcing for items and is supported by a volunteer team of doctors, local experts and even lawyers to mitigate risk.

They faced challenges on other fronts as well, such as a delayed response time from overworked hospital staff, limited working knowledge of logistics, and a fast-changing market situation and regulations. “Needless to say, we all had to handle ambiguity or lack of information and had to act quickly under stress.”

However, this is where the INSEAD experience proved useful. “The most important asset that INSEAD provided us with was a broad network of alumni across countries and sectors. We were very moved by the solidarity, compassion and support received by INSEAD alumni every step of the way. We are proud of this network that is a force for good in times of need,” said Chen. He added that as INSEAD MBA graduates, they were also equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to manage relationships, processes and negotiations, as well as to draw useful insights out of data.

More support needed
There are still many areas in urgent need of medical supplies to tackle the escalating situation worldwide, with surgical respirators, protective suits and goggles being the most urgent. There has also been a growing need for ventilators and ultrasound devices as hospitals experience an influx of patients for which they are ill-equipped to handle. Also needed are face screens/visors, surgical masks, gowns, shoe covers and handheld thermometers.

“What we learnt is that thousands of medical practitioners are at risk, under-equipped and still working day and night. In many hospitals on the frontline, inventory of masks, goggles, hazmat suits and gloves can deplete in 48 hours to a week. With more referrals from our alumni, chances are that we will soon find more ways and sources to help them,” said Chen.

In addition, continuous and dynamic exchanges among alumni and the greater INSEAD community, as seen on the Project Green for Impact Facebook group, provide much-needed support and advice on weathering the uncertainty and disruption caused by the current situation – allowing us to emerge stronger than ever, together.

“This is truly a crisis on a global scale – no country is exempt from its impact. Regular handwashing, wearing masks and social distancing won’t suffice if implemented loosely or in silo. We’re INSEADers. Our alumni network covers 170+ countries in the world. This is our unique advantage. This is INSEAD power, and with it comes responsibility,” stressed Channon Tian MBA’19D. “Oh, and trust science, not tweets.”

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