AACSB Influential Leaders Head Humanitarian Aid Efforts
Alumni of AACSB-accredited business schools find their way into socially impactful careers that deliver relief to particularly vulnerable populations.
Two of AACSB’s Influential Leader honorees, Allison Hay and Ricardo Aizenman, pursued business school looking to expand on and diversify their education. After graduating, Hay and Aizenman felt well equipped to develop their careers, but the question then became how to best use their business expertise. As they advanced in their careers, each felt compelled to apply their knowledge to make a difference in their communities while also helping to educate future advocacy leaders.
Looking to expand on her undergraduate education and continue her business focus, Allison Hay chose to attend the University of Houston, where she felt her interests and goals could be met. During her time in graduate school, Hay discovered her talents in marketing and noticed that the baseline skills came naturally for her.
Hay remembers taking many courses that were beneficial in her development, but the classes that emphasized group work are most memorable to her. Initially, Hay struggled with this group focus. She was working during the day and attending classes at night, making coordination with her peers difficult.
Looking back, Hay realized it was the challenges of these courses that ultimately made them so impactful and taught her the most. She admits of her experiences with peers, “We definitely didn’t always agree, but it was those times of disagreement that taught me how to navigate conflict.”
Hay also realized the value of having a team and how it enables everyone to contribute their expertise and talents. Working with people from different disciplines as well as different socioeconomic backgrounds helped diversify the work to create well-rounded project outcomes.
When deciding how to apply her graduate degree, Hay’s background and hometown connection were extremely influential. As a native Houstonian, Hay recalls affordable housing always being a discussion as something that was lacking in the community. Recognizing a need, Hay felt humanitarian aid was a great opportunity to invest in her community and give back. Hay decided to get involved in the Houston Habitat for Humanity and has served as the executive director since 2013.
Hay’s work was truly put to the test when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in 2017. It was during this challenging time that Hay recognized the usefulness and applicability of her business education. During the storm, Hay helped homeowners navigate paperwork, partnered with the community to help rebuild homes, and participated in fundraising efforts.
Throughout the paperwork and fundraising efforts, Hay's financial background proved to be extremely useful. While she expected her finance background to help, she was surprised to discover how beneficial her marketing background was, as well. To achieve her fundraising goals, Hay first had to get donors to understand the importance of their contributions. She knew that if people did not feel drawn to the relief cause, they wouldn’t contribute. “It was really important to tell the story right. That is the first step of the fundraising process, so it was essential that we got it right.”
Hay also tapped into the lessons on group collaboration from business school to coordinate with other organizations to optimize repairs. “We all know it takes a village, but sometimes we forget the behind-the-scenes work it takes to coordinate these partnerships for optimal success.”
Through her work in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Hay was able to reflect on her education, the skills it taught her, and the overall important role it played in preparing her to handle such a large-scale undertaking. It was this realization that motivated Hay to re-engage with the alumni group of the University of Houston. “I hope to be a voice of positive reinforcement as students go through the challenges of building their career and serve as an example of the importance of a strong education.” Hay has also enjoyed witnessing the University of Houston’s Habitat for Humanity program grow. “I feel like I get to see my life and work come full circle.”
Ricardo Aizenman, too, approached his education as an opportunity to diversify his knowledge and skill set while also exploring other cultures. After spending time working at KPMG, Aizenman decided to go back to school to pursue his MBA. One of the partners at KPMG told Aizenman about IE University. Although he had many university options in the United States, Aizenman was drawn to the international exposure at IE, where the student population was 30 percent Spanish students and 70 international mix. Not only was there diversity in the student base, but it could also be found in the curriculum.
Aizenman took classes in entrepreneurship, finance, strategy, economics, and ethics. It was this interdisciplinary education that stood out to Aizenman. “The nature of the content and sum of the courses made a difference for me and directly translated to my career.”
This combination of learnings drove Aizenman’s careers at Citibank N.A. as co-founder and head of the International Commercial Banking model for Swiss bank Julius Baer, and now at Fortune Partners Group. Aizenman currently serves as managing partner for Mexico and Pre-IPO fund director at Fortune Partners Group Wealth Management and Supervisory Multi-Family Office.Though professionally he works in wealth management, Aizenman allocates time for work in humanitarian efforts. In fact, Aizenman is the vice president and co-founder of the Cadena Foundation, a global humanitarian aid and action relief organization on Natural Disasters and National Emergencies supporting the most vulnerable of society.
The Cadena Foundation aims to bring together people of different backgrounds under a mutual goal: humanitarian assistance. As members of Start Network Micro Mergencu Fund, the Cadena Foundation receives support through this fund. Additionally, the foundation calls upon schools and universities to collect aid as well as volunteer doctors, psychologists, and first responders. In total, 4,500 volunteers young and old are called in to action yearly.
Cadena’s success has depended on the relationships and connections within the Jewish community and non-Jewish organizations from all faiths and corners of the world. Together they collect and deliver humanitarian aid. The Cadena Volunteers model is based on collecting, managing, and delivering the aid hand-in-hand, face-to-face, by air, sea, or land. Cadena’s mission is to reach those in need where aid and assistance usually doesn’t reach in person. Regardless of how difficult it is, Cadena delivers. Today, Cadena, together with the Universidad Hebraica in Mexico, has launched a Masters Leadership and International Humanitarian Action two-year program, making it the first of its kind.
Growing up with parents who were greatly involved in humanitarian work, giving back to those in need was ingrained in Aizenman and came naturally for him. This exposure to humanitarian work at a young age, coupled with his appreciation for the entrepreneurship education he received at IE, led to the development and international expansion of the Cadena Initiative, a social entrepreneurship contest, that started in Mexico six years ago. Aizenman wanted to equip children worldwide with a social entrepreneurship education that could directly translate to helping any social cause close to the entrepreneur’s heart.
The goal of the Cadena Initiative is to educate young people about humanitarian aid and teach them the basics of natural disasters and emergencies in today’s world. It also teaches about resiliency, entrepreneurship, project development, leadership, team work, humanitarian goals and values, and social responsibility. The Cadena Initiative is implemented today in 52 middle schools in three continents, so volunteer teachers and parents are there to guide students throughout the program. Aizenman has also noticed that by teaching children, we perpetuate learning and forge future leaders with new social challenges. This model empowers young students to serve as a gateway to educating and inspiring their parents.
In the Cadena Initiative, students come up with ideas to help prevent or respond to a natural disaster. Judges select the best ideas and students have the chance to compete internationally. The selected teams of students travel to areas with a humanitarian aid mission to help hand-in-hand delivery and present their ideas in a competition with students around the world. The winning idea is implemented in a humanitarian effort. Through the program, students receive real-world business experience while also directly playing a role in relief efforts.
Both Hay and Aizenman prioritize humanitarian aid and recognize that their educations played an important role in their ability to conduct successful relief efforts. Not only do Hay and Aizenman give back through their humanitarian efforts, but they now use their voice and expertise to help grow and educate future social impact leaders.
An annual initiative, the AACSB Influential Leaders challenge recognizes business school alumni creating positive, lasting impact in their industries, communities, and society. Learn more at aacsb.edu/influential-leaders.