It is one the most prestigious business schools in the world with graduates that include billionaire Michael Bloomberg and the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, to name a few. Harvard Business School, the graduate business school of Harvard University in Boston, recently hosted a week-long professional development program called Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management which brought together 160 social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders from across the world – including the Downtown Boxing Gym’s founder and CEO Khali Sweeney.
Khali was nominated for the program by a group of nonprofit executives and accepted after completing an application process.
“For me to go back to school after the experience I had with school growing up, to go back to someplace like Harvard? Harvard was never even in my universe,” he says. “For me to be accepted by a group of academics and nonprofit peers and to be pushed hard and to come out better for it – it was just a beautiful experience – once-in-a lifetime for me.”
The training session was rigorous with more than a dozen case studies, reading assignments and nightly homework. Khali stayed for the week in the school’s graduate student housing and spent the entire time immersed in the study materials.
“I had to read all night long. I couldn’t answer my phone. There was no TV in the room,” he said. “I’d take notes all night, wake up in the morning and go look at what I highlighted, and brush my teeth reading it. Then I’d memorize my key points because I wanted to go in there and be prepared.”
And he was. Khali took part in structured and informal group discussions and larger classroom presentations led by faculty members. He and other participants analyzed the successes and failures of real nonprofit organizations, exploring how today’s leaders are tackling a broad range of challenges. The program was designed to teach strategic perspectives and leadership skills and deliver practical tools to drive change.
“The professors brought everything to life before your eyes,” Khali says. “It wasn’t just charts, it wasn’t just graphs, it wasn’t just words on a chalkboard. They brought the words to life. The professors were so excited about giving you this information. To hear these professors talk, you were on the edge of your seat.”
Khali returned home with a wealth of knowledge, newly forged friendships and even some Harvard swag. The program was sponsored by the business school’s Social Enterprise Initiative, which aims to “educate, inspire and support leaders across all sectors to tackle society’s toughest challenges and make a difference in the world.”
“What it did for me was it reinforced the fact that I have an excellent team and I’m proud to be with the team that I’m with because a lot of the things they were talking about are things that we have already started doing or things we’ve already done at the Downtown Boxing Gym,” he said. “Our team and our board share the same vision, we’re all on the same mission together. It reinforced that we’re on the right track.”