Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Louisiana, Louisiana, they are trying to wash us away.......
It is my first Spring break. (since I only got winter and summer break in college). and I feel I've learnt a lot. If one day I am able to improve the education system in China, I will definitely include Spring Break on my agenda, since it is a great time to travel with classmates and learn about the world.
New Orleans is an amazing city. It is definitely different from any other American city I've ever been. The distinctive difference could be seen everywhere. On one side, it has the elegant European-style buildings around Jackson Square and French Quarter; on the other side, it is one of the poorest cities in U.S. with the highest crime rate.
Jogging along the Mississippi river, I feel I sensed the power from the water which has fed one generation of American; Food is good too, with Gumbo, Po-boy, Oysters and all other unique dishes; however, the homeless people sleeping on the street and under the bridge has kept reminding me that this is a poor area. The mix gives me a unique sense of the city, and thus attracts a lot of tourists as well as young generation.
The trip is sponsored by the school as a way to help local entrepreneurs to start their businesses. This is the third year Stanford is doing this. Our task this time is to help select an entrepreneur to open his or her business in a retail space opening in Upper 9th Ward, one of the poorest area and most destroyed places in the city during Katrina. 16 MBAs spent five days to interview the four candidates, analyze their business model, debate among groups on figuring one which one is most beneficial to the community and most sustainable. The new vocabulary I learnt is double bottom line, to balance the business between social benefit and economic return. It's difficult to measure. After hours hours debate/discussion/brainstorming, we finally made our decision on selecting a hair salon business to occupy the space. The hair salon will enhance employment and draw traffic to the area. And hopefully, she will open her store very soon.
Entrepreneurship is everywhere. MBA is not necessary, wealth family is not necessary as well. In the Hope House, a charity organization in town, we learn from Jonika(if I spell it right), a single mother who raised two kids by herself, to start a pasta venture. She sold pasta everyday, and managed to make a living. She didn't go to high school, though she dreamed to go to play basketball there. Her mother went to prison because of drug abuse, and she almost lost her life in the hurricane. However, she survived from all of that and became an entrepreneur. The same stories are heard in New Orleans every day, and it's very encouraging to anyone who is hesitating.
New Orleans is a city to sense the power and class. For examples, there will be seven tables in the room, with only two having glasses and waters, which means higher-class people will sit in those two tables. The city has a higher percentage of Black Americans, which is described by some columnists as "the corner that is being forgotten or tried to be forgotten by the American mainstream". Education is a big problem, since the city has the worst public school system. Luckily, after Katrina, most of the public school system were destroyed, which gave the opportunity for a lot of young educators to come to the city and set up charter schools. A HBS graduate in his 30s is working in a charter school to bring advanced education system to try to get more kids into better schools. "Is it worth"? someone asked me. "Yeah, it is. Imagine how much impact you could make in a big corporate? here, in this school, this 30 something is going to change the lives of 400 kids".
How to rebuild the city? Leadership matter, said one of the GSB alumni working in New Orleans. He believes someone with the leadership skill will change the city. The city, once suffered from inefficient leadership of the mayor and unresponsiveness from the Federal government, is on its way to lead itself. A lot of non-profit organizations, such as Global Green and Solar Energy Systems Group, have been to the city and worked on different projects. The Make it Right foundation, led by movie star Brad Pitt, is now building energy-efficient housing for the local people. It's a new and insightful direction, and the city is hoping to become the leader in the next-generation urban planning technology.
To me, the most sad thing is to learn that the New Orleans is sinking. According to NASA, New Orleans will sink about 0.17 inches a year, or near three feet over the next 200 years. Parts of the city are 5-10 feet below sea level now. People are building and rebuilding every year, but there is chance that water will come again and wash everything away. I will pray for the city and hope there will be better solution and technology to protect the city. Hope people will continue to be happy there.