Embracing Activism for Social Change – MBA


In 2020, the city of Detroit recorded some 7,000 calls about mental health emergencies – a critical issue, notes Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who says: “When the mentally ill turn to the police for an answer , the system is down. To address this, the city has rolled out the Mental Health Co-Response Partnership, a pilot program implemented with the county mental health authority, Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN), designed to create better outcomes in case of emergency involving first responders and mentally ill citizens. or behavioral health issues.

“We wanted to place behavioral health professionals in situations where their expertise would make a critical difference in solving crisis situations, or even preventing them,” says Sarika Mendu (MBA 2020), HBS Leadership Fellow 2020-2021 . As a senior adviser in Mayor Duggan’s office, she spent much of her first post-HBS year managing the pilot project.

Resolve crisis situations

Mendu and other members of the partnership developed a three-part initiative informed by best practices they gathered from local stakeholders and officials across the country who are addressing similar challenges. “We spoke to people in California and Texas, asking them about coalition building, data collection, evaluation, stakeholder management and community engagement,” she says. “This was at a time when COVID-19 was exposing a wide range of underlying health inequalities among the underserved in our communities. Everyone was scrambling to direct resources to where they could do the most good.

Mendu has also followed Detroit’s 911 call center staff, learning firsthand about their daily challenges. “Imagine listening to callers in crisis during a 16 hour shift. It is emotionally taxing work. We created crisis intervention training for the 90 telephone operators, establishing new protocols and role-playing that allowed them to correctly identify and triage calls to an on-site clinician,” she explains. “It’s had a big impact on improving protocols to ensure mental health specialists are available to help when calls come in,” Mendu says of the initiative’s first priority. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”

The second part was to create a crisis response team to partner with police patrols in neighborhoods where substance abuse, mental health issues and homelessness are chronic issues. “The goal is to help first responders better assess situations and connect those at risk to support services as needed,” Mendu said.

A third strand of the initiative pairs mental health clinicians with homeless outreach workers to avert potential crises before they happen. “Our model was a program we studied in Houston that worked well,” Mendu says. “I was able to lead the practice for the Detroit effort, which was an honor for me.”

Allow career exploration

Each year, the HBS Leadership Fellows program offers a select group of MBA graduates the financial flexibility to explore careers in high-impact nonprofit or public positions for one year at a competitive salary. For Mendu, that meant the chance to work with former Detroit Policy Director Kim Rustem on a number of initiatives, including the development and launch of the city’s mental health co-response partnership, as well as and with Andrea Smith, Director of Training and Workforce Program. Development at DWIHN.

Her role as a senior adviser in the Detroit mayor’s office is Mendu’s first experience in city government, but she has long embraced activism for social change. Prior to HBS, she spent two years at Teach for America, two years with an impact investing venture capital fund in India, and one year in Denmark as a Fulbright Research Fellow studying social return on investment methodologies.

Mendu says being chosen as an HBS Leadership Fellow was “very humbling” and a unique opportunity given the pandemic. “As COVID-19 has reminded us, private companies rely on public programs and policies for financial relief in times of crisis. In contrast, a “good” business strategy often emphasizes minimizing tax liability. How could our economy be strengthened if MBA leaders, across industries, understood and addressed this fundamental gap? For this reason, I strongly recommend MBA graduates consider spending time in the public sector. »

In Detroit’s response to the pandemic, Mendu focused last spring on helping to roll out the vaccine. Most recently, she worked on rental assistance with the Housing Department and helped set up the deployment of Detroit’s $28 million share of the US bailout.

Although the scholarship that increases his salary has ended, Mendu has extended his stay in the city to get involved in implementing sustainable measures to alleviate housing insecurity. As she explains, “It’s an exciting time to work here and see how these funds can facilitate transformational projects and systems.”

This article originally appeared in Alumni Stories.


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