Columbia’s Business School is best known for educating the next generation of Wall Street executives, but last week it lent a hand to executives on West Harlem’s 125th Street.
During a two-day series of workshops, Business School professors taught 21 executives from West Harlem nonprofits the principles behind value-based leadership, conflict management, and team management. Carmita Padilla—the executive director of Health Leads New York, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income families stay healthy—said that the workshops helped strengthen her organization and others in West Harlem.
“It was a very practical and interactive two-day workshop,” Padilla said.
Most of Columbia’s economic commitments in West Harlem originate from the Community Benefits Agreement, a document signed by Columbia and local leaders that calls for $76 million to be distributed to programs for local housing, education, and job initiatives in Manhattanville over 15 years. But the Business School workshops are unrelated to the CBA. Columbia also runs a mentorship program with the city for minority-, women-, and locally owned businesses.
In one workshop, professor Paul Ingram asked the executives to create a hierarchy of their core values, in order to give them a better understanding of what drives their organizations and to help them identify their priorities when they need to make decisions under stress. Padilla said that the participants initially had a hard time identifying their core values.
“No one was able to articulate it,” she said. “We haven’t really thought about it.”
But by the end of the workshop, Padilla said, she had realized the importance of that knowledge.
“Having those values in front of us really guides us to make better decisions for our organization, for our mission, and for our vision,” she said.
Professor Dan Ames led a workshop on conflict management, discussing ways to deal with the problems that typically harangue nonprofits. During professor Katherine Phillips' team management workshop, executives took on the roles of management and employees and were asked to solve a puzzle, an activity designed to show them how better communication with their teams could make them stronger leaders.
Organizers said they wanted to provide lessons that would increase the nonprofits’ influence in Harlem.
“We have programs that are international in scope, but we weren’t really doing anything directly in the community,” said Business School professor Ray Horton, one of the event’s organizers.
The event was co-sponsored by American Express, which contributed $60,000 in funding.
Workshop attendees included executives from organizations like the National Black Theatre and Jazzmobile, Inc., which already play important roles in West Harlem. The event allowed some of those executives to network and learn from each other’s experiences.
“We all kind of utilize a similar pool of resources,” said Sade Lythcott, the National Black Theatre’s chief executive, adding that the program “opens up the pool of resources we can access—it’s a way to strengthen our institutions.”
Padilla said that thanks to the program, she now knows other West Harlem executives on a deeper level.
“Now there’s ways we can reach out to each other to work together,” she said.