EMBA Class 53 takes service to heart in Shanghai

Students in EBMA Class 53 took the “values-based, data-driven” concept to heart—literally—during their November residency in Shanghai, with an afternoon spent with nonprofit Heart to Heart and a decision that would change the life of a young girl in China.

In November 2019, students in the Executive MBA class 53 took part in a week-long residency in China. They started out in Beijing, exploring the city’s renowned landmarks and studying strategy at plants before heading to Shanghai for a series of experiential courses on trade, healthcare, strategy and more. Residencies like these combine rigorous coursework with international experiences to give executives a high-quality educational experience.

But just taking on a traditional residency experience wasn’t enough for this class. EMBA staff added an afternoon of service to the itinerary, giving students the chance to interact directly with young children and give back to the Shanghai community.

Working with Shanghai Heart to Heart, a nonprofit organization that orchestrates heart surgeries for impoverished families, students helped with the group’s monthly shoe distribution, sewed distribution bags and sorted in-kind donations.

Ben Hjelle (EMBA Class 53) sorts shoes for donations.

Ben Hjelle, member of EMBA Class 53, called the experience “profoundly humbling,” saying that it “underlined the bonds that all humans share regardless of geography or language.” The volunteer staff, many of whom were expatriates like the organization’s founders, took few resources and turned them into something exceptional—leading Hjelle to call them “civil servant entrepreneurs.”

Before going on the trip, the class was made aware of the possibility of providing donations to Heart to Heart that would help fund the group’s mission to provide heart surgeries at no cost to families who need them. Many members of the class chose to give in advance of the service afternoon, and still more felt compelled to give after the experience was over.

Reflecting on the choice the class made to fund a heart surgery, Hjelle said the class “would have contributed to countless organizations if we could.” But he and others were particularly inspired by Heart to Heart.

“I was missing our two-year-old son something fierce by that point in the trip,” Hjelle explained. “I don’t speak Mandarin, but watching those kids come into the playroom, seeing their faces shed the weariness of their journey and pick up a new toy, I immediately felt like I was at home with my son.”

Two months after the students returned to normal life in St. Louis and throughout the US, they heard from Heart to Heart’s executive director, Karen Carrington. Carrington shared the story of Dai Yuxi, an eighteen-month-old girl from the Anhui province who’s being raised by her single father.

Dai Yuxi (pictured below) was diagnosed with VSD and recommended as a candidate for heart surgery, but her father – who also cares for Dai’s twelve-year-old brother and their grandfather – couldn’t afford the surgery.

Then came the EMBA Class 53 donation. Carrington shared, “Because of [EMBA Class 53’s] generosity, Dai Yuxi was able to have her open heart surgery on January 6.  She spent 5 days on the critical lifst, but then moved from ICU to the Recovery Unit.  She is doing much better now.”

Quite simply, EMBA 53’s willingness to give saved Dai Yuxi’s life.

Reflecting on the experience of spending time with a little boy not much older than his son while in Shanghai, and how it inspired him to donate, Hjelle said, “I was reminded that, beneath the superficial differences that we in our basest moments emphasize and exploit, we are all part of the same human community. I am grateful to that little boy and his parents for conveying that lesson so clearly and effortlessly, though it may not have been their intent.”

In Global, Student Life

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