Education changed the arc of Ben Faw and Julia Yoo’s lives.
An Army Ranger who served as a platoon leader in northern Iraq and later as an aide-de-camp in the Army Corps of Engineers, Faw earned his MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS) and cofounded two tech companies, one of which was incubated at the Harvard i-lab. Yoo, a first-generation American, earned her MBA at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, building a career as a strategy leader, economist, and management consultant.
“Education has been our ticket to the American dream, and we want to inspire and help others to also achieve that dream,” Yoo says.
This is what the couple had in mind when they sponsored the first-ever HBS Fund Investors Society Challenge with the goal of mobilizing recent graduates to make leadership gifts. These gifts are critical to the School, providing flexible resources that can be put to immediate use. The fund supports financial aid as well as other key School priorities, including diversity and equity; digital innovation; faculty, case writing, and research; work on issues at the intersection of business and society; and collaborations across the University.
More than 500 alumni from the Classes of 2007–21 participated in the fundraising challenge, unlocking a capstone gift from Faw and Yoo.
“I was fortunate to receive some support from the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs] when I attended HBS. It would have been really challenging without that,” says Faw MBA ’14, who is a member of the HBS Alumni Board of Directors, a volunteer at the Harvard i-lab, and a career advisor and admissions volunteer for HBS. “I’m excited about what the HBS Fund is doing to make the School possible for incredibly talented students who might otherwise dismiss the opportunity because of cost.”
Support for the HBS Fund is one factor in the School’s recently announced decision to provide scholarships to cover the full cost of tuition and course fees for those with the greatest financial need—approximately 10 percent of its student body. The School will also offer scholarship support to more students from middle-income backgrounds, building on the approximately 50 percent of students who already receive scholarships.
Another catalyst for Faw’s philanthropy is the opportunity to show support for Dean Srikant Datar, who was his advisor at HBS. “I was absolutely delighted with the learning, mentorship, and perspective he provided to me as a student,” says Faw. “I trust his vision and want to provide him with flexible resources to accomplish what he deems most appropriate.”
“I depend on the HBS Fund to fuel our aspirations for the School,” says Dean Datar, George F. Baker Professor of Administration. “I’m grateful to everyone who made a gift, and to Ben and Julia for igniting this challenge. Their commitment to education and making a difference in the world, as well as Ben’s leadership as an alum, demonstrate the value that business can have as a force for good in society.”
By tailoring the challenge to recent graduates, Faw and Yoo hoped to encourage younger alumni to think about what they’re able to give, wherever they are on their career paths. “I know a lot of people want to wait until they reach a certain level before giving back,” says Yoo, “but we strongly believe it’s good to get in the habit of giving early.”
As an ambassador for Service to School, a nonprofit that provides free college and graduate school application counseling to veterans and service members, Faw has seen firsthand how critical a role institutions like HBS can play for military members transitioning to the private sector.
His own military service strengthened his commitment to volunteerism and philanthropy in support of those institutions. “There are some things that are worthy of sacrifice, and my time in the military planted a seed of this idea that if one has the capability and resources, then one is able to help,” he says. “Julia and I are fortunate to have some resources that can create value and impact in the HBS community.”
It’s important to view contributions to the HBS Fund as a long-term investment with far-reaching impact that goes beyond the School, says Faw, adding: “There are people at Harvard right now who truly can change the world.”