WEEK 4: This Is Business in the Real World. Textbook Solutions Will Only Get Us So Far

Open Road — Week Four
By Team IBAM

This post originally appeared on the Michigan Ross website.

Incarceration is a topic that continues to make headlines in the U.S. Between mandatory minimums, the current opioid epidemic, and the disproportionate racial makeup of our prisons, it’s no surprise that our justice system is top of mind for our country. Turn on CNN or Fox News and you’ll hear any number of experts propose silver bullet solutions, often entering in national debates on the best approach to rehabilitate the approximately 2.2 million Americans who are currently incarcerated.

Among all the white noise surrounding this sensitive topic, Claire Morel, a social entrepreneur in Austin, Texas, is taking action rather than simply adding to the noise. AMP360 is an organization dedicated to empowering the underserved as a means of preventing incarceration and recidivism.

With just over a year under its belt, AMP has grown into a multi-program organization, offering the justice-affected, both those inside correctional facilities and those in the “free world”, educational and work readiness development opportunities.

Claire invited us to Austin to work with her to plan the next phase of AMP. Given the environment that surrounds AMP, textbook solutions would have gotten us only part of the way toward achieving Claire’s strategy for providing wraparound services to justice-affected communities. For example, AMP’s customers are potential funders, potential volunteers, and the incarcerated. The main communication channel the organization uses to connect with its incarcerated customers/clients is snail mail. AMP works within an organizational structure of correctional facilities with deeply rooted informal and formal hierarchies. And its workforce is comprised of volunteers, many of whom are currently involved in the justice system.

AMP faces real business challenges with the futures of real people on the line. THIS is business in the real world.

We spent the week asking Claire questions, meeting with current volunteers and stretching every management and organizations (MO) trick in the book. Prof. Maxim Sytch would have been proud seeing us work with Claire to develop an organizational structure that creatively applied the Leadership Congruence Model; seeing us tackle volunteer management while expanding our understanding of the Expectancy Theory of Motivation. If Ross is looking for a new MO case study, Team IBAM has one in mind.

However, exactly how important the work AMP is doing didn’t become clear to us until our last day in Austin. The entire week had been spent discussing Claire’s programs and her community in vague, removed terms.

The words “community,” “justice-affected,” “incarcerated,” and “returning citizen” didn’t really come to life until we attended graduation day at the local county jail for one of AMP’s programs, Libre Scholars. Here we saw Claire in action, humbly serving and advocating for a community of people she loves.

During the short four hours we spent in the classroom, we saw and worked with a group of men eager to end the cycle that had landed them where they are today. Many of the men in that room stood and pledged to be leaders among their fellow inmates and to develop and implement programs to prepare their peers for productive reentry into the greater Texas community.

All of the empowerment in the classroom took place within a set of walls, fences, and barbed wire that could have easily left those men feeling hopeless. However, they have an advocate in the “free world” looking to give them the tools they need to turn a bleak environment into one of betterment.

Claire is a community-proclaimed advocate for proud fathers, loving brothers, eloquent poets, music fanatics, and college graduates who are taking responsibility for their actions and seeking to improve themselves and their communities. We appreciate the time we spent getting to know Claire and are proud to call her our friend.

Team IBAM consists of Iris Nguyen, Mikaela Rodkin, Aaron Steiner, and Blake Van Fleteren, members of the Ross MBA Class of 2017.

They just wrapped up their fifth and final week with Connecting for Good in Kansas City. Read more posts from Team IBAM on Open Road.

Open Road is sponsored by the Zell Lurie Institute, the Center for Social Impact, and General Motors.