When Kaden Ryan decided to run for graduate student council, he wanted to find a tangible way to make a difference during the pandemic — both for students looking to gain work experience and for small businesses in Oxford that were struggling financially. While kicking around a soccer ball in his backyard with his friend Jared Mumme, a solution for both problems was born.
Ryan and Mumme created the Kind Student Initiative (KSI), an MBA student-led consulting team that partners with local business owners who have been impacted by the pandemic. The volunteer service organization, which consists of about 25 MBA students, will work closely with some of Oxford’s most beloved businesses to create recommended business plans.
“There’s never been a real partnership with the community of Oxford and Ole Miss before where small business owners can have connections to the wealth and knowledge of student access,” Ryan, managing president of the initiative, said. “Of course, students work there, but there’s never been a pipeline where business owners have direct access to an organization like this one. This will be the first of its kind.”
Ajax Diner has agreed to be KSI’s first partner. Over winter break, the 25 MBA students met regularly via Zoom, brainstorming ways to offer the restaurant their collaborated knowledge and a fresh perspective.
“This is kind of a way for us to create trust in the community,” Ryan said. “If we can work with Ajax, it’s going to show other business owners that we’re okay, that this is how much the students love the community. This is how Ole Miss is different, we go out in the community and start something new.”
Momo Sanogo, president of external relations for KSI and Ole Miss football linebacker, said Ajax is the perfect model for the group’s first project. According to Sanogo, KSI’s development was unique; its first idea came as a result of MBA students being bored during quarantine and looking for ways to help.
“It’s purely, ‘Hey, I’m bored. Let’s help people out of the kindness of our heart.’ I think that’s an awesome thing and something that’s not common, but it’s common to this university. That’s the type of people that our university produces, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Sanogo said.
KSI will be taking on one project at a time, but the team hopes to expand its membership and reach in the coming semester. Chanel Thomas, president of business solutions for KSI and former Ole Miss soccer player, said the students’ various diverse backgrounds are a source of innovative solutions.
“I think we all contribute in a way that we use our own skill sets to try to figure out what we think would be best for the business,” Thomas said. “As a finance major, I guess I have that sort of background that could potentially help small businesses that might be struggling to figure out what would be best for them moving forward.”
Coco McDonnell, president of the MBA school and president of client acquisition for KSI, considers the initiative’s work as a win-win situation for everyone.
“Businesses can get some really great advice from the MBA’s… (and) for us, it’s just a really great learning experience,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell also said she is motivated by the fact that Oxford small businesses have always supported students and the thrill of being able to give that support back. She noted that many small business owners know student customers by name and are eager to sponsor sports teams and events.
“That’s not something you get when you shop online with Amazon or a big retailer,” McDonnell said. “So, for me, it’s kind of about giving back and helping these businesses succeed, and hopefully making up for some of the lost revenue from the times that we were completely closed.”
Mumme, president of college outreach for KSI, said he is looking forward to being able to give back to the small businesses that have meant so much to him.
“Right now, most of the time if you see coronavirus news related to students, it will say how they are acting immaturely, going about and doing their everyday things even though that’s putting people at risk,” Mumme said. “(Kind Student Initiative) is students trying to turn coronavirus into a positive, rather than going about their everyday lives thinking it doesn’t affect them. That’s one of the reasons I’m really about this, it highlights the positives that can happen.”
The members of Kind Student Initiative are eager to put their plans into action and witness positive change in the community. Sanogo said he hopes Kind Student Initiative can bring positive energy to Oxford.
“When there’s a community aspect and everybody’s reaching back to help each other for nothing in exchange, it helps the energy a lot more,” Sanogo said. “It’s like someone reaching a helping hand and not asking you to scratch their back. That atmosphere that’s created by those kinds of acts and the acts that will be created by the Kind Student Initiative are going to leave a positive mark on this town.”