Kelley School initiative results in more than 21,000 surgical masks donated to hospitals

In the fight against the novel coronavirus, a social grassroots venture started by students and faculty at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business has been working to get N95 and surgical masks to hospitals and to the life-saving doctors and nurses who need them.

Kelley school graduates gather for a photo in front of Showalter FountainView print quality image
Members of the 2019 class of Kelley's online Master of Science in Finance degree program with Tsinghua Holding Zijing Education, who together with this year's class, have donated more than 21,000 masks. Photo courtesy of the Kelley School of Business

The #RealHeroesNeedMasks initiative was a result of an "Idea Sprint" organized by faculty in Kelley's management and entrepreneurship department. Since it launched March 22, the initiative already has collected and donated more than 21,000 masks to hospitals in Indiana, New Orleans, New York City and Houston, where co-founder Dr. Amani Jambhekar lives. Jambhekar is a Houston-based cancer surgeon and Kelley Direct online MBA student.

About 8,000 of those masks have arrived in Indiana, going to IU Health hospitals in Indianapolis and Bloomington and to hospitals operated by Community Health Network in Indianapolis.

The group has worked with physicians to set up safe donations at 33 outpatient clinics around the country, as well as nine distribution centers. Masks collected at those sites and from other sources soon will go to other hospitals where they are most needed, including in Chicago and Detroit and cities in New Jersey, California and Georgia.

IU Health employees wearing masks and standing next to boxes of donated masksView print quality image
IU Health employees wearing masks and standing next to boxes of donated masks. Photo courtesy of the Kelley School of Business

The situation can be direr for smaller facilities in hard hit areas that don't have the resources or media presence to ask the public for donations. As a solution to this supply gap, #RealHeroesNeedMasks' model also is to leverage its network to source surgical masks from certified factories and deliver them directly to the communities with the most urgent need.

Among those supporting the effort are Kelley faculty, students and alumni, who have been working behind the scenes, using business contacts to locate reputable makers of surgical masks in China. Students in the 2019 and 2020 classes of Kelley's online Master of Science in Finance degree program with Tsinghua Holding Zijing Education are donating about 21,600 masks.

Jun Yang, director of the Institute of Corporate Governance, associate professor of finance and Arthur M. Weimer Faculty Fellow, helped make the arrangements.

Several members of the #RealHeroesNeedMasks team with IU ties include:

  • Logan Wilhelm, chief research officer and an eight-year Marine in his last year of obtaining his MBA through the Kelley.
  • Ha Diep-Nguyen, campaign manager and an IU graduate who is an assistant professor of finance at Purdue University.
  • AJ Raymond, web developer, a Kelley grad living in Bloomington.
  • Wei Wang, campaign coordinator and a doctoral student in finance at Kelley.

On April 13, the group launched a GoFundMe campaign to help fund the operation and is pledging 100 percent of all donations toward the purchase and delivery of masks.

"Our movement started as a weekend idea sprint which was supposed to be handed off to entrepreneurs who could make it happen," Jambhekar said of her Kelley experience. "It turns out we're the entrepreneurs, and this project has already engaged so many health care professionals looking for a way to give back to our front lines."