Booth Alumni Unite to Fight COVID-19

When Chicago Booth alumni in Shanghai learned of UChicago Medicine’s (UCM) dire need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to fight COVID-19, they immediately responded. Within hours of the notice on March 21, Cindy Zhao, ’02, president of the Chicago Booth Alumni Club in Shanghai, reached out to Booth alumni webchat groups, and by nightfall, had organized a Zoom meeting for all interested alumni. That evening, in true Booth fashion, the call’s 38 participants formed a task force divided into four groups: need identification, procurement, transportation, and fundraising, each with a team lead.

“Since we were just coming out of a total lock down in China, many alumni responded with an earnest desire to support our alma mater,” she said. “I started to receive donations within one minute.”

Zhao reached out to the other alumni club presidents to get them on board and announced the China-wide University of Chicago and Chicago Booth alumni community initiative. As she asked for help with fundraising, a very generous donation came from Dave Chenn, ’00, a member of the Council on Chicago Booth, who saw the announcement and offered a generous donation and whatever else the task force needed.

“He is such a role model and inspired so many of us,” Zhao said. “Dave’s strong support at the beginning boosted our confidence to do this.”

After talking with personnel at UCM, the team focused on helping purchase N95 masks in China and having them shipped to the hospital. With the help of many alumni, the sourcing team collected more than 50 potential leads on the different PPEs, and Zhao soon realized the need to add a product expert to the task force.

“Once the task force started its work, we quickly learned how complicated and unique the PPE industry is, how critical it is to get the right product to the front line, and the difficulties of delivery through Chinese and US customs.

For two weeks, the task force spent many hours trying to identify and secure the right N95 masks, and went through a rigorous process with every potential lead for product verification, vendor qualification, price and contract negotiation, payment terms, and transportation method. While they were waiting for confirmation on the mask they selected, word arrived that the mask failed a fit test. Hospital personnel then advised sending the money directly to UCM.  The task force agreed it was safest and most efficient to donate the $112,000 collected by the Chinese Alumni Association directly to the hospital.

“We tried every way to buy and send qualified masks, but we did not make it,” Zhao said. “However the money we sent can help UCM in the same way. When China was in total lock down in February, we truly appreciated the support and care we received from overseas. As we watched what was happening in the US, our Chinese alumni worried about our alma mater and were eager to contribute as soon as we learned of the need. I am really touched by the enthusiasm, involvement, and generosity our alumni showed during this hard time to support our school. Even though it’s not a huge amount of money, it shows how much our Chinese alumni care about and love our school. I am really so proud that we have such a supportive alumni community in China.” 

On the Other Side of the World...

Earlier this year on January 21, before most of the world even knew the coronavirus existed, Qingquan (Tony) Zhang, ’15, received word from his friend and fellow Chicago Booth alumnus, Qiang Du, ’07, that Wuhan, China, was being locked down due to a strange new virus sweeping the city. Medical equipment was in short supply, and he asked if anyone could help. Zhang, who was raised in China but immigrated to the United States in 2003, sprang into action.

“I learned at Booth that we have a social responsibility to try to make an impact,” Zhang said. “I received an education from one of the top universities in the world, and I feel it’s my duty to help others.”

Zhang watched in horror as he was sent videos of residents rushing out of the city, infecting each other. He immediately set up a GoFundMe page, and contacted Booth alumni in China and the US for help. Within 24 hours, $24,000 was raised. Zhang then reached out to Booth alumni in the healthcare field to locate masks, ventilators, and other necessary supplies. However, there were other difficulties.

“We couldn’t just send everything through FedEx, we needed an export and import license, the Chinese hospitals needed approval from regulators... There were so many logistical challenges we hadn’t anticipated,’’ Zhang said. “But the Booth connection is so powerful with so many people in so many industries on both sides of the Pacific that we were able to send our first shipment within 10 days.”

The group eventually raised $120,000 and were able to send approximately 7,000 N95 medical respirators, 12,000 coveralls, and 2,250 protective goggles to China. 

“It was so exciting to see photos of the Chinese doctors unloading the supplies,” Zhang said. “I know nothing about medicine, but by the Booth community working together, we were still able to save lives.”

If you would like to submit a story idea on alumni who have helped in the fight against COVID-19, please email alumni.communications@chicagobooth.edu.