Reflections on the Virtual Reciprocity Ring Experience

Raseem Farook, Campus News Editor

Raseem Farook (MBA ’21) reports on the first (and hopefully only) edition of Virtual RC START.

My favorite event from RC START last year was the Reciprocity Ring. As noted by Gabriel Ellsworth (MBA ‘20) in his article, “RCs Learn to Give and Take,” Harbus, September 2019, this guided collaboration exercise teaches its participants to get comfortable with requesting for and offering help, often. In my opinion, a big part of what made this event successful last year was the energy in the room. The excitement and willingness of everyone around you to offer help was tangible and it made the act of asking for help seem less daunting. Hence, when the decision was made to deliver this year’s Reciprocity Ring in a virtual format, I was initially skeptical about its effectiveness. Could the same energy be evoked in an online environment?

The answer was a resounding yes. On August 25, the first day of RC START, the Class of 2022 participated in the Virtual Reciprocity Ring event. As a Ring Captain for one of the groups, I was able to witness the event first-hand and I was pleasantly surprised to see the same energy and excitement come through virtually!  Noelia Lombardo Gava (MBA ’22) echoed this sentiment. “Virtual is the last word I would have used to describe what happened yesterday, because it was one of the most real experiences I’ve had this year. No desire was too small for the reciprocity ring, which truly showed us the power of asking for help and paying it forward,” she said.

Felipe Ceron (MBA ’22) had a similar experience and remarked, “It was incredible to experience how every single ask found its giver, even though there were just around 20 people in each virtual room. I really felt that I was in a highly diverse community with an incredible potential.”

Delivering this experience required careful planning. Rather than viewing the virtual setting as a setback, the organizing committee decided to capitalize on the strengths of the online platform. The requests and offers for help by each participant would be consolidated in one location. This would enable the participants to follow up with one another even a few days after the event as they could go back to the website and review the information. Christina Wing (MBA ’98), Senior Lecturer at HBS, who led the Virtual Reciprocity Ring event this year was happy with the result. “Planning for the reciprocity ring online allowed us to leverage EC students and have them run the meetings in different zoom rooms,” Wing Said. “Having students situated in different geographic areas led to more personal asks and thankfully, a large amount of sharing and vulnerability. We did not see any diminishment in the quality of the discussion online and believe that great bonding and helpfulness to each other can come from the online community.”

A couple of incoming RC students reflected on the Virtual Reciprocity Ring experience and shared their thoughts:

“One of the most memorable pieces of feedback I’ve received in a performance review is that I should ask for help more often, so the Reciprocity Rings struck a chord with me. The breadth of requests, from requesting an intro to Bill Clinton to asking someone to make them a pizza, highlighted how no request is too big or too small to make. No matter the request, asking someone for help requires both humility in admitting you need support, and also confidence in believing your request is worth someone’s time. One classmate made a particularly thoughtful request that will stick with me: to be pushed out of his comfort zone. After all, isn’t that why many of us are here?”

– Mike Kelly (MBA ’22) 

“I was amazed to see both the variety of requests that people presented and the level of vulnerability they were comfortable with sharing and accommodating. We had requests ranging from requesting a hand to help move luggage, to help build a website and to help with pointers for public speaking. The 2022 edition of reciprocity rings being online, I think, facilitated, even more, the purpose this exercise sets out to achieve. Zoom gives you a sense of privacy–a feeling that the spotlight is not consistently on you. That, ironically, makes the process of asking for help from a bunch of people you have only known a day, slightly less intimidating. This eventually allowed people to open up more and the requests that flowed in this year were more intimate than in a “normal” year.”

– Nishkam Prabodh (MBA ’22)


The event however did have its share of glitches. The website experienced an overload issue, which in turn, caused a crash. However, the setback was only temporary as Ring Captains adapted quickly and continued with the exercise. By the end of the session, the incoming RC students had a clear takeaway: do not hesitate to ask for help!

In addition to the Reciprocity Ring, RC START week also featured other virtual events that were put together by the HBS Student Association (SA) to facilitate community building. “One of the major challenges of planning, at least during the first half of the summer, was coming up with two versions of the entire event–virtual and in-person,” Lori Ossip (MBA ’21, SA Chief Admissions Ambassador) explained. “With the state of the world in flux, we weren’t sure what would and would not be possible, but we wanted to remain flexible in the event that we could hold some events in-person. One of our key goals was to ensure that our core events were not exclusionary to students and partners abroad or in quarantine.”

“To that end, all of the events during START week were virtual, and the Boston 101 in-person activities are only slated to begin on the second weekend of the semester. There are also virtual options available for many of those events. We aimed to hold events that were informative and would help form strong section and community bonds, even when delivered through a digital medium. To that end, we paired up a group of 20-30 RCs with an EC ambassador that served as their main contact person for the week and could help answer any questions. We were incredibly grateful for the hard work and dedication of the EC ambassadors!”

The Student Association also plans to facilitate some small-group in-person and virtual activities. “We thought it was important to provide people with a responsible, physically distanced way to bond outside of class,” Ossip noted. Examples of these activities include small-group hikes, picnics, bike rides and kayaking. 

Raseem Farook (MBA ’21) is a current MBA student at Harvard Business School. Prior to HBS, he was working in Columbus, Indiana, in the industrial manufacturing space, where he helped to launch two new products in the automotive industry. Originally from Chennai, India, he cannot tolerate cold weather and can be seen wearing sweaters in August.