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Anna Lam, MBA/MURP ’23: Using Art, Design, and Business to Build Better Communities

Anna Lam World of Difference Scholar

By curating a variety of educational and applied experiences, recent graduate Anna Lam’s studies at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business opened her mind to the intersection of art, business, and real estate—positioning her to build vibrant and socially impactful cities.

Initially, Anna became interested in understanding housing inequalities during her undergrad years at the University of California, Davis. She then spent four years working with the homeless population and with organizations developing affordable housing in Northern California.

Curious to understand the capital markets side of affordable housing, Anna decided to enroll at U-M and pursue a dual MBA/Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree with Michigan Ross and the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Receiving the World of Difference Scholarship was a major part of her decision to choose U-M. This scholarship is awarded to both BBA and MBA students and is made possible by the thousands of individuals who support the Michigan Ross Annual Fund.

“My goal coming in was to find something aligned with my interests and the kind of impact I want to have on the world. This scholarship has allowed me to do exactly that, and has made many of my dreams come true,” says Anna. “The support I've received makes me feel like there's a community backing my vision for what a better world can look like.”

Through various internships and academic experiences, Anna explored venture capital, impact investing, community development finance, and public sector consulting. At Ross, she enjoyed the courses that challenged her understanding of social impact, including Base of the Pyramid: Business Innovation and Social Impact with Professor Ted London, Business in Society with Aneel Karnani, as well as the Management as a Calling program by Andy Hoffman. Within the student body, Anna was involved in Women Who Launch as a VP of Marketing, the Asian American Business Association as a VP of Events, and the Black Business Student Association as an Allyship Chair.

In the final year of her three-year dual degree program, Anna was intentional to foster her interest in art and design. She participated in a design jam put together by Business+Impact and the University Musical Society, an event that inspired her to work with local businesses and delve into the application of art and design in different contexts. Combining many of her personal and academic passions over the past year, she spearheaded the UnfoldKit, a comprehensive toolkit for developers and architects to build affordable housing with community voice and input. With the objective of moving communities towards a place where affordable housing is informed and embraced by its neighbors, UnfoldKit also aims to push the design boundaries of innovative and equitable community housing.

“Despite the goal of sheltering those who need it most, most federal and state programs do not require local community input as part of the real estate development process,” Anna says. “We should build housing with public input. These are lasting structures that will affect the lives of residents for decades, as well those of their children and grandchildren.”

UnfoldKit will consist of a community engagement guide, a workshop and activities toolkit, and public-facing educational templates. Although Anna explains that UnfoldKit did not begin as a product, she credits her business education in developing it as such, as well as helping her to see opportunities in places where she wouldn't have before. For her work on this project, she was awarded the 2023 Economic Mobility Award by Innovation in Action and Poverty Solutions. This summer, Anna will refine UnfoldKit through an extended fellowship with Innovation in Action.

Beginning in Fall 2023, Anna will move to Denver and begin a position with the local and state government division of global consulting firm Guidehouse. In this capacity, she hopes to expand her knowledge of government operations and find ways to apply community-centered design. Anna also plans to continue pursuing her side projects, such as growing her independent design services, delving into local artisan and nonprofit communities, and exploring real estate development for public use.

“My experience at Ross has helped me view myself as someone with the courage to manifest any dreams I have. The MBA program has allowed me to see the power of art and design that we all take for granted. I believe that art is the thing that connects us to each other in ways that we don't always recognize. Art is the demonstration of what it means to be human, and it’s through creativity that we can truly tackle society’s challenges. I really think that art is the answer.”