College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Kola: “Friend” in the Lakota Language


This year, Adam Ratner and his fellow MBA participants started a new nonprofit organization, the Kola Foundation, to help improve conditions for the Oglala Lakota people living at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Pine Ridge is the eighth largest reservation in the United States and the poorest. Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border, it stretches across 3,500 square miles and is home to nearly 30,000 residents.
Ratner, who serves as the organization’s chief executive officer and lead spokesman, just returned from his most recent trip to the reservation. He spent the weekend distributing an impressive list of goods collected through the efforts of his c-suite officers and other members: Jon Chan, chief marketing officer, Michael Hodnett, chief operations officer, Rob Hunter, Saad Khan, Mariel Nardi, vice president of communications, Nick Reynolds, chief development officer, and Tyler Smith, chief financial officer.
Together, they amassed more than 14,000 items to give away, including quilts, shoes, sweaters, winter coats, school supplies, newborn kits and personal hygiene kits.
450 Native American residents attended the Kola Foundation event. One Oglala Lakota who attended, Julie, said, “Sometimes you get so down that you don't know how to pick yourself back up. Then something like this happens and it really boosts morale.”
Ratner received an email from a local Champaign resident with family in Pine Ridge also praising their efforts, “Kola did a fantastic job, the giveaway was an overwhelming success and Kola came 'in a good way'."
From his many interactions with the residents of the reservation Ratner believes the Kola Foundation has become a recognizable name synonymous with generosity and respect among the Oglala Lakota. 

UIUC College of Business