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We’re rapidly approaching the one-year post-Fletcher mark for the graduates in the Class of 2014.  Today we meet Julia Leis, whose path from pre-Fletcher to her current location involved several countries on three continents.  Julia used her time at Fletcher to develop her interests and explore new areas, resulting in the perfect job that weaves everything together.

While working at an agricultural school for Burmese youth in northern Thailand in March 2011, I confronted two major decisions: 1) which career/life path to choose; and 2) whether to return to the U.S. that August.  I knew I wanted to continue my education and, while my undergraduate studies at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service had prepared me well in international relations, picking the right graduate program was a challenge.

The decision was complicated because I felt I had too many interests.  Urban planning, social enterprise, natural resource management, and public policy all fascinated me, as each area incorporated my previous work experience and passions.  In addition to these interests, I knew I wanted a graduate school with an international focus on development.  Thanks to mentors and supportive family back home in Chicago — and a Fletcher student, who I found through the Fletcher Admissions Blog and who Skyped with me while I was in Thailand — I found the ideal place, where I would have the flexibility and support to pursue multiple avenues of interest: The Fletcher School.

Now, four years after I considered my future plans, I can happily report that enrolling at Fletcher was the best decision I ever could have made.  Not only did I find an incredible group of friends and peers at Fletcher, but I was able to pursue all of my interests in various capacities through courses, by organizing conferences, and in research assistant positions.

The sense of community that I found at Fletcher from the first day was unparalleled.  The first weeks of school were both exciting and overwhelming, as I struggled to find the right balance between building off my previous background and exploring new subject areas.  By the end of my first year, while I knew I wanted to pursue a career abroad, I did not know in what capacity.

Julia Leis, Burkina Faso

Visiting female poultry producers in southwest Burkina Faso, 2013

In between my first and my second year at Fletcher, I was able to pursue an internship with Millennium Challenge Corporation in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, working on agricultural development, M&E, and land tenure reform projects, which allowed me to broaden my development skill set while working in a French-speaking context.

In my second year at Fletcher, I cross-registered for a course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, under Visiting Professor David Sanderson, called Design for Urban Disaster.  This course, along with Field Studies in Global Consulting with Prof. Rusty Tunnard, reignited my interests in complex urban issues, resilience, and human-centered design, and I considered more seriously pursuing a career in humanitarian response.  With the support of Prof. Tunnard, I also self-designed a Field of Study in international urban planning and development.  In January 2014, I joined a graduate school field trip with Prof. Sanderson to Léogâne, Haiti, to conduct a participatory evaluation on transitional shelters.

In preparing for life post-Fletcher, I attended an Office of Career Services information session with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the fall semester of my second year, and I decided to apply to their International Development Fellows Program (IDFP).  My interest in the IDFP was further solidified by courses such as Essentials of Humanitarian Action and Gender, Culture, and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies with Prof. Dyan Mazurana and Prof. Elizabeth Stites.

CRS selects approximately 20 IDFP fellows each year, and places them across CRS country programs in Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia, and Central America.  I discovered that at least one Fletcher student had done the IDFP each year prior to me in places such as Haiti, Kenya, and Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza.  I was able to connect with these talented alumni, who highlighted what an excellent opportunity the IDFP offered to pursue a humanitarian career abroad, as a majority of fellows will, after nine to ten months, transition to program manager positions within CRS.  I knew that the IDFP would allow me the chance to work closely with communities and partners at the local level, and with an organization I deeply respected.  I was fortunate to be selected and offered a position with the CRS Philippines country program in early May, and my posting was scheduled to begin in September 2014.

As I graduated in May 2014, I needed to find summer employment to get me through to September.  Again, Fletcher provided me and other students with an excellent opportunity to conduct field research related to topics that interested us.  I joined my phenomenally talented research partner Anisha Baghudana (MIB ’15) in Nairobi, Kenya as Junior Research Fellows with the Institute for Business in the Global Context and MasterCard Worldwide.  We completed a qualitative study on how digital innovation is improving urban mobility in Nairobi.  Connecting with Nairobi’s tech and start-up community provided an exciting glimpse into how entrepreneurs are creating solutions to solve some of Nairobi’s biggest urban transport challenges, including traffic congestion, poor road quality, and safety and security for passengers and pedestrians.

Hygiene promotion during shelter and WASH kit distribution in Eastern Samar for Typhoon Hagupit emergency response, 2014

Hygiene promotion during shelter and WASH kit distribution in Eastern Samar for Typhoon Hagupit emergency response, 2014

In my current position as a CRS fellow in the Philippines, where CRS has been working since 1945, I have worked with exceptionally talented Filipino and international colleagues in Manila, Davao, and Tacloban City.  In Eastern Leyte and Samar, CRS is responding with Shelter, WASH, and Livelihoods programming after Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the area in November 2013.  I’ve supported multiple projects, including an urban disaster risk reduction program called SUCCESS (Strengthening Urban Communities Capacity to Endure Severe Shocks) in Metro Manila, and the December 2014 Typhoon Hagupit emergency response in Eastern Samar.  My training from the class on Essentials of Humanitarian Action proved extremely useful and applicable, as I helped with shelter and WASH kit distribution in affected communities, wrote situation reports, and attended coordination meetings with local government agencies and UNOCHA.

Like Hanneke, while I dearly miss my family back in Chicago and my Fletcher family, I never cease to be amazed at how close we remain.  Despite being in vastly distant locations now, such as South Sudan, Washington, DC, Uganda, Nepal, Guatemala, and Boston, we support each other in any way we can, especially as the transition after grad school is not always a smooth one.  They have supported me through countless Skype calls, and even with a month-long visit to the Philippines.  It is this unique network of support that so attracted me to Fletcher in the first place, and I know that it will remain with me for years to come.

A final Sunday brunch in Medford, MA, 2014

A final Sunday brunch in Medford, MA, 2014

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Today, let’s meet another graduate from Fletcher’s Class of 2009, Yanina Seltzer.

Pre-Fletcher Experience

Yanina, 2I was born in Argentina, raised in Costa Rica and finalized my higher education in the United States.  From a very early age, I developed a global perspective, especially regarding culture, economic issues, and social realities.  I was exposed to harsh economic injustices and social inequalities that sparked my passion for influencing issues surrounding poverty.  In college, I focused my studies on politics, economics, and Latin American studies, in line with my upbringing.  During this time, I interned at Habitat for Humanity, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

After graduation, I served as an economic analyst at Nathan Associates and as a research analyst at the Inter-American Development Bank.  My academic background and professional experience prepared me for Fletcher.  It was clear to me that, through my graduate studies, I could maintain my goal of decreasing poverty and inequality by continuing to focus on international development, but also could broaden my regional scope and my understanding of the role of business and the private sector.

At Fletcher

When I arrived at The Fletcher School my academic focus was development economics and international business.  Yet I also took time for establishing and enjoying community with my peers, which included dancing at nearly every Culture Night.  Exploring the business and finance world would bring an important perspective to the work I had already been doing.  There were two specific classes, both from my first year, that had a uniquely profound influence on my professional and personal development.  The first was Microfinance: Issues and Breakthroughs with Prof. Kim Wilson, which really broadened my understanding of development.  I learned that increasing economic opportunities for the poor involves an active role from the private sector, entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology as a central catalyst.  The second influential class was Prof. Rusty Tunnard’s class in International Consulting.  Our project with Sun Microsystems crystallized for me the role that technology plays in poverty alleviation.  Creating an engagement strategy for a large technology company in order to bring technology to the Base-of-the-Pyramid (BOP) merged my previous concepts of finance and technology with the necessary role of social innovation.

I then spent my summer in Rio de Janeiro, interning with Mobile Metrix, a social enterprise that does market research at the BOP.  When I returned to Fletcher in the fall, in addition to my Fletcher classes, I cross-registered at the business and medical schools at Harvard.  Through those additional classes, I learned how innovative solutions are applied around the world to solve social problems.  And as I neared the end of my time at Fletcher, I knew exactly where I would land in the global economics landscape: Financial Inclusion.

Post-Fletcher

YaninaAfter graduating, I completed a summer internship at CGAP/ World Bank.  I admired the work of CGAP from afar as a graduate student.  It wasn’t long before CGAP asked me to continue beyond my internship experience.  My initial focus involved regulatory issues in branchless banking.  My work then evolved to market-level analyses and projects centered on mobile-financial services.

In 2011, I relocated to Brazil for nine months, where I spearheaded CGAP’s Brazil strategy in financial inclusion.  During this time, I solidified partnerships with some of the largest banks, such as Bradesco and Caixa.  I initiated innovative projects with these actors and the private sector, facilitated regulatory discussions with the Central Bank, led workshops with banking associations and Ministries, and interacted with leading stakeholders in financial inclusion.  I also led our research agenda, where I got to engage directly with hundreds of low-income customers and understand the reality of their ever-complicated needs and behaviors around financial services.

It was during this time in Brazil that I met hundreds of people living in Rio’s slums, in low-income communities in Sao Paulo, and in peri-urban towns in Recife.  This direct interaction gave me long-lasting and unforgettable insights into designing products and services that empowered them and made sense for their lives.  In an effort to truly support them in their economic lifestyles, hopes, needs and possibilities, it became clear that face-to-face connection would be the greatest influence in efforts to design inclusive products, services, and experiences.

Yanina-TEDTwo years post-graduation, I was invited to deliver a TEDx talk in my home country of Costa Rica, which was particularly powerful for me.  My talk centered on the role of technology in international development and I continue to advocate for that perspective in my current role, which includes leading CGAP’s work-stream in Human-Centered Design and Financial Inclusion and customer-centricity.  It came as no surprise that the concepts behind human-centered design center on the influence that direct conversation, observation, and customer-centricity have on innovation.  I have been deeply involved with a total of seven financial service providers and several world-class design firms in order to understand low-income customers and better design and deliver products and services to them.

Five years post-Fletcher I remain at CGAP, devoted to topics and concepts that are a true reflection of Fletcher’s nature.  My education and my professional experience are the epitome of an interdisciplinary experience: a combination of research methods, creative thought, and business strategy that consistently anchors on the fact that real individuals and communities are the heart of everything we seek to design for and understand.  I am recently married and know that my time at Fletcher prepared me for success professionally and personally!  Each day, I am full of gratitude for my Fletcher experience and its extended community of alumni and educators.

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This has been the post-admissions-decision week when I have felt most overwhelmed by the pace of work, made worse by a busy week at home that left no extra time to extend my work day.  Lengthy or detailed blog posts have been one of the casualties.

Today I’m going to share a few sentences that have come my way and that I think capture the nature of Fletcher.  The first comes from Ben Mazzotta, a member of the research staff of the Institute for Business in the Global Context who is also a graduate of the MALD and PhD programs, and who is about to embark on a new adventure on assignment for USAID.  In a note of farewell, Ben wrote:

It has been a privilege to work here, where so many people genuinely come to work in the morning with the belief that we can solve the world’s problems, and then set about doing exactly that.

For students, this is their school, but for faculty and staff, this is our workplace, and Ben has captured the reason why so many of us have dedicated many years to working here.

The second note also came from an alumnus, in this case one who has gone on to become the ambassador from Pakistan to Japan.  After hosting an event for newly admitted students in Tokyo, Ambassador Amil reported back on the brief speech he gave at the event:

My message was that Fletcher has given so much to us in building bridges of understanding and hope, and it is important to maintain that connectivity.  I made friends for life there!

We Admissions staffers are proud of the role we play in building the Fletcher student and alumni communities.  In a busy week, reading these brief but timely notes reminds us of the impact we hope to have.

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One of the more commonly selected Fields of Study at Fletcher is International Environment and Resource Policy, which also has an associated research center.  If you plan to pursue environment study at Fletcher, you’ll want to check out the CIERP website, which includes several profiles of alumni working in the field.

If you’re especially interested in the CIERP community, you’ll also want to read about the faculty and staff.  It’s worth noting, too, that CIERP hires students for several research positions each fall.

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Continuing to feature alumni who, last May, marked five years since their graduation, today we meet Jessica Farmer F09.  Jessica pays tribute to Prof. Alan Wachman, who was himself a Fletcher grad and whose presence at Fletcher is still missed.

I went to Asia on a backpacking trip with college friends in the early 2000s and was absolutely hooked.  The noise, the bustle, the food — there was something electric about this part of the world.  I decided if I was going to come back long-term, I had to pick a country where learning the language would make sense for my career.  I chose China, and spent a year living in a small village in Hunan.

From this time forward, for me, China’s rise was up close and personal.  My village was eventually bulldozed to make way for a high-speed train station.  I came to Fletcher to help put it all in context, to understand a bit of the history of this place, to read, to think, to reflect.  I had the distinct honor to study under the late Alan Wachman, who I believe was one of the best minds of his generation on Northeast Asia issues.  I try, and usually fail, to emulate his meticulous attention to detail, to listen for what is not said but implied.  As a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, posted first to Beijing and now Tokyo, his guidance continues to edify me daily.  For his tutelage and for Fletcher, I shall always be grateful.

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My email exchange recently with Sebastián went beyond learning about his Defying Gender Roles initiative.  He also told me about a long-standing tradition for a group of Washington, DC-based Fletcher alums to gather for breakfast every Tuesday.  And he sent a photo of the Very Early Breakfast Club, composed of members of the classes of 2012 and 2013, last week at the Flying Fish Café.  All of the Very Early Breakfast eaters live in the Mt. Pleasant area.  In any neighborhood, DC is thick with Fletcher alums!

Breakfast club

 

This post won’t be typical for the Five-Year Updates.  To start, it won’t be written by the featured Class of 2009 graduate.  But today is a good day to recognize Amanda Judge F09, who later this afternoon will receive the second Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award.  The award ceremony is timed to fall on the Friday before the March 8 International Women’s Day.  According to the invitation we received to the event:

Amanda JudgeAmanda Judge is Founder and CEO of Faire Collection, a fair trade accessories brand that brings economic stability to more than 200 rural artisans in Ecuador and Vietnam.  In the seven years since its founding, Faire Collection has grown from just $10,000 in start-up capital to well over $1 million in sales revenue and is committed to providing its artisans with dignified wages and holistic social programs that provide a path out of poverty.  Judge, who received her MALD in 2009, developed Faire’s business plan as an independent study at Fletcher. She holds a degree in finance from Santa Clara University and worked in the private sector before launching Faire Collection.

The award was established in 2014 by the Fletcher Board of Advisors and the School’s executive leadership to honor outstanding women graduates who are making a meaningful impact in the world in the private, public, and NGO sectors.

You can read more about Amanda and her work in the student-published Tufts Daily, in a nice article on the University’s Tufts Now page, and on the Faire Collection website.

Amanda’s post-Fletcher career certainly deserves to be recognized among those of her peers, with a Five-Year Update.  Congratulations, Amanda!

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A 2012 grad, Sebastián Molano, with whom I’ve occasionally been in contact over the past two-plus years, recently wrote to tell me about a new project he has started.  I’m going to let him introduce it.

Defying Gender RolesIn order to contribute to the current struggle for gender equality, last January I created Defying Gender Roles.  This is an initiative that seeks to challenge harmful gender roles by creating a space to share thoughts and views about the nuances of being men and women today, and through it we aim to foster and promote diversity.

Last month, we launched our Facebook group and we have over 800 followers.  With this group we seek:

  • To bring attention to the harmful gender roles that are part of our daily life and to how they affect our ability to be who we want to be.
  • To “de-normalize” practices that perpetuate gender inequality and reinforce harmful traditional gender roles.

In this project, I have the support, ideas, and energy of five Fletcher alums: Joya Taft-Dick F11, Megan Rounseville F12, Sean Lyngaas F12, Amos Irwin F12, and Ana García F13.

I was invited recently to give a TEDx Talk at Colby College, where I spoke about what it means to be a man today and the struggle for achieving gender equality.  (A link to the talk should be available soon.)

With International Women’s Day coming on Sunday, March 8, I’m happy to be able to point to work that Fletcher grads are doing on behalf of gender equality.

 

Yesterday, the Faculty Spotlight shone on Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, who teaches the series of classes on Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation (DME or DM&E).  As Prof. Scharbatke-Church mentioned, she frequently runs into alumni in her travels and work.  I’m delighted that she has shared with me brief introductions to some of those Fletcher graduates who took one or more of her classes.  She developed these introductions to help students understand whether the classes are right for them.  As currently configured, the classes are Design and Monitoring of Peacebuilding and Development Programming, Evaluation of Peacebuilding and Development for Practitioners and Donors, and Advanced Evaluation and Learning in International Organizations.  For blog readers, there is additional value in noting the careers in which DME concepts can be applied.

Lisa InksLisa Inks F10
Current Position/Organization: Director of Conflict Management Programs, Mercy Corps Nigeria.  I oversee Mercy Corps’ conflict management division in Nigeria, composed of various donor-funded programs integrating peacebuilding, economic development, and governance.  I am responsible for setting our conflict management strategy, ensuring the programs’ success against our objectives, and leading research and M&E initiatives.

Professional interests and passions: Integrated peacebuilding and economic development programming; research on conflict/poverty linkages; governance and peacebuilding; monitoring, evaluation, and learning of conflict mitigation programs.

Things I wish I knew before taking the courses: This will be your chance to soak up theory.  After Prof. Scharbatke-Church’s classes you will never feel like you have enough time to absorb the great wisdom of the M&E giants.  Read every word and reflect on what you think your personal approach to DME is, and how you see this playing into your work.  If you go into the rest of your career with a clear understanding of how you see yourself in the DME world and what your ideals are, you’ll be more effective.

Most valuable takeaways, and how these have helped in your career: What I learned in that class was more than a collection of tools, strategies, and facts: I adopted a completely new mindset for how to implement development and peacebuilding programs.  Constant iteration is absolutely necessary for programming effectiveness.  The way Prof. Scharbatke-Church modeled continuous learning and improvement is the way we should all run our programs.  I think about that often: how I need to stop, evaluate, and reflect after each step of an activity — and always get the direct input of participants.  (This seems obvious, but it wasn’t until I took the class that I truly internalized the importance of direct feedback and closing the feedback loop.)  Also, through the class, I learned how to think logically and precisely to develop a program with a clear and testable theory of change and to monitor its effectiveness.  A year after graduating I was training people throughout my previous organization in how to develop DME systems.

Other comments for incoming students who are considering the course series: If you plan to work in development at all, take this course.  This class should be a “must” for anyone who wants to work in an NGO or for a donor.  Prof. Scharbatke-Church’s class is rigorous, challenging, and humbling, but if you are serious about development — and are serious about doing high-quality development work that responds to the needs of those you are trying to serve, and that is based on evidence and learning — you should take it.

Brian Heilman F10

Brian HeilmanCurrent Position/Organization: Independent M&E Consultant. Prior: Gender and Evaluation Specialist, International Center for Research on Women (2010-2015).

Professional interests and passions: Gender equality; prevention of all forms of violence against women; engaging men and boys in efforts to advance gender quality; utilization-focused evaluation; quantitative data analysis and visualization.

Things I wish I knew before taking the courses: Honestly, the professional value of these courses is about triple that of the average Fletcher course…with a workload to match!  Also, despite the modules’ titles — and I suppose not all incoming first years are immediately familiar with DM&E concepts — these courses were the most fertile ground at Fletcher for deep discussion and analysis on the ethics and effectiveness of international development and peacebuilding programming.

Most valuable takeaways, and how these have helped in your career: These courses taught me:

  • To demand clarity and logic from international development program designs — but not by sacrificing imagination.
  • To demand and uncover evidence of these programs’ relevance, effectiveness, and/or sustainability prior to large-scale investment — but not by allegiance to methodological “rigor” as narrowly understood.
  • To demand that we value usefulness over interestingness in the application of precious program, evaluation and research resources.

These and other insights from the courses — as well as from Professor Scharbatke-Church’s broader mentorship and support — helped me come into my own as a professional evaluator, a career path that honestly I hadn’t imagined for myself prior to attending Fletcher.  I have now collaborated on and led a range of evaluations and M&E collaborations in diverse settings, from the Pacific Islands to South Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa, and I apply principles from these courses throughout.  I am still so grateful that I took a chance on the first DME course in my first semester — it changed everything!

Other comments for incoming students who are considering the course series:  These courses are fantastic for the Fletcher student with broad interests in international development practice.  If you’re like I was, you’ve got some constellation of interests including: human rights, grassroots programming/activism, data collection and analysis, development/foreign aid policy, and/or others.  You can take many classes at Fletcher that dig into these areas individually but that conveniently ignore the implications of the others — especially the crucial question of how best to ensure that your program/practice/policy continues to learn from itself and improve over time.

These courses bring all of those topics together, but perhaps more importantly, they do so while also taking the notion of the “professional degree” very seriously.  They are designed and taught very thoughtfully as preparatory courses for professionals.  The projects and work you undertake mirror the projects and work you will undertake after graduating:  Teamwork. Project designs and proposals. M&E plans. Data collection guides.

Jessie EvansJessie Evans F10

Current Position/Organization: Conflict Stabilization Specialist, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, U.S. State Department.

I support broader State Department and interagency efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy by applying conflict expertise and supporting embassies in countries and regions affected by conflict.  I design and implement conflict prevention and stabilization programs and advise on U.S. government policy.  I am expected to quickly gain familiarity with specific conflict-impacted countries to identify gaps where my Bureau’s tools, including strategic planning, conflict assessment, financial assistance, and deployable staff, can enable the U.S. government to develop better policy and programs leading to improved outcomes.  I’ve served in Afghanistan, Burma, and Bangladesh.

Professional interests and passions: Countries transitioning from conflict to peace, conflict prevention, reconciliation mechanisms, trust-building, civil-military relations, gender.

Things I wish I knew before taking the courses: I wish I had known the DM&E classes I took at Fletcher would be by far the most practical, relevant courses I would take in graduate school.  I also wish I knew more M&E vocabulary before starting the course.  I had only been in the workforce for a few years before Fletcher, with limited program design experience, so much of the lingo was new to me.

Most valuable takeaways, and how these have helped in your career: I am more strategic, always asking myself what changes I would need to see, in individuals and societies I work in, to determine whether the money, time, and effort we spent was “worth it.”  The course also taught me the importance of going beyond calling an intervention a success solely because it met its originally stated objectives and goal.  I learned to ask the even tougher question, like … was it the right intervention in the first place?  Did it have the intended outcomes and do those outcomes amount to something greater, a larger impact?  Could it have been done more efficiently?  Will it be sustainable?  I just wrote an evaluation scope of work for one of our projects and I relied heavily on what I learned in DM&E class – looking back at course material as I drafted it!

Jennifer Catalano F11

Jennifer CatalanoCurrent Position/Organization: Director, Youth Economic Participation Initiative at the Talloires Network (Tufts University).

I oversee a 4.5-year demonstration grant program at the Talloires Network, an international association of universities committed to civic engagement.  This program provides sub-grants to eight universities in the global south in order to expand and learn from their efforts to prepare students for entrepreneurship and employment.  Additional program elements include a learning partnership with the University of Minnesota and a global community of practice around the topic of higher education and youth employment/entrepreneurship.

Professional interests and passions: Gender, youth, ethics, the aid system, higher education.

Things I wish I knew before taking the courses: It’s rather intense, and has a significant workload, but I had heard that through the grapevine.  Actually the intensity set me up well for the rest of grad school.

Most valuable takeaways, and how these have helped in your career: So many things…I drew on Program Design skills during the first phase of my post-Fletcher work, which involved coordinating the process of designing the program I now work for.

The M&E knowledge has been extraordinarily helpful during the past year.  The program I work on includes a significant multi-year monitoring/learning effort.  My M&E studies helped with the process of selecting an evaluation team and working with them to set up the collaboration.  The whole process would have been daunting if I hadn’t known how to create a TOR, the right language to use, what to look for in evaluators, etc.  Knowing this process so well also helped me to advocate for decisions that were in line with my values.

Now as we move into a phase of active collaboration with our learning partners, my M&E skills enable me to contribute in a far more substantive and meaningful way to the process.

Other comments for incoming students who are considering the course series: This is one of the most practical and useful courses you could take at Fletcher if you intend to work anywhere in the aid chain. I highly recommend it.

 

Time to hear from another Class of 2014 graduate.  Yuko Hirose was one of those students who are organized and systematic in their approach to their studies, but who still maintain an open mind toward post-Fletcher opportunities.  Here she describes her three-year path from Tokyo, through Medford/Somerville, to Nairobi.

YukoHirose_Ethiopia_Michiti_Coop_CloseupIt’s been more than seven months since I graduated from Fletcher, and I find myself writing this from Nairobi, Kenya where I have been living for the past four months.  If someone had told me three years ago that I would find myself working as a global development consultant in Nairobi, I certainly wouldn’t have believed it!  Life throws you wonderful opportunities when you least expect them, and Fletcher has played a tremendous role in helping me get here.

Three years ago, I was working as a management consultant in Tokyo, knowing that I eventually wanted to transition to working on global development issues.  My passion for working in developing countries grew through meeting microfinance clients in the slums of Mumbai and Dhaka and a homestay in a rural village in Thailand during my undergraduate years.  A study abroad at UC Berkeley exposed me to the world of social innovation, and I devoured books and other opportunities to learn about harnessing market approaches to improving the lives of marginalized populations.  This was also when I first learned about Fletcher; a trusted friend and mentor attending Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy mentioned that her fiancé was attending Fletcher and loved the school’s strong curriculum in international affairs, as well as the warm and passionate community.  Going to Fletcher became a dream of mine.

After university, I wanted to quickly build my skills in problem-solving and management, and I decided to join a consulting firm.  There I met wonderful mentors and developed business skills that would eventually help me be effective in development projects.  Though I had opportunities to work on pro bono projects with Japanese non-profits after the March 2011 earthquake in northern Japan, I still craved the opportunity to more directly apply the skills I had gained to the issues that I cared about.  I started taking steps realize this dream, using any time I could carve out to apply to graduate school.

I was ecstatic when I received my admission letter from Fletcher in late 2011.  Fletcher provided the perfect blend of development economics and international business courses that could help me transition from a career in the private sector to one in global development.  In the end, what finalized my decision to join the MALD program was the warm alumni community I met during a reception hosted for admitted students at the residence of a Fletcher alum, Mark Davidson F86, who was then serving as U.S. Minster-Counsel of Public Affairs to Japan.  I remember riding the train home that evening in awe of how humble the Fletcher alums were, despite their countless accomplishments, and touched by how fondly they spoke of their experiences at Fletcher and the friendships they developed there, even after many decades.  If I was taking a leap into an uncertain future, I knew I wanted to spend the two years of my master’s program in a warm community of peers who are passionate about changing the world — as cliché as that sounds — and helping each other in the process, and Fletcher turned out to be exactly that.

After two years there, I can honestly say that going to Fletcher was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.  Not only did the courses help me to better understand development issues and tools such as impact evaluation and development finance, but Fletcher alums were extremely supportive in helping me transition my career.  My summer internship was with an inspiring Fletcher alum at the International Finance Corporation, working on how to incorporate a gender lens into IFC’s investments.  This internship helped me to work with TechnoServe in Ethiopia over the winter break of my second year, assessing the successes and challenges of a guarantee facility between IFC and a local bank.  Seeing I was both nervous and excited about this trip, an Ethiopian Fletcher friend and other Fletcherites who had spent time in the country readily shared advice and introduced friends.  My month in Ethiopia and a weekend in Nairobi to visit a close Kenyan Fletcher friend exposed me to the excitement of working in East Africa and supporting private sector development in the region.  During the DC Career Trip organized by OCS, I attended a site visit at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, hosted by a Fletcher alum, and found out about an opportunity to work on exactly this topic.  I hadn’t considered going back to consulting when I left Deloitte, but each case interview with Dalberg made me more excited about their work and I joined their Nairobi office six months after that visit.

YukoHirose_DesignWorkshopWorking as a consultant at Dalberg has been an amazing experience.  The firm provides strategic advice to leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to accelerate their impact on issues such as access to finance, health, education, energy, and inclusive business.  My most recent project was with the MasterCard Foundation on setting a learning agenda and designing a learning lab to enhance access to finance for smallholder farmers in Africa.  My next one will be a project revamping the CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy of a large Kenyan financial company.  As one of three Japanese in the firm, I am also helping drive business development in Japan to encourage Japanese businesses to engage with the continent in a way that meets the needs of local marginalized populations.

I am fully using everything I learned at Fletcher and Deloitte on a daily basis, and am grateful to be surrounded by a passionate and capable team that is as diverse and loving as Fletcher was.  The Fletcher community in Nairobi has also been a huge source of support, as I navigated my way in a new city.  More than ten recent Fletcher grads gathered for lunch during my second weekend in Nairobi, and that is when I realized that it is really true that you can find a Fletcherite anywhere in the world (and they will gladly take you in)!  I’ve kept in close contact with Fletcher friends who are now working in places like Kabul, Yangon, Delhi, Juba, and NYC.  While we are scattered across the globe, we support each other virtually as we navigate new cities, careers, and life events.

I am grateful to Fletcher for giving me the opportunity to be part of this warm community that inspires me to strive to create positive change.  I hope potential applicants with a thirst for engaging deeply with global issues consider joining the Fletcher family — you will find a community of fellow students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are committed to helping you succeed in this quest and who will continue to inspire you for a long time to come!

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