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Returning to the Class of 2017, we’ll hear today from Karla Schiaffino Pérez, who completed the MALD program.  Karla’s trek to her current position wandered geographically through three countries, but reflected a relatively straight-line career path.

Karla, second from right, with Fletcher friends in Mexico City.

I cannot believe it’s been a year since I graduated from Fletcher!  Choosing a school for graduate studies took a lot of thinking and a good amount of luck.  Today, I can confidently say that I made the best decision for my personal and professional growth.

After college, I joined the London-based security consultancy Control Risks as a Research Analyst in their corporate investigations department.  Working for Control Risks provided me with a comprehensive overview of the security situation in Mexico, which made me realize the importance of gaining more knowledge and analytical tools in that area.  I received my acceptance letter from Fletcher and, as I looked into the depth and breadth requirements, I realized that the MALD program was a unique opportunity to obtain a comprehensive and inclusive education in security and human security.

During my time at Fletcher I chose classes that allowed me to look at my Fields of Study from a holistic perspective.  I gained solid knowledge of traditional security theories and complemented it with studies on negotiations and conflict resolution.  Fletcher also enabled me to learn how to apply a gender perspective to the issues I was analyzing in all my classes, which was something new for me.  I enhanced my quantitative skills by taking classes like Econometrics and Microeconomics, which made for a well-rounded and comprehensive program.

Fletcher has an incomparable faculty — truly committed to the development of students as professionals and human beings.  However, many of the most important lessons I took with me after graduation were those I received from my classmates.  Soon after starting the program I realized I was surrounded by an incredible group of committed and accomplished people from all over the world.  Apart from their impressive academic and professional achievements, what distinguished the Fletcher students I was privileged enough to meet was their passion and unwavering commitment to serving others.  Today, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to call some of these amazing human beings my lifelong friends.

I graduated from Fletcher in a year of political turmoil, not only in the United States, but also back home in Mexico.  Many people I consulted after returning home advised me to be prepared to wait until the July 2018 presidential elections at home to start a job that would appeal to my academic and professional interests.  Nevertheless, I knew my qualifications at Fletcher would help me navigate this difficult time and find the right organization to work for.  Soon after returning to Mexico, I started to work at a U.S.-based compliance company.  I saw this as a good opportunity to go back to an area I had experience in and to learn more about the anti-corruption and anti-money laundering framework in Latin America.

After a few months of working for this company, I realized I wanted to explore more opportunities that would allow me to better use the knowledge and analytical tools I had gained at Fletcher.  Two of my Fletcher classmates sent me a posting for a Politics Analyst position at a political risk consultancy and I decided to apply.  I recently joined the Americas team of Verisk Maplecroft and I am certain my Fletcher education will allow me to develop my career in this organization in a meaningful way.

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Today’s alumni update also serves as a conclusion to the story shared from 2015-17 by McKenzie Smith, who completed the MIB program.  While still in her final semester, about a year ago, McKenzie hadn’t nailed down her post-Fletcher job securely enough to write about it and her story remained unfinished on the blog.  Today’s post wraps it all up!

In March 2017, just two months before graduating, I signed an offer to join Omidyar Network upon graduating from Fletcher.  At the time, it was a huge relief.  Like many of my classmates, I’d made a bet on Fletcher and the MIB program — a relatively new, non-traditional business program — and up until that moment, I wasn’t 100% positive it would pay off.  Thankfully, it certainly did!

Today, as a member of Omidyar Network’s impact investment team, I spend much of my time addressing the biggest opportunities and barriers to accelerating the growth of impact investing.  What this means in practice is that my work is spread across a diverse array of influence projects; research initiatives; and sourcing, due diligence, and evaluation of investments in organizations helping the impact market function more efficiently.  I’ve just passed my one-year mark, and already it’s been an exhilarating experience.

On the personal side, I’ve had the flexibility to travel back and forth between my new home in San Francisco and Washington, DC, where in addition to working with Omidyar Network teams there, I get to catch up with many friends from Fletcher who moved to DC after graduation.  Back in California, I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to be outside year-round and see much of the natural beauty that the Bay Area has to offer.

Looking back, I’m convinced that none of this would have been possible had I chosen not to take a chance on Fletcher.  As I mentioned in my annotated curriculum, I pursued courses and activities that complemented my pre-Fletcher background and ultimately positioned me to join an amazing team.  I walked the Fletcher halls and sat in classes alongside aid workers, bankers, veterans, entrepreneurs, consultants, and development practitioners, whose diverse experiences armed them with insights and opinions that pushed my thinking.  I seized opportunities and built relationships with professors who wouldn’t have been as accessible at a large, traditional MBA program.  In fact, it was a relationship with a professor that I forged through my role leading the Fletcher Social Investment Group that ultimately helped me land the job at Omidyar Network.

Since joining, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and work with pioneers in the impact investing field.  And increasingly, those helping drive the industry forward are not only people I know from industry events and partnerships, but more and more, they’re also my Fletcher classmates!  Which brings me to my last reflection: Fletcher alumni working in impact investing are a small but slowly growing group.  Each of us took a chance on Fletcher and leaned in to make the most of our time there — and like any grad student, at some point or another, each of us probably wondered whether that chance would be worth it.  For me, Fletcher’s unique blend of business and international affairs, the opportunities to lead student teams and organizations, and the flexibility of the curriculum helped me make my degree work for me.  There’s a saying that Fletcher helps you get your dream job…five jobs in.  If this is what my first job out of school is like, I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!

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Back in the spring, I shared a few updates from the Class of 2017 — from Sydney, Ammar, and Dan.  This week I’ll return to the 2017s with additional updates.  It’s hard to believe that a full year has now passed since their graduation and that members of the Class of 2018 have joined them as alumni!

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I’m far from a consistent profiler of alumni (or faculty, for that matter) writing, but I’m going to use this post to bring your attention to a recently released book from Patrick Kabanda, a 2013 Fletcher graduate.  Patrick first came to my attention several years before he applied to Fletcher.  He was working nearby and he stopped in for one of several conversations through which I got to know him before he even enrolled.  Having followed his trajectory for all that time, it is a pleasure for me to note that his book, The Creative Wealth of Nations, was published this spring by Cambridge University Press.  Following the book’s launch, a Cambridge University economist shared these thoughts about it.  Note that her blog post captures part of Patrick’s background, which can be described as a most unlikely path from Kampala, Uganda, to The Juilliard School to study organ, to Fletcher, to the World Bank, to published author.

I’m a big fan of Patrick’s and it gives me real pleasure to be able to introduce him to you.  If you’re interested in the economics of creativity and the arts, I hope you’ll check out his new book.

Patrick described his Fletcher experience in this 2017 video.

 

With the newly minted Class of 2018 graduates now out in the world, I’d like to turn back to the Class of 2017 and their reflections on their first year post-Fletcher.  We’ve already heard from Ammar and Sydney; today we’ll hear from Dan, who describes his long path to and through Fletcher.  As a reminder, Map Your Future applicants apply roughly two years before they will officially start Fletcher classes.

My Fletcher journey started several years before I actually enrolled in my first class and will continue for many years to come.  As part of Fletcher’s Map Your Future Program, I was originally admitted to Fletcher in May 2012, shortly before I finished my undergraduate degree.  With the knowledge that I would eventually join the Fletcher Class of 2016, I then worked for several international development firms in Washington, DC, before spending a year working with cocoa farmers in rural Ghana as a Princeton in Africa Fellow.

My time in Ghana also introduced me to just how far the Fletcher alumni network reaches, as, while there, by pure chance, I met one of a small number of Fletcher graduates who had participated in the dual degree program with Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy.  After learning about the exciting opportunity to combine my Fletcher education in development economics with a second master’s program focused on international food policy, I decided to apply to Friedman from abroad.  Upon my acceptance to Friedman, I deferred my official matriculation at Fletcher by an additional year and joined the three-year dual degree program as a member of the Class of 2017.

My three years as a Fletcher/Friedman student were exciting and eye-opening.  Thanks to Fletcher’s interdisciplinary curriculum, I took courses on topics ranging from negotiation theory to humanitarian assistance, many of which have been helpful to me since I graduated.  In addition to working with remarkable professors both in and out of the classroom, my Tufts education offered me the chance to build lasting friendships with classmates from around the world and, eventually, to travel myself as well.

During the two summers between my years at Tufts, I first worked on Feed the Future programs with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then worked on nutrition-sensitive agriculture programs with Abt Associates in Bethesda, Maryland.  In addition, during my third and final year of graduate school, I had a unique opportunity to conduct research for my capstone project in Bhubaneswar, India, thanks to funding from Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context (IBGC).  (For more information about my capstone research through IBGC, check out my blog post.)

Following my graduation last May, I began a two-year position with ACDI/VOCA as part of the Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellows Program.  As a Leland Fellow, I have been living in Iringa, Tanzania since October, working on the USAID Tanzania NAFAKA Cereals Market System Development Project.  NAFAKA is a maize and rice value chain project focused on increasing smallholder farmers’ incomes, improving nutritional outcomes, and ensuring market access for vulnerable groups.

From a meeting of community health workers about the benefits of fortified maize flour. Dan is in the back on the left.

While working in Iringa, I have used the skills I gained at Fletcher and Friedman on a daily basis.  In particular, I have directly put tools from courses on market approaches to development, survey research, and econometric impact evaluation into action during the past few months while designing and implementing an impact assessment.  The study is intended to measure the extent to which demonstration plots showcasing improved seeds and fertilizers influence smallholder farmers’ decisions to invest in those improved inputs, and the initial results have been promising.

Throughout the six years since I first decided to join the Fletcher community, I’ve met Fletcher students and alumni all over the world.  I’ve already crossed paths with two fellow Fletcher alumni in 2018 as part of my work here in Tanzania, and I’m sure that I’ll continue to find unexpected and rewarding Fletcher connections wherever my career in international development takes me.

This morning I dashed over to another Tufts building where 100 or so high school students were attending a day of discussion and activities related to international affairs and Fletcher.  Organized by two second-year Fletcher students along with Professor Kim Wilson, in coordination with the teacher of the high schoolers, this annual event gives the kids a chance to gather ideas about what an international career might look like.

The kids come over from Boston Latin Academy, and their teacher is a Fletcher graduate, Jeff Isen, F04, who left Fletcher, headed out into the world (Malawi, Sri Lanka) and found his true calling teaching international relations to Boston kids.  Most of the visitors today are seniors — just about to head off to college.  They don’t necessarily intend to pursue international relations for their college studies, but I hope they’ll leave here with a sense of the opportunities that might be open to them.  My role was to try to give them just the right amount of information: not too little (we want them to understand what Fletcher is), but also not too much (after all, graduate school may be ten or more years in the future for them — and high schoolers are always sleepy).  Ten minutes later, I yielded to a Fletcher student panel who made the pathway from high school, to college, to work, to Fletcher and an international career seem just a little more real.

 

Way back in the fall, an email snaked along to me and I reached out to the writer, Ammar Karimjee, a 2017 MIB graduate, to ask if I could publish it in the blog.  He agreed right away, so the delay in sharing it is all on me.  And yet with students entering in September 2018 still considering what this all means for them, and with the Class of 2018 searching for their own post-Fletcher jobs, I think Ammar’s post is instructive.  Note that the original recipients were staff and faculty associated with the MIB program and the Office of Career Services.  And, again, when Ammar refers to “a month ago,” he was reflecting on summer 2017, but I have confirmed with him that his work situation hasn’t changed.

About a month ago, I moved to Tanzania to begin work with One Acre Fund Tanzania (OAF) as an “Impact Ventures Associate.”  As many of you may know, OAF’s core model provides a range of products: better seeds and fertilizer, along with training — all provided as part of a reasonably sized loan to farmers across East Africa.  On average, farmers who work with One Acre Fund have yields that are 50-100% higher than similar farmers who do not.  In Tanzania, OAF works with about 30,000 farmers.

While the model has significant impact for farmers, growth is relatively slow because the work is very hands-on.  Each new community we enter has to understand the product, be trained, and see results only after a full growing season (or one full year).  To tackle that problem, my team is trying to understand other ways of approaching and impacting farmers that may be faster to scale than the model OAF uses traditionally.

My team is running a trial where we sell very small solar panels that provide off-grid electricity to farmers in the region.  Farmers see the result immediately, and over time, save significant money that they were previously using for other fuel sources.  More importantly, the product is much easier to roll out and does not require significant training.  The hope is that once we have achieved initial impact through this solar product, we can then use the relationships we have with farmers to offer them other products in the agricultural space — such as seed, fertilizer, etc.  We think that this may be a faster way (as compared to the core model) to create a bigger impact for a large group of farmers.

My specific role has two components: managing operations and managing impact.  I’ll be heading up all the logistics around our input distribution (warehouse management, quality control, distribution) for our 5000 farmers spread out over 50 villages.  Our two products at this stage are the solar systems as well as tree seedlings.  At the same time, I’ll be running a survey of about 900 treatment and control farmers observing the impact of both our products.  I’m currently managing a team of six people with two direct reports.  By April, those numbers will have grown to a team of around 20 and three direct reports.  I could not have imagined having this much responsibility — especially in terms of direct people management — just out of graduate school, but I am so excited and am already learning so much.  The best part is that my role will involve both impact evaluation and business planning/financial modeling, putting together both of my fields of study at Fletcher.

I also wanted to share a reflection with you all.  For the bulk of my two years at Fletcher, I thought I wanted my next job to be something that would serve as a stamp on my resume.  That’s why, as many of you know, I was looking at big consulting firms.  As you all probably gathered, I was never truly passionate about that work and I always knew it was a short-term stop on the road to doing something much different.

While I prepped for consulting and finance interviews and saw limited success, I continued to apply to positions I was more interested in, just to keep my options open.  I grew frustrated that I was consistently being unsuccessful in consulting/finance interviews, when I believed I was performing well.  I’ll never truly know why I didn’t get those jobs; however, looking back on the process, I have to believe that a large part of the reason is that it was obvious those roles were simply not a culture fit for me, and that came out in the interviews.

This summer, when my One Acre Fund offer came in, I was still waiting to hear back from a consulting firm about whether I would receive an offer for their Dubai office.  After lots of deliberation, I decided to take the OAF job without knowing the outcome of the other decision.  It meant a lot to me that I took the OAF offer not knowing about the other firm.  Perhaps I had this realization about culture fit a little too late, but I’m happy that I’ve had it now.

What makes Fletcher so unique is how many different interests and passions are represented at our school.  I think sometimes, especially with the MIB program, the need to do what we think is the “right career thing” overpowers the need to do what we truly want.  But there are too many people in the world who just go through the motions and try to check the boxes.  I find it incredible that Fletcher students, by and large, are not part of that thinking — and I’m very happy and proud not to have done that on an individual level either.

I know I’m rambling, but I hope that all of us can do more to help people fight for their true desires in their post-Fletcher jobs.  If any of you ever have a student struggling through the same dynamic I went through, please always feel free to put me in touch.

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Today’s Five-Year Update will be different from the usual because I’ve written it, with details and fact-checking provided by its subject, Manjula Dissanayake, F12.  Back in the spring of 2012, I had long heard about Manjula but I hadn’t actually met him until Kristen and I were staked out in the Hall of Flags one day, snagging students as they went by.  After that, Manjula and I chatted about putting together a post about his path through Fletcher.  Inspired by that experience, I launched the “Student Stories” feature, and included Manjula (then an alumnus) in the mix.

Since his 2012 gradation, Manjula and I have been in semi-regular contact and he’s been kind to include me on his busy schedule when he’s been in the area.  I’ve remained inspired by him and his work.  (Plus, he’s just a very nice guy.)  Today’s post will extend his story from that very first post to this point, five-plus years after his graduation.

While at Fletcher, at the same time as he pursued the standard MALD collection of courses, Manjula also pushed forward the organization he had founded before starting his graduate studies, Educate Lanka, by pursuing business competitions at Tufts University and elsewhere in the Boston area, resulting in funding and mentoring opportunities.  The mission of Educate Lanka is:
“To empower the socioeconomically marginalized children and youth” of Sri Lanka “with enhanced access to quality and equitable education, learning, and employment opportunities,” with a vision of “a Sri Lanka and a world in which opportunities are universal for all.”
This was a natural fit to earn support from the Fletcher community, and Professor Kim Wilson, Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti, and Professor John Hammock are still on the Educate Lanka Board of Advisors.

After Manjula graduated, he returned to the Washington, DC area and to running Educate Lanka full-time.  Each time he and I got together, what was always clear was how challenging it was to build sustainability for the organization.  Educate Lanka was successfully sponsoring students’ education through its unique online platform, but working capital and growth investments were seemingly raised dollar by dollar.  Then, in 2015, a game-changer: Educate Lanka received a Mastercard Foundation Management Grant of $250,000 (facilitated from the foundation side by Reeta Roy, F89), providing the funding stability that Manjula needed to be able to think strategically about Educate Lanka and its mission.  The organization has continued to grow and mature.

Beyond financial stability, the investment from the Mastercard Foundation allowed Educate Lanka to introduce a new social-private partnership model in Sri Lanka (in addition to and to complement the student sponsorship platform), involving major corporate/employer partners such as Deutsche Bank, Mastercard, and SyscoLabs to address the youth skills and exposure gap, making Educate Lanka students more skilled and employable and creating a pathway for an equitable, empathic, and inclusive society.  This video describes the partnership with Sysco Labs (formerly known as Cake Labs).

 

Along the way, Manjula’s work has attracted significant attention.  He was profiled by his undergraduate college, and the Sri Lankan Sunday Times.  He was selected for the Top 99 Under 33 Global Foreign Policy Leaders List; was given the Outstanding Sri Lanka Young Professional Award; was named an American Express Emerging Innovator in the U.S.; and was the winner of Millennial Impact Challenge by Huffington post.  Most recently, Manjula was a member of the U.S. delegation of entrepreneurs who attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in November 2017 in Hyderabad and he recently completed his first executive education program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Manjula has also shared his perspective on educating the poor and on international education through his own writing, for the Diplomatic Courier (Future of Work and Global Talent and Non-Profits have Turned a Corner; Philanthropy should Follow) and for the HuffPost, as well as through a TEDx Talk.

Of course, as important as Manjula’s personal achievements are the successes of Educate Lanka.  Since its founding in 2007, Educate Lanka has achieved these milestones:

  • 1200+ students (ages 13-25; 65% female, 35% male) directly supported across 28 communities in all nine Sri Lankan provinces, from all ethnicities and religions;
  • 4500+ years of education funded
  • $500,000+ (around 70 million rupees) in micro-scholarship financing;
  • 450+ alumni with gainful employment.
  • 15 corporate and institutional partnerships
  • 250+ students trained on skills, competencies, and values

This story details an Educate Lanka success, as well as the complexity of the Sri Lankan education system.  It’s the first entry in a “Scholar Stories Series” to highlight the partnership with Mastercard on female empowerment in Sri Lanka.  (Links to future stories will also appear on Educate Lanka’s Facebook page.)

Educate Lanka has also created a global education program (under the private-social partnership model mentioned above).  Among the partners is the St. Mark’s School, right nearby in central Massachusetts, which invites Educate Lanka students to the U.S. every year for its Global Citizenship Institute. (Manjula is a guest lecturer in the program, and the students last year were hosted by the Sri Lankan ambassador to the U.S.)

As for the next five years, Manjula told me, “I plan to focus the next five years on scaling the two interventions (the online sponsorship platform and the social-private partnership model) towards full sustainability and replication. This phase will position me to achieve my long-term goal of reshaping Sri Lanka’s education into a more inclusive, equitable, and relevant system that is capable of producing a workforce and citizenry that could meet the demands and obligations of our future.”

Whew!  Even for five years, that’s a long list of accomplishments and serious ambition.  I hope it’s clear why admire Manjula.  But I’d be giving a misleading impression if I didn’t note that Manjula’s past five years have included the usual post-Fletcher milestones, such as marriage and the addition to the family of an adorable boy, along with active involvement in a DC-area cricket league.

Manjula was a rock star in the Fletcher community and he has nurtured one of the most dynamic organizations with Fletcher roots.  I’ll certainly be staying tuned to Educate Lanka news so that I can follow its, and Manjula’s success.

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I know that Admissions Blog readers tune in at different points in the cycle — from the fall for application tips to the spring after decisions are released, and all points in between — and there’s limited time to sift through the archives.  One of my personal favorite features is Fletcher Couples.  If you have a spare minute, I hope you’ll enjoy reading about these folks who discovered their true loves at Fletcher.  ♥ ♥ ♥

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Here’s a fun admissions-season story.  One of our current MALD students told Kristen about his visa application process.  She liked the story enough that we asked him to write it up.  Here, then, is the tale of Sebastián‘s road to Fletcher and the unexpected result of his visa interview.

I first heard about Fletcher when I was doing an internship at the Colombian Ministry of Defense in 2011.  Back then, Dean Stavridis was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and the Minister of Defense of Colombia was going to meet him on official business.  I was asked to do a profile on then-Admiral Stavridis for the Minister, and while I was researching him I learned about his Fletcher education, and the School peaked my interest.

About a year later (2012), as I was in the process of moving to Washington, DC for an internship with the Colombian Embassy, I met with my brother’s friend who had lived in the city for a few years to hear her friendly advice on DC.  As we were talking, she told me that she was not living there anymore but was visiting a few friends in town.  She was living in Medford and pursuing her graduate education at Fletcher.  I immediately remembered the school where the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO got his MALD and PhD degrees, and began asking her a lot more questions about Fletcher.  It was then that I knew that, in a few years, I wanted to come to this School.

Fast forward to early 2016, when I received my acceptance letter to Fletcher.  I was very excited and eager to begin this new chapter of my life.  A few months later during the middle of the summer, I finished up my job at the OAS in DC and went to Colombia to enjoy some time at home and arrange my student visa.  I went to the appointment at the U.S. Embassy and approached the Consular officer in charge.  As soon as he saw my paperwork, his face lit up with a smile and he began speaking to me in Spanish saying: “You’re are going to Fletcher!  I went to Fletcher!”

He was very happy and excited and told me that I was going to love it.  He also talked about some of his Fletcher experiences.  This coincidence was amazing and made me feel an immediate sense of belonging to the School.  Afterwards, he said that he would throw a going-away party for me before I went back to the U.S., and that he would invite some of the Fletcher alumni in Bogotá.

A few weeks later I was invited to his place, where a bunch of Fletcher alumni from different class years and nationalities were brought together to bid farewell to an unknown guy (me), soon to join this big family.  They all spoke about their experiences while at Fletcher, their challenges, and what life after Fletcher has been for them.  All of them offered some “Fletcher advice” and then finished by saying how much they loved their time here, and how it really opened doors moving forward.  This opportunity gave me a chance to feel all the Fletcher love before I officially arrived, and it proved to be a very good omen of what my time here has become: pure joy and intellectual challenge.

The Consular Officer, Patrick (far left), and Sebastian (far right) along with two alumni and PhD candidate Roxani (next to Sebastian).

 

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