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Just over one year ago, Manjula Dissanayake graduated from Fletcher and I’ve been keeping up with him since.  We recently exchanged emails and decided it’s time for a spring/summer update.  Pulling together this blog post will require reaching into many websites and other sources, because Manjula has been a busy guy.

To recap:  After graduating, Manjula decided to focus full-time on his non-profit, Educate Lanka, from his base near Washington, DC.  Pushing Educate Lanka forward has required a combination of on-the-ground work in Sri Lanka, along with nearly continuous efforts to draw attention to the organization, in hopes funds would follow.  Manjula’s work, inseparable from the organization, has been recognized in so many ways!  Back in April, I was fortunate to grab a few minutes with him during his visit to the area when, over the course of three days, he spoke at the Tufts Social Innovation Symposium as well as at the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition (as an alumni competitor), and also attended a research presentation, exhibition, and silent auction benefiting Educate Lanka at Harvard.  Between events, he packed in visits to staff and faculty.  During our conversation, he gave me a sense of the activities he had in front of him.  Here’s what has kept Manjula busy during the past few months:

Even while I was compiling the list of all these activities, I learned of yet another new one.  This past Sunday, Manjula spoke live (via Google hangout) at the Social Media Day in Colombo, Sri Lanka about using “Social Media for Social Good.”

Throughout the past year, Manjula told me, he has developed plans to grow Educate Lanka and possibly to carry the concept beyond Sri Lanka.  He has put together a Board of Advisors on which Fletcher is well represented, and he continues to promote Educate Lanka’s work.  From my outsider’s vantage point, I can see the extraordinary effort that has brought Educate Lanka to where it is today, but the results have been impressive!  I’ll continue to follow Manjula’s path and report back again in the coming months.

Manjula at CGIU

 

Like Jason Taylor, Katy Bondy is an Admissions Office favorite.  I can still picture her working at one of the computers.  Katy’s story will most likely be the last for the 2007 class (unless one of her classmates surprises me with a post) and I’ll be moving along to the Class of 2008 soon after their five-year reunion next weekend.  But first, let’s hear Katy’s story:

Katy Bondy, 2Before arriving at Fletcher, I worked in Washington, DC for a few years at a think tank where I focused on the Balkans and Eastern Europe.  It was an interesting job where I learned a lot about the former Yugoslavia, but it was primarily administrative and I was looking for something more.  Fortunately, a good friend at work, who happened to be a 2000 Fletcher grad,was patient about answering all of my questions about international relations graduate schools.  It didn’t take me long to decide that Fletcher was the best fit for me, particularly after I visited the school and was interviewed by a Fletcher-student, Nirmalan, who received his MALD in 2006 and is now completing his Fletcher PhD.

While at Fletcher, I dove into my studies and the Fletcher community.  I naturally gravitated towards courses on International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, and I still use the skills from those classes today:  Focus on interests, not positions!  I also created my own Field of Study by performing analyses on post-conflict countries, such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Somalia.  My favorite classes were with Professors Drezner, Martel, Babbitt, Shultz, and Chayes.

I received a great education at Fletcher and I believe it’s where I learned how to think more independently and more broadly.  But what stays with me as much as what I learned in my classes are the bonds and friendships that I formed with members of the Fletcher community.  I fondly remember the late night partying, greasy spoon breakfasts near the Tufts campus, and spending my days studying or writing papers in Ginn Library.

After Fletcher, like Jason, I was also selected to be a Presidential Management Fellow and I joined the Department of State where I worked on reconstruction and stabilization issues.  After spending a few months in Dhaka, Bangladesh for work, I decided to join the U.S. Foreign Service.  My first assignment was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which I loved, and my present assignment is in Manila, Philippines.

But no matter where I am in the world, the Fletcher network serves me well.  I maintain strong ties with many of the friends I made at Fletcher, but I’m also constantly forging new friendships with other alums I’ve met since graduating.  For me, the connections and bonds you make while at Fletcher are the most important (and the most fun!) aspect of your Fletcher education.

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Time for another round of thanks and farewell to a graduating student.  Maliheh contributed several posts to the blog this year, despite a heavy in-class and out-of-class workload, and a PhD admissions process that involved twenty schools and one lucky program that she has chosen to attend.  I first “met” Maliheh more than a year before she enrolled in the MALD program, when she first corresponded with our office.  Once I met her, I became a huge fan.  As much as I’ll miss her at Fletcher, I wish her the very best in her coming years of academic toil.  But before Maliheh leaves Fletcher, she offers this last post.

malihehIt is just that time of the year when everyone at Fletcher is finishing exams and preparing for their upcoming internship or new job.  I was preparing for my own internship last year at this time.  Everyone would tell me about Fletcher’s incredibly rich alumni network, but before experiencing it myself, I had no clear idea what a valuable resource this network can be.

From the first day I started my work at the World Bank, I tried to expand my professional connections by networking with people in other departments at the bank.  To my surprise, in almost every department I could find a Fletcher alum with whom I could meet and talk.  Even non-Fletcher people knew very well about Fletcher and would remind me that two current World Bank vice presidents are Fletcher alumni.

Working in the MENA region at the bank, it was not uncommon to hear people speaking in Arabic or Farsi, which I also used in speaking with my supervisor most of the time.  You can imagine that it is not easy to pick out English words exchanged in the middle of a conversation that is not in English, but “Fletcher” is a different kind of English word!  One day, in the midst of a long conversation in Farsi with my supervisor, and in a quite crowded venue, I said “Fletcher” to refer to a specific theory I had learned in one of my classes, and then returned to Farsi for the remainder of the conversation.  The woman sitting next to us picked out that one word and turned to me.  She asked, “I heard you say Fletcher.  Are you a Fletcher alum or student?”  And a very nice conversation followed from there!  Later I thought again about what I had heard before coming to the World Bank about Fletcher’s network, and felt very proud to be part of this extensive and supportive community!

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Our next Five-Year Update comes from Amlan Saha, who demonstrates true Fletcheresque qualities in a first sentence that includes words from Serbo-Croatian and Arabic and references to three geographic areas.  His photo adds a third geographic area — it was taken in Guatemala.  Here’s Amlan’s story:

Amlan SahaPre-Fletcher Experience

It all started in 2001, when, over some Slovak slivovica on a felucca in the Nile, a fellow traveler who had just finished work in Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer enthused about her plans to study public policy in graduate school.  I was already thinking about going back to school, but until then had spared no thought for anything other than an MBA.

Since graduating from the National University of Singapore with a degree in engineering in 1998, I had worked at a national research laboratory, set up an internet/telecoms company, which went bust in 2001 along with the collapse of the dotcom bubble, and then worked for the German engineering giant Siemens.  In short, technology and business summed up my pre-Fletcher professional experience.

But I was also a nerd (still am!) who loved politics far more than sports.  At around the same time that I was giving shape to my graduate school dream, oil prices hit $35 a barrel, climbing about 300 percent in just 18 months.  Listening to the talking heads in the following weeks provided a timely reminder that in the business of energy, geopolitics and regulation were never far away.  I was onto something.

Because my undergraduate degree was in engineering, I still wanted to do an MBA, but the conversation on the boat in Egypt led me to explore programs that brought together public policy, business decision making, and national security.  The possibility of shaping political processes that create rules, regulations, and programs to impact society was exciting.

In 2004, I started attending the Fletcher (MALD) and HEC Paris (MBA) dual degree program.

At Fletcher

The MBA part of my program, which I completed before arriving in Medford, focused on economics and finance.  At Fletcher, therefore, I dived headlong into public policy and international security.

Fletcher’s MALD curriculum was flexible enough to let me to create my own “Public Policy Analysis” Field of Study from the long list of courses on offer.  In fact, the list was so long, all incredibly good and tempting, that letting me choose my own classes was a bit like giving a kid the key to the candy store.  I also cross-registered at the Harvard Law School.

I found Prof. Gideon’s classes particularly valuable.  Skills I picked up in her classes have been extremely helpful in modeling real-life policy conundrums at work since graduation.

Post-Fletcher

After graduating from Fletcher, I joined the strategic energy/environmental consulting firm M.J. Bradley and Associates.  At MJB&A, I assist energy companies to navigate regulatory and market issues, assess economic implications of environmental regulations, and drive wholesale electricity market development.

Uniquely satisfying rewards at work include, among others, having the Chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee in the U.S. Senate refer to my analysis when discussing energy legislation and a Congressman use my work as a prop to explain to constituents his support for an energy bill.

I am currently a Vice President at the firm.

I also write (less frequently than I would like to) a blog.

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I’m going to kick off the week with a new Five-Year Update.  Jason is a thoroughly memorable member of the Fletcher community, and particularly of the Admissions student staff.  He both worked in the office and also served a year on the Admissions Committee.  Here’s his update.

I was still in the Peace Corps when I first visited the Fletcher website.  On it was a short account of one student’s Fletcher summer.  I remember reading with a mix of envy and awe.  The student had done seemingly everything — traveling to several Asian countries doing development work, thesis research, and some other adventures on the side.  She seemed to embody everything I hoped to be: a restless mind in the thick of it, who was using grad study to actively and deliberately lay the groundwork for a future career.  From that point on, Fletcher became my first choice in graduate schools.  I wanted to be surrounded by students like that person.  Heck, I wanted to be that person.  Every Fletcher interaction that followed confirmed that Fletcher was where I wanted to be.  My communication with the Admissions Office.  My first visit to the Hall of Flags.  I was so sure about Fletcher that it ended up being the only school I applied to.  If graduate school isn’t Fletcher, I thought, then I don’t want graduate school.

Not long after, I was in the thick of my own Fletcher summer.  I did project work in the bush of Uganda, followed by refugee thesis research in Central America.  I finished with a leadership conference in France.  I’d visited three continents in three months and got to focus on everything from activity design, to policy formation, to the dynamics of international negotiation.  I’m not rich.  All of this was mostly funded by Fletcher-related sources.  That summer was a microcosm of the Fletcher experience itself.  It’s as diverse as you want it to be.  There are no limits.  Fletcher gave me the freedom to mold my degree as I went along; my degree, rather than feeling like an exercise in path dependence, felt like it was in a constant, enthralling state of becoming.  The rigor of study exposed my weaknesses, and the support of the School and community gave me the confidence to address them.  I left Fletcher with a clear vision of the impact I wanted to make and the confidence that I had the skills to be successful.

Following Fletcher, I became a Presidential Management Fellow and worked at USAID on humanitarian food assistance programs.  During my first years I worked on the Haiti earthquake response and Madagascar during a coup, and I covered Sudan during the referendum that created South Sudan, the world’s newest nation.  Two years ago I converted to the USAID foreign service and am the deputy chief of the food assistance office in Ethiopia — the largest of its kind in the world.  It’s a tough job but I love it.  I think back often to what I learned at Fletcher and I know that the School’s equal emphasis on skill building and community were the perfect preparation for my work.  My days are a jumble of activity management, policy advocacy, and negotiation — all the things that made that summer so interesting.  I feel like the work I do is important and that my personal role in unfolding events matters.  I took a few Peace Corps volunteers out to dinner the other night.  I listened to them talk about their projects and admired their enthusiasm.  Some were thinking about careers in this field.  For me, Fletcher was the bridge between being a relative beginner and being a professional.  I know I wasn’t the first to cross that bridge and I certainly won’t be the last.

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Today I’m sharing the second of the Five-Year Updates from alumni in the Fletcher Class of 2007.  Please meet Georgia Iordanescu.

Before starting off my master’s degree at Fletcher, I had worked for several years in the public sector of my native Romania, and I had been academically and professionally trained in law and international security studies.  It was not a surprise that, in my first year at the Fletcher School, I would pursue a fairly natural continuation of related studies.

Halfway through my degree however, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and leap into uncharted territory: energy and natural resources economics.  My second-year coursework ranged from Professor Bill Moomaw’s clean tech and energy policy classes, to development economics and finance.  While I was working on my master’s thesis on energy policy in China, I learned about a Global Consulting class that was pairing up a small group of students with different organizations to work on their designated projects.  I chose an energy consulting project proposed by Hitachi, and six months into the project I was selected to continue working at Hitachi’s headquarters in Tokyo on renewable energy projects and policy recommendations.  This extraordinary opportunity to work on tangible energy projects while furthering my education has unquestionably swayed me into the professional direction that I am pursuing today.

Five years after my graduation, energy has become central to my professional craft and it blends in seamlessly with the unparalleled interdisciplinary education in international law, finance, and economics that I received at Fletcher.  In my work, I assist governments in Sub-Saharan Africa — primarily in Namibia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Lesotho — to enable the development of grid-connected renewable energy projects, to mobilize independent power producers, and to facilitate the formation of competitive electricity markets in their respective countries.

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Today, I’m launching a new feature on the blog:  Five-Year Updates.  Think of it as a conversation among alumni at their five-year reunion.  I started with the class of 2007, though graduates from that year are, in fact, soon approaching their six-year mark.  The alumni writers were asked to describe their path, starting before Fletcher, then through the Fletcher years, and finishing with their post-Fletcher lives.  The first Update comes from Ben Micheel.

Pre-Fletcher Experience

Prior to Fletcher, most of my professional experience was in the private sector at consumer packaged goods companies.  Eventually I made my way back over to Berlin, Germany where I had studied as an exchange student when I was an undergrad at the University of Washington.  In Berlin I worked as a marketer for Coca-Cola, as an intern for the German Bundestag, and finally (after my acceptance to Fletcher) as a bike tour guide.  Many of my American co-workers at the Bundestag were enthusiastically applying to APSIA grad schools, and I was curious to look into what they were so excited about.  My undergrad degree is in business, so I didn’t have any interest in going the pure MBA route.  Once I discovered the resources available to me at Fletcher, I knew it was my logical next step.  So the week before Labor Day in 2005, I moved to Boston (sight unseen – I’m from a suburb of Portland, Oregon) and started my MALD.

At Fletcher

At Fletcher I focused my studies mostly on economics, although I found time to take some great classes in the Southwest Asia concentration.  I also cross registered for a couple of classes at Harvard Business School.  Although all the classes were great, the paces that Professor Klein, Professor Simonin, and Professor Schaffner put my brain through proved to be most valuable.  I still use the skills I learned every week in my current job.  I was equally active outside of class.  There are many highlights, but the annual Africana Night step show really stands out.

Post-Fletcher

Directly out of Fletcher, I joined the strategy consulting firm Simon-Kucher & Partners – a terrific place for Fletcher grads to advance their careers in the private sector.  I spent four great years there helping Fortune 500 clients improve their strategy, marketing, and pricing initiatives.  Eventually I was recruited by Forrester Research (a former client), where I still work today as the Director of Pricing & Packaging.  Each day brings something new, and I enjoy working through the puzzles that Fletcher so adroitly equipped me to solve.  Also, on the social side of life, the post-Fletcher wedding circuit is the best!

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An annual Fletcher tradition is the “Faculty and Staff Waits on You” dinner, which is pretty much what it sounds like.  And an annual tradition of the event is the auction of, well, all sorts of interesting stuff provided by the community.  And a tradition of the auction is to provide the funds raised to a worthy organization.  This year, the funds went to AYO, an NGO with which a 2012 LLM graduate, Sevan Karian, is working.  Sevan contacted me recently with information about AYO and the auction.  I asked him to tell me more.

AYO means “YES” in Armenian (and could also mean “Armenian Youth Organization”).  This is the new name we’ve just chosen on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of our organization.  Today, AYO’s mission is to help the unprivileged kids of Armenia through education programs, using sports and arts as tools for their development.

AYO builds or improves schools, orphanages, and kindergartens in very poor and remote villages of the country, as well as the infrastructure to practice sports and arts around these buildings.  In addition, AYO organizes summer camps every year in these villages, thanks to dozens of volunteers coming from France and elsewhere to spend a month with the children to teach them new skills.  This video tells AYO’s story:

I became involved in AYO after 2005, when I had lived with indigenous communities in southern Mexico (Chiapas).  I realized that I really wanted to be involved with a development aid organization in order to help people, and particularly children, in need.  Back in Paris, I met by chance with the former leaders of AYO.  They were looking for young people to revitalize this organization, which was falling apart.  With a few friends, I devoted my free time over the next five years — when I was a law student and then a lawyer — to restructuring the organization, restoring contact with local populations in Armenia, as well as finding and organizing new projects in poor villages, which have taken place every summer since 2007!

Originally a lawyer in the energy and business sector in Paris, I came to Fletcher in 2011 for the the LLM program and I took the amazing John Hammock’s class on NGO Management and Ethics.  This helped me a lot to frame my goals for AYO toward professionalization of the organization, and its expansion.  I am now working almost full-time with AYO, trying to find more funds and more projects.  Better organized and more efficient, AYO currently has an office in Paris with two interns, two workers in Armenia, and now a branch of the NGO opening in Boston!

With auction bids on prizes such as a dinner for two at Dean Bosworth’s house or a bow tie offered by Professor Henrikson, AYO collected around $7,000 and has new volunteers in the U.S.

I hope we will continue in this way and that AYO will be able to run several construction projects and summer camps in 2013 in Armenia, with the participation of French and also U.S. volunteers!

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I’ve been very pleased with my new-this-year Student Stories feature on the blog.  An attentive reader might ask, “Why so pleased?  They haven’t been writing much lately.”  True, critical reader.  But here’s why I’m happy.  When I asked each of the students if they wanted to inaugurate this blog theme, they all said yes.  I appreciate enthusiasm — this was my first team and I didn’t need to go to my bench!  When I met with each writer for the first time, I emphasized that there are plenty of places on the Fletcher web site to read interesting, but formulaic, student profiles.  My hope was that we would work together to develop ideas for posts, and I have basically gone along with any idea they’ve presented.  Overall, I didn’t know what the feature would look like when we launched it in October, but I knew that all would be clearer by the end of the academic year, in May.

But back to the fact that the writing tends to arrive in spurts (after winter break, for example).  In this case, the reasons why they’re not writing may be as interesting as what they would have written.  Let’s start with Maliheh.  She emailed me an apology last week for not having submitted a promised post, but she really needn’t have apologized — I know exactly what she’s up to.  She’s processing the bounty of acceptances she has received to PhD programs around the country.  Was I surprised to learn of her success?  No I was not.  Maliheh is amazing.  Don’t tell her I said that — she’s also humble.

What’s Mirza up to?  He told me late last semester that he took on a research project that was intellectually satisfying, but used a lot of his time.  Then, over the winter break, he and his musical partner revived their duo, Arms and Sleepers.  They played some local gigs, and planned an amazing tour for Mirza’s spring break. In Europe or Russia?  Don’t miss this opportunity to catch a performance — who knows whether this tour will be their last.

(I’d like to add a little practical note here.  One of the reasons Arms and Sleepers is back is that Mirza realized his earnings potential is greater building on a past success than taking a part-time campus job.  Many students are able to do something similar — consulting part time for a past employer, for example.  File that away in your mental financial plan!)

Back to the writers.  Scott has promised me a piece very soon.  Not much more to say there.  Roxanne continues to be very busy on campus with the Storytelling Forum (the website includes more and more content) and a new series of conversations about gender issues (curricular and more broadly) at Fletcher.  Nonetheless, I arrived at work this morning and found an email from Roxanne containing her next post.  I’ll share it as soon as I can.

Which leaves Manjula who, though an alumnus now, was the student who made me think that following students’ stories as they pursued their individual paths through Fletcher would be a good idea.  Manjula has a million things going on connected to his organization Educate Lanka.  A lot of them are in the “we’re a finalist” or “just need to sign the contract” phase, so we agreed to hold off on an EL update.  But the organization more than keeps him busy, and any free moments can be spent writing for a larger audience on topics such as Unleashing Potential Through Education.

As much as Educate Lanka fills Manjula’s days, he still sets aside time for other activities, such as getting married.  He shared some amazing wedding photos with me.  I would love to post every single one of them — they’re that beautiful — but I’ll settle for just this one.

Manjula told me that the wedding outfits that he and his bride, Chara, wore are traditional in Kandy, the region of Sri Lanka that Manjula comes from.  He explained that Kandy was the last kingdom in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the traditional wedding attire derives from royal regalia.  He said, “The outfit I wore is called the Kandyan Nilame.  And Chara’s jewellery and the ceremony that we followed are also according to the Kandyan traditions.”

So, blog friends, that’s what my writers are up to.  Given their interesting busy lives, I’m happy to wait a little longer for their next posts.

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A Fletcher PhD graduate, Patrick Meier, sent a note to some folks at the School recently about his work.  Included was a link to a television commercial for a U.S. insurance company that developed as a result of his work on crisis mapping, which he started at Fletcher in January 2010, following the earthquake in Haiti. You can read more about Patrick’s work on his iRevolution blog.  You’ll also want to check out his National Geographic Emerging Explorers page.

I suppose I should add that the Fletcher Admissions Blog isn’t in the business of selling insurance. But it’s certainly our business to reflect the cool stuff that our students and alumni are doing. I hope you’ll enjoy the video in that spirit.

NGC Patrick Meier – Crisis Mapper :30 from Evolve Digital Cinema | IMG on Vimeo.

 

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