Currently viewing the tag: "Class of 2017"

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.

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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The first year after graduating can involve lots of movement for Fletcher alumni — leaving the comfort of campus, trying new jobs and cities, and even reevaluating career goals when job markets change suddenly.  Today, we’ll hear from the first of several members of the Class of 2017 who are just wrapping up their first year post-Fletcher.  Sydney-Johanna Stevns was a two-year friend of Admissions while she pursued her MALD.  When we were corresponding about this blog post, I told her how clearly I could picture her sitting in the Admissions Office entryway, waiting for an interviewee or a visitor she would take for coffee.  When not helping out Admissions, Sydney was active with the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.

Like many of my classmates, I came to Fletcher planning to pursue a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.  At the time I entered, I viewed the field of international environment and development work as being on the upswing, but just in time for me to graduate in 2017, the landscape changed.  I decided to take a month after graduation to mentally regroup and think about a new career path while intensively studying Spanish in Xela, Guatemala.  In this mountain town, I still wasn’t far from Fletcher.  Nearby was a Fletcher friend who started a socially responsible shoe company in Antigua and another who was beginning her first tour as a political Foreign Service Officer in Guatemala City.

After my sunny month in Central America ended, I moved to Washington, DC to begin searching for work.  I reached out to Fletcher alumni and other friends I’d made during my time at Fletcher to learn about their work and to understand opportunities within their fields.  In the end, it was a Fletcher friend who saw a job posting on the Fletcher alumni job listserv, thought it would be a perfect fit, and forwarded it my way.  After responding to the post, I got a call from my soon-to-be boss asking if I could come in on Monday.  What started as a ten-day contract is now my full-time gig.

Hiking up to see the Pachacamac ruins for a much-needed break from meetings and conferences in Lima.

My role is Country Engagement Specialist with the NDC Partnership Support Unit (SU), hosted within World Resources Institute, focused on supporting Latin American countries while they amp up their action against climate change.  In many ways, the work I am doing as a Specialist is what I hoped I would do someday as an Economic Foreign Service Officer and still very much feels like public service.  On missions to Colombia, Honduras, and Peru, I have met with Ministries of Environment, Finance, Planning, Agriculture, Mines, and Energy, among others; representatives from the World Bank, UNDP, Inter-American Development Bank, GIZ, and other government embassies.  In these meetings we identify areas to collaborate across ministries and across international cooperation actors.  This is a central part of the NDC Partnership’s work to support developing countries in their efforts to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — promises countries made as part of the Paris Agreement to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Meeting with UNDP partners at the UN compound in Lima, Peru in February 2018.

As I’m writing this, I am sitting in Bonn, Germany, still jetlagged from my mission to Lima.  While our team is headquartered in Washington, DC, I’m working with our team in Bonn on a temporary assignment to get to know them and our German cooperation partners better.  We also have regional specialists based across the world.  Together, our team of thirty people comes from over fifteen different countries, making it feel very similar to Fletcher.

No two weeks at work are the same.  By nature of being effectively a “start-up” initiative, the NDC Partnership SU is constantly growing and improving its strategy.  At a week’s notice I might have an in-country mission scheduled to provide support for the local government, or be writing our work program and budget, or drafting an agenda for a meeting with our implementing partners.  Through this work I’m reminded of my time at Fletcher: my ability to convey a message convincingly gained from The Fletcher Forum; team management I learned working with FSIG; and ability to tell a compelling story out of a jumble of numbers that resulted from Impact Evaluation and Economic Policy Analysis classes.

Catching up with Fletcher friends during a trip to Boston to discuss collaboration between the NDC Partnership and the Climate Policy Lab at Fletcher.

As exciting and interesting as this job is, I’ve also learned that the jet-setting lifestyle is not the beauty I thought it would be.  There are some airports that I know far too well and half the time I cannot justify unpacking my suitcase.  But it provides insight into a world of international diplomacy outside of the Foreign Service and is always eased by the run-ins with Fletcher alumni and by the chance to learn about new cultures.

Although, during my time at Fletcher I was very focused on working for the federal government, in hindsight I see now that Fletcher’s flexible and interdisciplinary curriculum gave me the skills I needed to adapt when the job market changed.  It’s also clear how the relationships I built during Fletcher were the ones that made finding work and building a new career path possible.  The generosity of Fletcher students and alums, which I have continued to receive since graduating, makes me so grateful to have chosen Fletcher.

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