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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.
Today we’ll turn back to the Class of 2012, and to a friend of the Admissions Office. Kartik was a member of the Admissions Office staff for both of his two years in the MALD program. I remember taking him along for a grad school fair in Boston. It has been a treat to have an excuse to reconnect with him.
My path to Fletcher was fairly convoluted. My first job out of college was in the Boston area at an economic policy consulting firm. The job was mainly focused on economic issues around infrastructure development in the U.S. As a kid I️ grew up in a few different countries and I️ really wanted work that would let me travel internationally as much as possible. For the longest time I️ thought that would mean getting an MBA and finding a job as a management consultant or the like. That was until a friend told me about International Relations as a degree and, after doing some research, I️ found out about Fletcher.
I had developed a quantitative background during college and my job. When I started at Fletcher, I found that taking theoretical and qualitative classes on subjects I️ had never studied before was a lot harder than I️ had initially anticipated. However the experience was definitely made easier by the professors and my fellow Fletcher students, who were a lot of help during that time. I️ was lucky enough to get into Professor Everett’s petroleum class in my first semester, which I️ have to say was a definite life-changer for me. I️ had known that I️ wanted to go into the field of energy post-Fletcher, but I️ wasn’t sure doing what/where — that class definitely helped make that decision for me.
My experience in the petroleum class solidified my belief that international energy was a space rife with interesting issues and it would be an interesting path to follow as a career. What I️ learned in that class and others in the environmental concentration is content and skills that I️ still use to this day. In hindsight, I️ also have to say that the classes I️ took outside of the environmental stream, like Professor Trachtman’s law class, were also very helpful.
As an aside, I️ want to point out that my extracurricular activities at Fletcher included hosting Fletcher Follies, and the experience of making light of often serious issues showed me a side of Fletcher that I️ hadn’t previously experienced. I️t was a transformational and extremely fun experience.
Between my two years at Fletcher, I️ interned at a small consulting firm in Washington, DC that specialized in political risk and energy. Then, after graduating, I got a job with a few colleagues from that firm who left to start their own practice in New York.
As a member of a small team, right out of grad school, I️ had significant responsibility for what I️ was working on. This involved a lot of client sales and conferences along with actual research and presentations. We were dealing with global energy issues where I️ got to travel to a number of very interesting places and deal with some extremely interesting problems. These spanned the spectrum from corruption issues in Brazil to the opening up of the Iranian oil sector.
In 2015, after three years in that job, I got an opportunity to expand my energy work and go into the field of equity research for the energy sector at Bernstein, where I️ am presently. Today I️ work on stock pricing in the energy sector — my team is responsible for setting a price for energy stocks that many investors trade off of. In addition, about half my time is spent answering investor questions about various global and local issues that could potentially affect commodity and stock prices. These topics can span anything that might directly or indirectly cause changes in the energy markets, which makes the job both very interesting and challenging. I️ need to talk about what is happening with scud missiles falling in Saudi Arabia in the same conversation as the EPA’s clean air rules. Many of these topics remain those about which I️ learned to form opinions in my classes at Fletcher.
The one thing that I️ do regret to this day is not taking the corporate finance classes with Professor Jacque. Being in a finance job was not something that I️ had ever wanted or worked towards, but it definitely took me longer to learn the ropes because I️ didn’t have a background in finance. In hindsight, I️ think the corporate finance classes would have been very helpful and I️ would recommend them highly to anyone who is still at Fletcher. You never know when you might need them!
I️ have kept in touch with quite a few Fletcher friends who have been invaluable in both my professional and personal growth and being in New York has given me a real appreciation of Fletcher connections. I️t is also incredible how many Fletcher graduates I️ have run into in countries around the world, whether I️ am visiting for fun or for work.
Today’s update from the Class of 2012 is special in many ways. First, it has been written jointly by two MALD graduates, Aaron Morris and Ho-Ming So Denduangrudee. Second, Ho-Ming sent it along only a few days after bringing a new baby into their family. Third, Ho-Ming and Aaron make up one of the first Fletcher Couples I featured on the blog. Finally, as a first-year student, Ho-Ming wrote about her long path to Fletcher.
Similar to a lot of future Fletcher classmates, it turns out we lived and worked at random places at the same time: Boston, post-undergrad where Aaron worked in investment consulting and Ho-Ming worked as a research assistant and at a climbing gym; Thailand, where Aaron worked on the Thai-Burmese border with former political prisoners on advocacy projects, and Ho-Ming worked on indigenous rights and community development projects across the region; and Colorado, where Aaron valeted cars and ski bummed, and Ho-Ming worked for a small human rights defenders fund. Aaron knew he wanted to contribute to bridging the business and international development worlds, and Ho-Ming was interested in minority rights.
We met on the first day of orientation and were on seemingly different tracks: Aaron was a development economics/security studies MALD and eventually became an advisee of Professor Block; Ho-Ming went to Fletcher to study human rights with Professor Hannum, who had previously taught one of her early mentors at the UN. At Fletcher, we were constantly challenged to work on and be exposed to topics beyond the scope of our respective foci, whether by each other or by our peers, professors, the curriculum, or the institution. We quickly learned there are no silos in our interrelated world, and a Fletcher education continually underscores this. Some horizon-broadening moments were more trying than others — for instance, that semester when Aaron convinced Ho-Ming that taking Professor Jacque’s Corporate Finance class would be a great idea. It is a great idea. There may be some tears and terror alongside learning, but it is worth it. (Opposite of a pro tip: if you actively try to avoid eye contact, rest assured, Professor Jacques will call on you.)
After graduation, Aaron took a job in Jakarta with the ASEAN basketball league in business development and strategy, and Ho-Ming signed on to work on indigenous rights and sustainable development as part of a United Nations forestry initiative. In four wonderful years in Indonesia, Aaron ended up taking a job as a management consultant at Bain & Co., and Ho-Ming returned to community-based work through the Samdhana Institute.
Our Fletcher roots continue to manifest throughout our careers and lives. While Ho-Ming was at the UN, Professor Moomaw facilitated key introductions to support the Government of Indonesia delegation during global climate change COPs, Fletcher alumni and students joined us as colleagues at various moments in our respective careers, alumni were generous with sharing their networks and many became close friends. We even managed to expand the community in a small way, when a dear colleague and friend opted to attend Fletcher for a mid-career MA. We were fortunate to be able to attend his graduation in Medford, which coincided with our five year reunion.
We are currently located in San Francisco, prompted by an internal transfer opportunity through Aaron’s work. Ho-Ming has kept a foot in Southeast Asia, building fun partnerships, including this one one linking the outdoor industry, climbing, and an incredible indigenous activist/regional MP to pilot ecotourism and support indigenous tenure security in remote Eastern Indonesia. She’s recently taken on a new position strengthening institutional partnerships at Build Change, a social enterprise focused on enhancing disaster resilience and recovery for low income neighborhoods in emerging markets.
Fletcher expanded our horizons and imbued in us a truly interconnected perspective on the world. On the macro policy and industry level, this has been invaluable. On a civic and personal level, particularly in divisive times, we are grateful that Fletcher taught us — above all — to listen and always be mindful of a bigger picture. We might not always agree, but Fletcher has emphasized to us the importance of trying to understand. As partners, as parents, we strive to serve as resources for each other and, we hope, a wider community that bridges industries, nationalities, and worldviews. At Fletcher, we were given the tools to foster similarities that drive all of us, to strengthen the connections between us and, not least, to be thoughtful and reflective — to engage and look for ways to be inclusive, share responsibilities. and be thoughtful about how we can create a better world.
It has been a while since the blog featured a Five-Year Update, and I’m excited to kick off the profiles from the Class of 2012 — a group that seems especially full of wonderful people. I’m extra pleased that the first of these posts comes from Vanessa Vidal Castellanos, whom I interviewed for her MALD application in 2011 and I’ve been in contact with ever since. Vanessa is currently serving as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. When she was a student, she appeared in the Admissions Blog before running in the Boston Marathon.
This Five-Year Update is written from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where I have been since September 11, 2017 — such an important date for many around the globe. As I booked my travel to permanently change stations, the travel agent hesitantly asked: “Are you sure you want to travel from the United States to Saudi Arabia on September 11?” Honestly, the significance of that date hadn’t crossed my mind. I thought back to exactly five years earlier when I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States of America on September 11, 2012. That day, as I prepared to introduce our speaker before the swearing-in ceremony for the new Foreign Service officers like me, I choked and contained tears while watching on television as then President Obama and the Secretary of State received the bodies of those who had been killed in service in Benghazi, Libya. It was at that moment that I realized how honored and proud I was to be joining the diplomatic corps of the United States.
My diplomatic career began after my admissions interview to The Fletcher School, which is when I first considered the U.S. Foreign Service. I knew I wanted to work in public service, but also knew something was missing from most of the jobs I had heard of, and that was the international component. Thanks to Jessica, who encouraged me to apply for the Pickering Fellowship after my admissions interview, I became a Pickering Fellow. After graduating from Fletcher, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service — exactly the career I had dreamt of, I just didn’t know the name for it. I went on to complete an internship at the operations center in Washington, DC, covering East Asia and the Pacific, but in tune with everything that was happening in the world. I remember every day was something new, and briefing high-level officials as an intern was nerve-racking to say the least. I questioned if I would be able to fulfill my five-year contract as part of the Fellowship.
After serving in various capacities at U.S. embassies in Tunisia, Switzerland, Zambia, and now in Saudi Arabia, I understand and appreciate the value of diplomacy to create mutual understanding between the people and governments of different countries. I absolutely love engaging the people of the host country, hearing about their needs and dreams, and finding ways the U.S. government can provide support. I have always said the United States is not a perfect country, but we have tons to share and I am glad to have resources at hand that I can offer and that mutually benefit others and the United States. It’s not always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes perspectives are controversial. However, having people-to-people conversations about those standpoints and then influencing U.S. foreign policy, even if only in the slightest, is reassuring.
There is no question that without my education at Fletcher — thorny and touchy discussions, mock chief of staff meetings, public diplomacy, negotiation simulations, and sample policy briefs — and the network of friends I built, I would not have this diplomatic career. The Fletcher community at the Department is real and truly vibrant. (I always had my doubts if it could live up to the hype, during the annual Fletcher D.C. networking events.) I am grateful for my Fletcher experience and the international worldview it gave me; I could not imagine my life without it!
Check out Vanessa’s video, which the U.S. Embassy shared on its Facebook page. It’s from a series in which Embassy staff share details about their home towns.
The final Five-Year Update for the Class of 2011 comes from Jacqui Deelstra. Jacqui had pursued a variety of professional experiences before she started at Fletcher, but she created a clear path for her post-graduate school career, with ICT4D the link that connects her work.
For me, the choice to go to Fletcher was pretty clear. I wanted to increase my skills and expertise for a career in international development, and my sister had paved the way to Medford by going to Tufts herself as an undergraduate. So when I when analyzed choices for grad school, I could not imagine a better option than to continue the “Jumbo” family tradition.
My path to Fletcher
As I was finishing up my degree in international relations and journalism at the University of Southern California, I found myself looking for opportunities to get practical experience overseas. Through some connections I heard about Tostan, an NGO based in Senegal that focuses on women and girls’ health and human rights. Working with Tostan on communications and donor relations, and visiting communities throughout Senegal, gave me my first exposure to the field of international development.
Over the next few years, before making my way to Fletcher, I spent two years back in Seattle, WA, my hometown, working on local youth-mentoring programs with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and spent a year in Loja, Ecuador teaching English and volunteering through the WorldTeach program.
During and after Fletcher: Finding a niche in ICT4D
As an undergraduate, while I double-majored in international relations and print journalism, my primary focus was on communications and journalism. That passion for understanding how people access and consume information, and how it impacts their lives, has always stuck with me. While at Fletcher I discovered the budding field of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D). I was fascinated in thinking about how mobile devices, social media and other communication technologies were changing people’s ability to participate in government, get information on health topics, and access training and capacity building. I focused my Fletcher thesis on how ICT was being used for government accountability and transparency programs in East Africa through field research in Tanzania and Kenya during the summer between my two years at Fletcher.
Thanks to the experience I gained with ICT4D while at Fletcher, I landed a short-term consultancy with Plan International as an ICT4D consultant. Right after Fletcher graduation, I headed to Benin where I spent two months working with the local staff on evaluating and planning the expanded roll-out of an SMS-based pilot project.
After I returned from Benin, I joined Creative Associates, a DC-based USAID implementing partner. At that time in September 2011, Creative had just established a Technology for Development team focused on designing and implementing ICT solutions for projects in sectors such as education, elections, and governance and civil society. I spent five years with Creative helping to grow the Technology for Development practice, which is now known as the Creative Development Lab. My work at Creative took me to Zambia to work on mobile solutions to support early-grade reading and to Haiti to support civil society organizations with technology for collecting and mapping electoral security data.
In February 2017, I accepted an exciting opportunity to work with the Digital Health Solutions team at PATH. PATH is a leader in innovation in Global Health and my new position is giving me the great chance to continue to grow my career in ICT4D and to put down roots back in Seattle.
Today I balance my work in ICT4D with my family. I have an almost two-year-old son named Elliott. I also still benefit tremendously from the relationships I developed at Fletcher. With my closest Fletcher friends, who are scattered all over the world, we have maintained a Skype book club, where we spend little time discussing the book, but instead have lengthy discussions on topics ranging from career challenges and successes to wedding planning. Looking back and considering my life today, I could not be happier with my choice to follow in my sister’s footsteps and become a Tufts Jumbo by studying at Fletcher.
This week I’m going to share two updates from the Class of 2011, with my apologies to the writers for neglecting to publish their posts earlier in the spring. Kimberly came to Fletcher from Jamaica, which given the country’s relatively small size, immediately made her stand out my mind.
Every so often I have a flashback to Commencement day — huddling together for group photos, and then each of my friends, with cautious optimism, sharing plans for our new lives that would begin in just a matter of days. Was that really five and a half years ago? So much has happened. Our class has accomplished so much.
In high school I’d made up my mind that I wouldn’t be contained by the borders of my small island; I was one of those people that Dean Bosworth spoke about at our orientation, looking to “lead an international life.”
At first, the dream manifested as a desire to join Jamaica’s foreign service, and I was fortunate to receive very clear advice from two of Jamaica’s top diplomatic professionals. They told me that if I was serious about the foreign service, there was only one graduate school for me. And so, before I had even decided where I would pursue my undergraduate studies, I had accepted my mission: The Fletcher School. Though it was probably obvious, I didn’t realize at the time that they were both Fletcher grads.
One bachelor’s degree and an embassy internship later, I was heading to Medford. I had put all my grad school eggs in the Fletcher basket and it had paid off.
By the time I arrived in the Hall of Flags, my interests had shifted. I’d spent a year in the Ministry of Finance, working on Jamaica’s program with the multilateral banks, and I had a new mission: I was going to work at the World Bank.
I never forgot about that mission, but it lay in the back of my mind while I was busy soaking up the whirlwind awesomeness that is the Fletcher School. This update is my love song to Blakeley Hall, Fletcher Follies, Los Fletcheros, the annual Ski Trip, and so much more. To Professor Block, who was a stellar advisor, and to Professor Moomaw and all of CIERP.
It is five and half years later, and a lot has happened. I’ve been to several Fletcher weddings, including my own, and I ended up at the World Bank, though in a different sector than I anticipated. In the Global Water Practice, I work on policy, planning, and capacity building related to water resources infrastructure. Given the scale of the global water and energy challenges, I can scarcely think of a sector I would rather be working in.
While I didn’t expect my job to take me to so many construction sites, the experience has been both exciting and rewarding. There is, at the end of the day, something special about seeing a major project coming up out of the ground and knowing you had even the smallest hand in bringing it to fruition. When I arrive at a client’s office and someone hands me a hard hat, I know it’s going to be a good day.
If I have one misgiving, though, it is that none of my projects to date have taken me anywhere close to Jamaica. I won’t lie; it tugs at my heartstrings to spend most of my days trying to solve problems everywhere else but there. I tell myself that there is time for that.
In the meantime, I am enjoying all the incredible Fletcher friendships I made during those two years and the ones I continue to make. The Fletcher family is real, so real. It can be hard to stay in touch with folks splintered all over the globe, but nearly everywhere I go, there’s at least one familiar face and it makes all the difference.
I haven’t decided yet what my next mission will be…but I think I’m starting to get some ideas.
Our next Five-Year Update comes from Vincent Fennell, whom I recall spent quite a bit of time around the Admissions Office during his two years in the MIB program. I recently caught up with him at an event, and I was reminded why it was so delightful to see him regularly.
I admit there’s a certain irony in writing an update about “life since Fletcher” when I’m currently only 30 minutes away from the Fletcher campus. However, it’s more a case of things coming full circle, rather than sitting still. Let me explain.
Before I joined the Fletcher MIB class of 2011, I worked at State Street Corporation in Boston. I decided to pursue an MIB as a way of developing my passion for international business. I had seen during my time at State Street that no business happens in a vacuum. There are so many “non-business” variables to an internationally successful business that I felt these were best addressed in an International Affairs School. I had already lived a pretty international life — albeit tame by Fletcher standards — but I wanted an education that could help me try to make sense of it all, help me become, in the words of the late Dean Bosworth, “culturally fluent.”
After I graduated from Fletcher in 2011, my wife, daughter, and I moved to England where I started a job at the Strategy Office for Hitachi Ltd. in their European Headquarters. This job came as a direct result of the internship I had in Tokyo with Hitachi the summer before. In what might be a Fletcher first, I was an Irishman who got a job in London while living in Boston after an internship in Tokyo.
Working for Hitachi was a dream post-Fletcher job for me. Each and every week felt like an applied session of the courses I had taken at Fletcher. Some weeks I was involved in Smart City discussions with the Japanese Ministry for Economy in Spain, while other times I was helping lay the foundations for a renewable hydrogen energy storage system at the Nissan test facility at their factory in Sunderland. At Fletcher I had taken a course on Petroleum in the Global Economy. This proved to be an invaluable foundation in energy discussions that I referred to constantly.
If I wasn’t focused on Smart Cities, I was helping negotiate the terms of a first of its kind Smart Energy Grid demonstration project in the UK or speaking with the Istanbul municipality about about municipal water network management systems. This is where I gained a whole new appreciation for my negotiation course and the importance of frameworks and BATNAs (Best Alternatives to a Negotiated Agreement).
Toward the end of my tenure at Hitachi, I was asked to undertake a market analysis on the nascent “Industry 4.0” or Fourth Industrial Revolution. Industry 4.0, simply put, is a catch-all for the automation of factories. Through this research and by meeting with a wide variety of software companies and manufacturing companies, I found the catalyst for the next step in my career: digitization.
Digitization and Industry 4.0 were not topics I had really explored in great detail while at Fletcher. I had taken courses in Innovation and even explored an internship with a few tech startups, but I always thought that I wasn’t “techie” enough. I’m not a software engineer and didn’t know anything about coding. What I experienced after Fletcher is the understanding of the critical need for both clear communication and lateral thinking in the technology arena.
Midway through 2015 I was offered a chance to move back to the U.S. and work with my former team at State Street, where I currently lead various internal digitization initiatives. My role is to help make State Street a market leader in the financial services industry. Digitization is rapidly changing the realm of possibilities within the financial services sector and the business is significantly different than when I left in 2011. It’s really exciting to be at the frontier of a changing global industry.
The last thing I want to say is about the Fletcher community. When I was at Fletcher everyone always talked about the Fletcher family as an invaluable resource. While I was at Tufts, this was always tangible in the form of people to reach out to with career-related questions. It wasn’t until I left Fletcher that I realized the true value of this global community. I feel inspired, fortunate, and proud to be a member of this unique and wonderful tribe.
Though we’re tip-toeing up to their six-year post-graduation mark, I’m happy to introduce another member of the Class of 2011. Philippa Brown completed the one-year mid-career MA program, and is now a consultant specializing in designing and implementing programs focused on counter-terrorism and stabilization, as well as early recovery work in conflict environments. Her bio further says that, “She has just completed a three-year posting to the British Embassy Mogadishu, Somalia, where she covered two thematic areas: leading the multi-disciplinary counter-terrorism team, and designing and delivering the UK’s bilateral stabilization program. Prior to her work in Somalia, she designed and managed the UK’s counter-terrorism program in Pakistan, focused on criminal justice capacity building in Punjab. Philippa also deployed to Afghanistan as part of the UK’s support to the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand 2009-10.”
As one member of the small group of “mid-career” MA students, I had already been working internationally prior to Fletcher. After ten years working in London as a UK civil servant, I was heading the Counter Narcotics Team in the multinational Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand. Two weeks later, I found myself at Fletcher Orientation in Medford. It was a bit of a culture shock.
I had heard about the MA program from a work friend who was based in Khandahar, working with the U.S. military. I mentioned my interest in going back to school to study international relations. He said, “You’ve got to go to Fletcher.” I had anticipated studying in the UK but had a look. I was really impressed with the courses available, the professors (How many superstar academics is it possible to have in one school?), and the international mix of the student body. I was further impressed when I met a current Fletcher student visiting Lashkar Gah on his summer internship — everything you hear about the Fletcher community is true!
On arriving, I sat in the auditorium at Fletcher, with hundreds of other students, and felt a sense of awe. It was even more international than I had expected. It was hard to whittle down the list of courses I wanted to take, and I had only one year at Fletcher to complete everything. I tried to cover a mixture, combining Professor Nasr’s Comparative Politics, Professor Maxwell’s Humanitarian Action, Professor Shultz’s Role of Force, Professor Block’s Agricultural Economics, and Professor Scharbatke-Church’s Design Monitoring and Evaluation, which absolutely changed my perspective on how we can deliver better results in the field. Even now, I feel some regret about the classes I didn’t manage to squeeze in — Professor Mazurana’s Gender and Conflict and Professor Drezner’s Classics of International Relations.
It was intense. I found myself working just as hard as I had in Afghanistan, but it was endlessly fascinating. There was just so much going on that I found it really important to be selective in deciding what to take on: I really enjoyed the Security Studies Program lunches, with their fascinating speakers; SIMULEX was a lot of fun; the ski trip was FREEZING but great. And the chance to cross-register for a couple of Harvard courses gave me a chance to widen my circle even further.
After leaving Fletcher, I came back to the UK and left the civil service, deciding to make the leap into consultancy that I’d been considering for a few years. Since then, I have spent almost all my time overseas: first in Pakistan working on criminal justice reform; and then in Somalia, working on counter-terrorism and stabilization. I am currently a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, as well as consulting on international security issues. I have also continued to enjoy the Fletcher family, catching up with a Fletcher crowd for dinners when transiting Nairobi, and now reconnecting with classmates back in London. I look back on my time in Medford as a bit of a whirlwind: intense, challenging, and a period of real growth. And I use the skills and knowledge I gained from Fletcher every single day.
In a week when much of my time has been dedicated to newly admitted students, I’d like to turn to one of our 2011 graduates. Imad Ahmed arrived at Fletcher with a varied set of experiences behind him during the five years after he had completed his undergraduate degree. While in the MIB program at Fletcher, Imad pursued an exchange semester in Paris, and five years out, he’s continuing his education.
My Fletcher MIB taught me International Finance and International Business and Economic and Law. Though I had read economics for my undergrad degree at University of California, Berkeley, my five years prior to Fletcher had nothing to do with either of these fields. I co-ran a successful fundraising office for an unsuccessful U.S. presidential campaign in 2004, documented national and provincial campaigns to encourage women to run for office in Pakistan in 2005, worked as a journalist, and finally worked as an entrepreneur in London, seeking to create jobs in Pakistan.
After Fletcher and my semester at HEC Paris, I returned to London to work in frontier market private equity. I was excited about the jobs we would and did create. I was less excited about extracting value from negotiating hard against an African parastatal. The Rwandan government then recruited me to assist them in negotiating infrastructure with private developers, which I did for four years, as well as serve as a Special Policy Advisor to their Secretary to the Treasury. I served competently, in large thanks to my Fletcher education and subsequent investment associate training. Also in large part due to Fletcher, I was never short of friends in Kigali, where I proudly held our flag and congregated our community. I met 100 Fletcher classmates (sometimes while out dancing after midnight!), student interns and alumni (sometimes on the opposite side of the negotiating table!).
Besides providing me with new skills and networks, Fletcher reoriented my mindset. The uber-travelled student body motivated me to double the countries I’d lived in, and to add a fourth continent to match the class average. (With six countries to my name now that I’m five years out, I might have fallen behind!)
The mature students at Fletcher doing their second master’s degrees brought rich tales and richer philosophies. One of them started work life as a chef, before becoming an international banker. His words about periodically returning to school to sharpen one’s toolkit and to reflect remained with me, and allowed me to think of my own return later. (He himself is now a research director and PhD student at Fletcher.)
The consistent theme to my career has been that I’ve operated as a critical idealist, finding gaps in the value of my work. Following on from my work in Rwanda, I am now pursuing a PhD at University College London. I am assessing how governments can prioritize infrastructure projects for the purpose of most effectively reducing rural poverty.
Kicking off the updates from the Class of 2011 is Chris Berger, who had a clear focus for his Fletcher studies before he even arrived and who took full advantage of the School’s quantitative offerings.
I graduated from Princeton in 2006 with a degree in history and I really struggled with what I wanted to do next. I was passionate about foreign affairs and international politics, and deeply involved in the national security discourse in the wake of 9/11. I was also, however, fascinated by the booming financial services industry, despite having taken little interest in economics/finance during college.
Determined to explore this path, I took a job at a financial consulting firm in New York that was focused on the bond markets. Shortly thereafter, 2008 reared its ugly head and the financial world went into a tailspin. A series of unanswered questions began to drive my focus: What was the genesis of the financial crisis and how had it metastasized so pervasively across the globe? Were emerging market economies and the so called “BRICs” (Brazil, Russia, India, China) poised to lead to the next wave of global growth? How would economies rebuild and how would government respond to strengthen the core of the global financial system? Fletcher sounded like the perfect place to explore these questions and to further build my understanding of international economics.
I was drawn to Fletcher’s MALD program by the flexibility of the curriculum and by the breadth of course offerings that directly appealed to my interests. I took full advantage of this flexibility by structuring a course load centered around economics, finance, and the global political economy. My work with Professors Klein, Krohn, and Drezner helped me to build a solid foundation in economics while also refining my understanding of the interaction between finance and public policy. Working with Professor Krohn, I wrote my thesis on how emerging markets were, after the financial crisis, poised to decouple from the West and lead the path for GDP growth over the coming years. (FYI — I was wrong.) As I looked to life after Fletcher, I was determined to find a career that straddled the worlds of public policy and finance.
After graduation, I was very lucky to be offered a role at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as part of their Markets Group. The Markets Group is responsible for executing monetary policy on behalf of the Federal Reserve System and I was fortunate to join right before the start of the Fed’s third round of quantitative easing (QE3, the program implemented in the aftermath of the financial crisis to provide the market with liquidity in effort to stimulate growth). As part of my training program I was taught how to effectively analyze and interpret movements across global financial markets and opine on broader themes across global asset classes. My training afforded me the opportunity to lead daily meetings with the Fed Governors and the Treasury Department and allowed me to participate in briefings with the leadership of the Federal Reserve, including Chair Janet Yellen.
After three years with the Markets Group, I left the Fed to assume a private sector position within BlackRock, where I currently work. The group I joined, called the Financial Markets Advisory group (FMA), was formed in the aftermath of the financial crisis and provides consulting services for governments, central banks and global financial institutions. Described by The New York Times as the “go-to SWAT team in financial crises,” I have worked on a number of assignments in the U.S. and abroad, including most recently a longer term project in Frankfurt. During my two years in the group I have been granted exposure to a broad range of issues facing the global financial system in the aftermath of the crisis, allowing me to build on my Fletcher curriculum while keeping me deeply entrenched with some of the key issues that drive my intellectual curiosity.
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