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In April, after I wrote my last post from the Hall of Flags, I was emailing with Manjula Dissanayake, one of the students featured. A week later, we sat down and he described the incredible path he has followed from his pre-Fletcher days to now. With Commencement just around the corner, I’m featuring Manjula’s story.
It all starts in 2007, when Manjula was working in finance in the DC area. He and his roommates had previously raised funds for Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, but they felt they could do more. They decided to focus their efforts in the area of education, forming Educate Lanka. Before long, Educate Lanka was occupying so much of Manjula’s time that he decided to dedicate himself to the effort, starting by pursuing graduate study in development and social entrepreneurship, either through an MBA or an international affairs degree. An application process later, he enrolled in Fletcher’s MALD program in September 2010 as a Board of Overseers Scholar, and quickly got to work on building his own intellectual infrastructure to run the organization, which currently has a core volunteer staff of ten, and a larger pool of about 40 to draw upon.
I should pause here and describe Educate Lanka. The organization’s main activity is securing micro-scholarships of $10 to $20 for students who lack funds but have a high potential to become future leaders, by connecting the kids with sponsors from around the world. 100% of the sponsorship funds go to the students. There are no administrative expenses (this being a fledgling organization), but if something comes up, funds are raised through a separate fundraising process, which also generates some scholarships for students without sponsors. Currently 275 students are receiving scholarships. A total of 350 have received funds, about 30 of whom have completed school (though a few left school and the program). There are over 400 sponsors in 15+ countries. Once they are in the program, the kids are funded through their undergraduate studies, starting as early as fifth grade (age 10). Over 12 million Sri Lankan Rupees (about US$100,000) has been awarded.
Back to fall 2010. Manjula settles in, registers for courses, etc. Good things started to happen pretty much right away. The first was that Educate Lanka was selected to receive the funds raised through Fletcher’s annual Asia Night event. That same semester, Manjula drew support from Empower, a project of the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership (IGL). And Educate Lanka took third place in the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition. Not a bad start for one semester, and at that point Manjula started to think Educate Lanka had the potential to become a larger organization.
In spring 2011, Manjula took a microfinance class with Kim Wilson, and cross-registered for a Harvard class on education and social entrepreneurship with Fernando Reimers. Both professors offered advice on complementary models for Educate Lanka, and on how to make the organization more sustainable and scalable. Should it continue as a 501(c)3 (non-profit)? Or should it turn into a blended social business? Also that semester, after attending the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, someone referred him to USAID and the State Department, because he works with the Sri Lankan diaspora community, which led to an invitation to speak at the Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.
Come summer 2011, while also interning in the Education Investment Group of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Manjula was a finalist in the MassChallenge competition, as a result of which he received mentorship and guidance. Toward the end of the summer, he used a fellowship from IGL to travel to Sri Lanka, visiting the north and east of the country, where Educate Lanka wasn’t yet working. He returned with a sense of how to achieve near-term organizational expansion in Sri Lanka, including a corporate partnership model.
Meanwhile, Manjula’s roommate, Sadruddin, was thinking of replicating the model in Bangladesh, and had received a good response to the idea. He hopes to pilot the project by the end of this year. (Here they are together.)
Back at Fletcher in September 2011, Manjula reconnected with Prof. Wilson and Prof. Reimers, who together mentored him and helped him to think about global replication and to add a corporate partnership model to Educate Lanka. An MIT class on Development Ventures required him to take his ideas and act on them. He received another IGL/Empower fellowship to return to Sri Lanka during the winter break. And he continued entering business plan competitions. He was one of two finalists in the MIT 100K Elevator Pitch Competition.
His Fletcher classmates sent more funds Educate Lanka’s way from 2011 Asia Night proceeds, and Manjula was one of a small group honored as a UN Volunteer of the Year in Sri Lanka. Also helpful, more Fletcher students were jumping on board, including a group that wrote a consulting report on the concept of distance learning in Sri Lanka. He received additional funding from the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises, and IGL is committed to supporting Manjula, even after graduation.
In spring 2012, Manjula was a semi-finalist at the Harvard Social Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition. And this semester also found him in two classes specifically selected to build his skills set. Along the way, he needed to write a thesis and do the other things expected of Fletcher students. Oh, and he attended Clinton Global Initiative University in March, and was an Echoing Green semi-finalist. In preparing to graduate, he created his own Fletcher Field of Study: Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in International Development. (His second field is International Political Economy.)
I asked Manjula to reflect on his Fletcher experience, which seems to have been uniquely successful in connecting him to the local academic community. He said that he came to Fletcher “with the idea to get more guidance, more advice” and to “test the model and see if it has legs.” He confirmed that he was able to do that through classes, the business plan competitions, talking to mentors, seeing the response of people who believe in the Educate Lanka model (including some who want to replicate it elsewhere in South Asia and in Africa), and talking in panels and at conferences. All of this pushed him to move Educate Lanka toward a sustainable social business model while maintaining its core scholarship model.
What’s coming up after graduation? There are five or six fundraising events set up for the summer. The model will be starting up in Bangladesh, leading to “Educate World” in many countries. There’s a plan to start an online platform to arrange one-on-one mentoring for underprivileged kids, enabling knowledge-sharing between the developed and developing world (and also generating more traffic for the Educate Lanka website). The mentoring program would offer a new means of involvement for people who can’t contribute funds, and builds the community of people Manjula says are energized with “‘change the world’ spirit.”
Finally, Manjula took a minute to say “how much I appreciate all the support and backing I have received from my fellow Fletcher students, from all three classes (’11,’12,’13) with which I had the privilege to share my experience, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni. I owe them my thanks.”
I’m going to try to keep up with Manjula and Educate Lanka through the coming year, and I’ll report back on Manjula’s post-Fletcher path. Based on his success in the past two years, I’m guessing there will be plenty to write about.
For (if I remember correctly) the third year, students have compiled videos of enthusiastic (if less than smooth) dancing by classmates visiting locations near and far. Please enjoy “Where the Hell is Fletcher? 2012″ a now annual tradition:
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On Tuesday, Jeff and I decided that the time had come again for us to hang out in the Hall of Flags and chat with students. With the Open House right behind us and admitted student decisions in front of us, the question of the day was obvious: Why did you choose to come to Fletcher?
We started our conversation with two students from Germany who first met each other here.
Frieder, second-year MALD, told us that just over two years ago, he was “Ready to apply to ten programs. Fletcher was number one — my favorite — on the list. Then I received early admission.” Story over. But he also said, “Fletcher was my favorite because of having access to law classes, along with the opportunity to focus on business and economic development” (which is his career direction). “It’s a unique combination.”
Joachim, second-year MALD, said he likes several things: “The broad range of courses at your disposal. The small size of the community. And the closely-knit alumni network. I really like the Boston location, too. Personally, I also like the way the nice Tufts campus is quiet, but you can still get to New York or D.C. easily.”
But then Joachim made a distinction between why he chose Fletcher and why he likes it now. Coming to the end of his Fletcher experience, he says it’s “The people in the community and the diversity are what I like the most, and you can meet a Fletcher student or Fletcher alumni anywhere in the world.”
Matt, second-year MALD, agreed to compose his thoughts for a quick video! (If you don’t have the plugin to view the video, you’ll need to trust me when I say Matt is very enthusiastic!)
Next we called over Kartik, second-year MALD from India, who was chatting with Hanneke. Kartik used to work in our office, but now he’s a big time teaching assistant and doesn’t visit us enough anymore. Anyway, Kartik, who pre-Fletcher had been working in the local area, told us how he ended up at Fletcher. “I took the T to Davis Square, and took a left turn, and here I was. It felt like home.” (Hanneke made fun of him just a little for this sweet sentiment.)
Then along came Jeff, a second-year MALD from Canada. He said, “I joined Fletcher because of its reputation for academic rigor, great student body, and connection to the broader Boston academic community.”
Second-year MIB Jonathan came by and told us, “Fletcher offers really unique and interesting opportunities. I had a great internship experience in Hong Kong, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything more conventional.” He and Jeff had met up while Jeff was in Hong Kong for recruitment travel last fall.
Manjula, second-year MALD from Sri Lanka, said, “I was making a career change from finance to international development and social entrepreneurship, and Fletcher offered the diversity and flexibility, along with the skills and resources I needed, so I could explore new fields and make that switch.” (I should also mention that Manjula is a rock-star in the community for what he has already achieved.)
Interrupting a study group, we found out that Alicia, second-year MALD from Jamaica, chose Fletcher, “because it’s such a nice warm and friendly place.” And James, first-year MIB, chose Fletcher because it provides, “a more interesting international exposure than the other schools I applied to.”
Barry, mid-career MA, told us, “I came to the Open House last year and met with current students and faculty, and I was extremely impressed. Yesterday was a little reminiscent for me.”
We wandered over to a table where students were selling Africana Night tickets. Tallash, first-year MALD from Kenya, chose Fletcher because of the flexibility of the degree programs. She said she is focusing on international environmental policy and development economics, and “doing so much in a two-year program that it’s like doing three different master’s degrees.”
Martin, second-year MIB, liked that “The MIB program offered a unique opportunity to integrate international business and international relations in one program, compared to a dual degree in parallel.”
Along came Dean Bosworth, who good-naturedly told us he chose Fletcher because, “I was offered a job, and I needed a job. I was stepping down as ambassador to Korea.” (I hope he also appreciated the warm community!)
Ethan, PhD candidate, joined us. He and I did a quick reminisce about how I interviewed him a bunch of years ago when he applied to do his MALD. He chose Fletcher because of “the ability to build a program with interdisciplinary balance.” And also because the faculty includes “a healthy mix of practitioners and academics.”
Katie, first-year MALD from Egypt and Admissions intern said, “I like to know that I can leave campus and then come back to this warm Fletcher-orange environment.”
Sebastian, first-year MIB from Ecuador, took the broad view. “World economics are going through a transition and the existing model of business study needs a new perspective, so the MIB program was perfect for my interests.”
And the last word is going to go to Liz, for about four years the first person you’d see when you entered the Admissions Office. Liz told us, “I came to Fletcher because I was making a career shift and Fletcher was the right place to marry my workplace skills and my desire to work with students again.”
And that’s Liz’s last word in the Admissions Blog. She has successfully pushed her career transition forward, and yesterday started her new post in the Tufts Residence Life office. We wish her all the best!
While it’s true that Fletcher’s Student Council couldn’t make a decision to, say, offer all students an A grade in every class, it does play an important role in representing students — their views and needs — to the School’s administration. The Council is composed of first-year and continuing students, and there’s a rep for the PhD program.
Based on reports I’ve seen, the past few years’ Councils have been particularly active, and even hold office hours so that students can express their opinions. True representative democracy!
But what would be the purpose of working hard on behalf of one’s constituents, if those good citizens of Fletcher never learned the results of the Council’s actions. Creating awareness fell to Councillor Blake and friend, Lesley. They channeled 2012′s big Oscar winner in this video report about the Council’s success in arranging after-hours availability of food and supplies — for students who can’t bear to leave the building.
O.K., so this is really old (originally posted last summer, I think), but it just made it’s way to me via the Social List. New Fletcher alum, Michelle Kwan, hosted an aspiring figure skater at Fletcher. Check out Michelle as tour guide, and her protegé, starting at about 30:30 into the show. MTV isn’t Fletcher’s usual medium, and I hope you’ll enjoy (however belatedly) this unique introduction to the School.
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