I have two more posts to share from the Class of 2016 before I move on to last May’s graduating class. Today, Nathalie Hudson tells us about her experience since completing the MIB program 15 months ago, much of her time apparently having been spent on an airplane.
My year since Fletcher can mostly be described as an international one — I’ve accumulated over 50,000 airmiles (yes, I realize my carbon footprint it terrible…) and visited 16 countries. The year started with an MIB wedding in Japan, and my one-year milestone since moving to Addis Ababa with Dalberg Global Development Advisors is going to be marked with a training in Bangkok and a music festival in Uganda. In between I’ve danced to Bollywood music at Dalberg’s global retreat in India, had tea with pineapple farmers in Guinea, hiked up mountains and celebrated a wedding with some Fletcher favorites in Argentina, and helped organize a 100-person Iftar dinner in Tanzania. All this while adjusting to life in Ethiopia, and contributing to growing our Dalberg Addis office from three people to 10 people. It’s been an exciting and challenging year, with a new city, a new job and a lot of new responsibilities.
The mobility of this year has not just been linked to my location, it’s also in the nature of the work, with no two weeks ever being the same. My first project was in Conakry, Guinea, establishing the strategy for the Prime Minister’s new Delivery Unit, specifically its agriculture project. We were tasked with choosing which sector to work in, and then developing a plan for how to grow the sector in the coming two years. Our interviews with the Ministry of Agriculture and data analysis of agricultural production led us to discover the once large but now dwindling pineapple industry of Guinea. We then went out to the fields of Kindia to speak with pineapple farmers, and even visited the Prime Minister’s office to discuss our project. Having spoken to distinguished guests and officials at Fletcher certainly helped in my preparation, but nothing quite prepares you for having to answer a Prime Minister’s questions directly!
After six weeks in Guinea I went back to Addis, moving from agriculture supply chain strategies to developing a business plan for an infant nutrition and women’s empowerment program in Ethiopia. As this project ended, I packed my bag again to go to Denmark, creating an emerging market strategy for a large corporate client. My most recent project was based in Kenya, working with a large pan-African bank to review some of its strategies and partnerships through expert interviews with new and innovate start-ups, and data analysis to understand the biggest opportunities. In between projects I’ve attended conferences, organized a private-sector business development week in Tanzania, relaunched Dalberg’s inclusive business practice area, and helped set up our Ethiopian office. The learning curve starts over again after every project, so the pace of change is challenging, but it’s certainly never boring.
These different projects and experiences are informed by either the classes I took or the people I met at Fletcher. When I first arrived in Guinea I was reading a paper on Guinean agriculture that I realized had been written by a classmate. When I kicked off our work on emerging market strategy for the Danish company and looked through their annual report, I pulled out my accounting class notes. And as I do all of these projects while reading through the news coming out of Europe and the U.S. on a daily basis, I go back to my Historian’s Art class memories to ensure my reactions are informed and measured.
My past year has not only been informed by Fletcher, but was also made possible by Fletcher. My path into Dalberg, after applying four times previously, was through a Fletcher alum who generously gave me his time for an informational interview 18 months ago, and has now become my boss. My adjustment to Dalberg was made, and continues to be made, much easier with two Fletcher alums becoming buddies/advisors and answering all of my questions and concerns.
And while packing a suitcase and traveling constantly may sound glamorous, life on a plane (especially when traveling through African airports) is not always fun. My travels around the world have been made all the more enjoyable because I often have a Fletcher person to have coffee with or host me. And of course, Fletcher weddings have been a great excuse for adventures and reunions. Being located next to a hub airport in Addis has also meant I’ve had a few Fletcher visitors myself.
My faith in humanity also continues thanks to ongoing conversations with my classmates, over coffee or on social media. With the world going a bit mad these days, the presence of Fletcher folks in my Twitter feed continues to give me hope that we’re not doomed just yet. Professor Khan also gave his time this year, in between writing his latest book, to help me and other alums organize a Historian’s Art Alumni Discussion where we discussed The Trump Presidency as Contemporary History. It was an incredible way to reconnect with former classmates, and feel the Fletcher vibe again, albeit this time via WebEx while sitting on the shores of Lake Kivu with a dodgy internet connection!
Fletcher prepared me for my new career as a consultant by encouraging me to think critically and with empathy. It equipped me with lessons in corporate finance, business strategy, financial inclusion, and history, that I use daily (although I still wish I’d paid more attention in Corporate Finance). It has also given me a network of friends and classmates around the world who are generous with their time and inspiring with their stories. Last week I made Gold Status on Ethiopian Airlines, a fitting one-year milestone that shows how far I’ve traveled both literally and figuratively in my year since Fletcher.