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.