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Low Risk, High Reward: My Experience as an HBS Leadership Fellow

My work is motivated by one number-30%. It underlies every investment proposal that I develop, every business plan that I analyze and every engagement with my teammates and our external partners. It’s a pesky number; one that hasn’t changed much despite billions of dollars of public investment.ÿ At the same time, it’s a grounding number, a compelling figure that has challenged me to utilize my MBA towards figuring out how to make sure that dogged 30% doesn’t stick around too much longer.

30% is the percentage of entering ninth graders who do not end up graduating from high school in four years, and as an HBS Leadership Fellow with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I have a unique opportunity to change the status quo. Honestly, I never really thought I would work in social enterprise directly after business school. Having worked as both a consultant and as a manager in a nonprofit, I figured I would put my MBA to work in a more traditional corporate setting before considering the social enterprise field again. I thought that the nonprofit world would be less professionally and personally challenging, and that it would not afford me the same learning opportunities and chances to apply my business skills as the corporate world. I was wrong.

This fellowship has offered countless opportunities to employ and strengthen my MBA skills, with the added benefit of allowing me to work on an issue that I care about deeply. As an Associate Program Officer on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Education Team, I analyze potential investments and work with management teams to develop organizational capacity and manage growth-all for the purpose of delivering high-quality solutions that improve high school graduation and college readiness rates in this country. Internally, I have drawn on what I learned at HBS in order to inform our division’s strategy and operations. I am never in want of learning opportunities. My teammates are the smartest and most committed group of people that I have ever been fortunate enough with to work.

Some of you are probably debating the merits of the HBS Leadership Fellows Program. In my mind, the fellowship is nothing short of a gift.

Here’s why:
A chance to utilize and build your business skills in a unique manner.
The Social Enterprise Initiative works closely with non-profits to ensure Fellows have challenging, focused projects that draw on MBA skills and add value to the organization. Thus, the fellowship’s positions and work streams are well-defined and well-managed. Additionally, the fellowship is a prestigious, substantive opportunity that future employers will look upon favorably. Many past Fellows returned to the for-profit sector after their fellowship ended and some employers deferred offers for students who received the Fellowship.

Smart, passionate colleagues.
The overwhelming majority of my colleagues hold professional degrees and have experience in the private sector (McKinsey, Merrill, Etrade, etc.). All have chosen to focus on social enterprise, developing experience in education, and taken on the challenges associated with solving social issues rather than management of the bottom line. There is an energy that comes with such passion and commitment, and I have found that my work environment motivates-not pressures-me to perform at a high level.

Immediate challenge and impact.
My work experience thus far has been equally challenging and rewarding. In three short months, I have drawn on my strategy, negotiation and finance skills while quickly getting up to speed on numerous new topics, individuals and organizations. All the while, I have had constant access to learn about and address issues that I care about. Indeed, the best part of this experience is seeing that my work makes a difference in people’s lives.

This fellowship will open many doors, and not just in the social enterprise sector. This is a unique chance to have the kind of impact that generally takes years to reach, and it will not harm-indeed it will considerably benefit-your longer term career. Managing change and opportunities in the areas of education, microfinance, government and the arts is difficult, and your fellowship will dare you to creatively use your MBA across an array of problems and with a number of constituents. The fellowship will also force you to define your personal mission statement and consider how you will best use your MBA. For me, using my MBA to address that 30% is a tremendous opportunity, and one that I am grateful to have. I encourage you to apply for a low risk, extremely high reward HBS Leadership Fellowship.

October 30, 2006
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