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Rising Stars: A Fascinating Path from Nonprofit to MBA

By Erdin Beshimov

Peter was passionately involved in fighting HIV/AIDS in Kenya. Curiously, that experience has led him to pursue an MBA at the Harvard Business School, where he now finds himself constantly inspired by his classmates.

Name: Peter Park
School: BA - Middlebury College; MBA - Harvard Business School
Major: Religion
Years Out of College: 2-5
Title: Project Manager

First Steps

Immediately after graduating from college, Peter embarked on a one-year, non-degree grad fellowship called the Jane Addams-Andrew Carnegie Fellowship in Philanthropy (JAF). "The idea was to have a year immediately after graduation to reflect from a big-picture standpoint on the practice of philanthropy and non-profits. It was a deliberately open-ended experience: using a working definition of philanthropy as 'voluntary action for the public good,' we spent one-third of our time in seminars exploring this notion of philanthropy from a very broad set of angles. Another third of the fellowship was spent in a directed reading on any topic of our choice, so long as it fell within this domain of 'voluntary action for the public good.'

As a third component, the fellows do internships with organizations that they believe are working toward public good philanthropy. "I had two internships during my JAF year; one was with Indiana University School of Medicine and the other with Hoosier Environmental Council, an Indiana-based nonprofit. For both, and perhaps this was directly affected by the self-directed nature of the JAF program, I realized that I liked the independence to create and implement my own project ideas. So I took these lessons into my next 'real' job."

From Then to Now

After his internship at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Peter's took his first 'real' job with one of their international health programs in Kenya. Recalls Peter about his experience, as we "cared predominantly for destitute patients, it was extraordinarily difficult to provide effective care when patients came malnourished, in danger of losing their homes due to inability to pay for rent, and even finding fare to come to clinic once per month. We decided to layer care 'outside of the clinic' by providing support for patients to start or build on their existing micro-enterprises."

Peter helped set up and run this part of the care program with Benjamin Andama, his Kenyan counterpart. Today, they have a Fair-Trade certified crafts factory, agricultural co-operatives for rural patients, microfinance and savings services, and a robust social work program across clinics in western Kenya. Says Peter, "AMPATH collectively serves 40,000 patients, and last I heard, was the fastest growing HIV care program in sub-Saharan Africa. The idea of defining your own objectives helped create this opportunity for me to get involved on the ground in the HIV battle, and it has definitely been my defining moment career-wise to date."

My Experience

His experience as a JAF fellow and his involvement in fighting HIV/AIDS in Kenya, led him to pursue an MBA at the Harvard Business School (HBS). "Right now, stomaching finance graciously for an entire semester is about as inspirational as it gets for me. Actually, while business school may not be as exciting as work, I think the people I've met at HBS are incredibly inspirational. I wasn't sure if that was going to be the case or not prior to coming to school to tell you the truth, especially since I came as a non-traditional candidate and hadn't worn a tie more than five times (if that) in my life. But I find myself consistently inspired by many of my classmates, and I've met folks here in the few months I've been on campus who I know will, by the end of my two years, be some of the best friends I'll have. So that may be one way I can "inspire others" - go to a socially-minded business school, and let yourself be inspired by all the great people around you."

Advice for Others

"I've been fortunate to be with great mentors for about as long as I can remember. Bob Payton, my JAF mentor, said once to me that 'we are all here for reasons that are bigger than we are.' This is actually what inspired me to work in Kenya. I think it's a great quote - the truth is, the less we think of our own issues, our own need to self-preserve, I think the more meaningful our lives become. And there's actually a lot of evidence to support that the most successful people are those who have a boundless (some would say even irrational) optimism that any challenge they face in life can and will be overcome, regardless of the situation. In other words, going for broke and following your heart actually does pay off."

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