Good Profiles feature members of our Good Generation who are either out there in the field doing interesting work or still in the trenches of schools and institutions waiting to make their mark on the world. Have your own story to tell? Know someone who would be great to be profiled? Please sign-up or leave a note here!
What do you do for a living nowadays?
I am currently a Senior Consultant with Dalberg Global Development Advisors, based in the Johannesburg, South Africa office. Dalberg is a management strategy consulting firm, that works with governments, NGOs, foundations, and for profit businesses that are seeking to address social and environmental development issues. Since joining Dalberg my focus has been on impact investing, impact measurement, and SME growth.
I joined Dalberg 2 months ago after spending over 2 years working for the Global Impact Investing Network (the GIIN). The GIIN is a not for profit organization which was set up to accelerate the growth of the impact investing industry. At the GIIN I managed the Impact Reporting and Investment Standards initiative (IRIS), which provided a common language, and a set of metrics for investors to measure the social, environmental, and financial performance of impact investments.
Is “doing good” a key reason why you chose this job?
A desire to do good has guided my career for several years, but I think we all need to be realistic about the good we’re doing, and what drives us to do it. There is no doubt that the advisory services we provide at Dalberg are doing good things for the world. We wouldn’t take a project if there was not an opportunity to make an impact. Similarly, while at the GIIN I was building infrastructure that had the ability to both move more money into impact investing, and optimize the resources already in the space. Before joining the GIIN I worked for the Clinton Foundation in India, where I also believed that my work was “good” for those we served.
That said, I think we need to be realistic about our role in the work that we’re doing, how catalytic we are, and what drives us to do it. When we would recruit for a new position at the GIIN we would get hundreds of candidates for a single position. Similarly at Dalberg, we’ve restricted our recruiting to only the very top schools and turn away many very well qualified applicants. This leads me to ask, if I wasn’t doing the work that I am would someone else be? The answer is probably yes. I think we can all also agree that we need bankers, doctors, and lawyers to keep our society intact. It’s important to me to do work that addresses our growing environmental problems and increasingly unequal societies but I realize that that is only my chosen career path and is no more valid than someone who has chosen to be a corporate attorney or a doctor.
Of course, the job we all have is to be catalytic in our work, pushing the bounds of business, development, sustainability, and equality. For this reason I have great respect for social entrepreneurs, and for organizations such as Echoing Green, Investors Circle, and Toniic, that support catalytic entrepreneurs. It was my own desire to be more catalytic that led me away from the GIIN and into my current position at Dalberg. As an example, I currently am working with a traditional late stage private equity investor, which has significant holdings in three of the largest insurance companies in South Africa. Our work has led them to view financial inclusion and microinsurance as a business opportunity, and they are now investing heavily in developing microinsurance products across their portfolio.
What do you love most about your job?
I love working with passionate people who are serious about impact. This has been the best part of every job I’ve had in the social business space. While at the GIIN one of the highlights of my year each year was our annual investors’ council meeting. At the IC meeting executives from the top impact investors would spend 3 days in an informal setting talking about their development objectives, processes, and exciting new endeavors. At Dalberg, I’m enjoying the opportunity to work with new clients all the time, all excited about development and to engage us on ambitious projects with serious impact goals.
What would you wish were different about your job?
In each of my last three positions I wish that we had more of an opportunity to engage with the people at the BoP. While at the GIIN I worked on the 19th floor of a tower in mid-town Manhattan, and would occasionally spend a week “in the field” staying at nice hotels and visiting businesses “on the ground”. At the Clinton Foundation where I was based in Delhi, I would still spend the majority of my time at my desk only occasionally venturing out to meet out “implementing partners” “on the ground”. Now I sit in Johannesburg working from a very nice 13th floor office, and consulting with executives and senior managers of local investors, companies, and social sector actors. I wish we were all able to spend more time with those we seek to serve, building real relationships, and learn to intuitively understand their struggles and challenges.
What were some of the most important experiences that you’ve had that led you to where you are today?
My “ah-ha” moment came in 2006, while I was visiting India. I had just gotten into business school, sold my house, and was taking a vacation before going back to school, where I had intended to study marketing and become a technical product manager. I was in Agra, and was walking to dinner when a man with a cycle rickshaw pulled up next to me and tried to offer me a ride. I politely declined, and told him I was just going to a restaurant down the road. He said that it was actually 2 km away and that it would be a long walk. I ignored him while he continued to reduce his price. When he finally hit 2 rupees (.04 USD) I finally took pity on him and got into his rickshaw. He proceed to pedal me up and down hills for what were in fact at least 2km, and was grateful for his 4 cents when we arrived. After dinner I found him waiting for me, looking forward for the opportunity to make another 4 cents by bringing me home.
This challenged every assumption I had about poverty. I always thought if you were willing to work hard, there was a way forward for you. People in poverty must be lazy or complicit. That night it became clear to me just how wrong I was. When I did start business school at Cornell, I enrolled in the sustainable global enterprise immersion and have not looked back!
How did you get this job?
My career development in the social enterprise space has been a long road, and at times a difficult one. I was fortunate to be able to spend 2 years in business school working on projects and gaining social enterprise experience. I was very fortunate when one of my professors, Stu Hart, asked me to run a BoP project in India for DuPont after graduation. A year later, when the project ended, I found myself with passion for the field and little opportunity. I ended up taking a volunteer position at the Clinton Foundation for several months, which eventually became a full-time paid position.
It was a desire to get closer to entrepreneurs and back into more of a for profit social business environment that lead me to the GIIN. I was fortunate to have a unique blend of IT, M&E, and social business experience that made me a particularly good fit for the role at the GIIN managing IRIS.
It was the experiences I’d gained over the last 6 years that made me a good fit for Dalberg. I’m currently learning a lot about frameworks, slides, and how to manage an effective consulting engagement. I’m excited to now be with a firm that will grow with me while offering the ability to continue to build expertise in social business and impact investing, move around geographically, and ultimately become a partner in the organization.
If you had to make trade-offs, do you think they were justified or should it be different for others in the same situation going forward?
I’m not sure I made any trade-offs to get where I am today. Yes, there were times I could have made more money by following a more traditional career track, but there have also been times when I’ve been paid what someone with my credentials and experience would expect. I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing people, visit some very special remote areas, and truly explore what I want to do with my life. I don’t think I’ve made any trade-offs.
If you had to do it all over again, knowing what you know today, what past choices would you have made differently with regards to your career?
When I was in business school people would tell me over and over again, go get more traditional experience before moving into the social sector. I don’t think this would have worked with me as I would have probably hated every minute that I was gaining that experience. That said, ironically I now give exactly the same advice to young MBAs. I could have spent three or four years gaining banking or consulting experience before moving onto the career track that I’m on now, would have made a lot more money along the way, and would probably be in a similar place that I am in now.
If you did not have this job and time/money were not a constraint, what would you ideally like to do?
I would run a business incubator and an impact investing fund. I strongly believe entrepreneurship is the answer to so many of our most pressing problems globally.
Finally, what advice would you have for others in the Good Generation who are interested in your job or career path?
First of all, if you see yourself as an entrepreneur, go start a business. Do it young. What you lack in experience you’ll make up for in energy, and there is no shortage of old guys like me willing to help you out.
Secondly, if you think you can survive it, go to work for McKinsey or Goldman Sachs for a few years. What you will learn, and the credibility you will build, will take you far in the worlds of development and social business.
Most importantly, do what you feel driven to do. I know people who waited a year after grad school to get the job that was right for them. They would all say that the wait was worth it, so don’t give up or give in too easily.