Whenever people ask me what I want to do with my life (which, let me warn you, happens all too frequently when you’re in grad school), I have the same general elevator pitch that I’ve used for years: “I want to build public-private partnerships to address natural resource management problems.” This interest is why I chose to pursue the dual degree program between MIT Sloan and Harvard Kennedy School – I want to be able to work within and between the private and public sectors.
The inevitable next question, however, is much harder to answer: “Okay, but what does that job look like?” Cue my awkward laughter and/or rapid topic-changes.
So when I found my summer internship with the Gates Foundation’s Grantee and Partner Engagement team this summer, it seemed almost too good to be true for several reasons.
First was that, in a world of black-hole abysses of online resume drops, I got the job by giving a physical paper resume to foundation recruiters at a conference. Apparently, it’s not just a popular MBA urban myth: networking and going out to meet people does pay off.
Second, and more seriously, it was the opportunity to work in philanthropy at a foundation that, given its resources, can credibly set audacious goals such as eradicating some of the world’s most insidious diseases. There’s an exciting energy at the foundation, and the central theme of “impatient optimism” struck a deep chord with me as a long-term environmentalist.
Third, I learned first-hand what it takes to build effective cross-sector partnerships, as my team was working to systematically improve the foundation’s relationships with key partners such as the World Bank, World Health Organization, and big pharmaceutical companies. This is a job! It exists!
Finally, the foundation is a highly data-driven organization – one of my criteria for the summer was finding a role where I could put my Sloanie analytic skills to use, and I happily spent a lot of time being an Excel nerd analyzing a large survey dataset and audibly exclaiming when I discovered new and awesome keyboard shortcuts.
In addition to the experiences and skills I honed in my role, there were other more subtle and unexpected lessons that were particularly valuable to me as an MBA. I had never worked in a large organization before, and I came to understand the management challenges of coordinating complex activities across geographies and focus areas such as health and education. Additionally, I started right around the same time as the new CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellmann, and got to watch how she managed her first few months. I had never experienced a CEO transition before, and I was – and am – inspired by seeing her step into the role and quickly establish herself as a leader.
And then, let’s be honest, there were some just plain cool experiences – meeting both Bill Gates AND Bill Nye the Science Guy, touring the Global Good laboratory where they’re designing new vaccine delivery technology, and enjoying as much amazing Seattle food and hiking as possible within 10 weeks. Additionally, the picture of the Space Needle below was taken from my printer.
So, in summary, I’m relieved to report (to you, but also to my parents) that there are in fact careers in public-private partnerships, as evidenced by my fantastic summer experience. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with the Gates Foundation, and eager to see how I can put what I learned to use in my career.