Student Profile: Increasing Impact
Sarah Smith '10
Student Government Co-chair, Vice President, Economic Development Club
Post-SOM position: Booz Allen Hamilton
I graduated from Yale in 2003, where I studied Humanities and as a senior I was elected captain of the track team. That year a friend and I came up with an idea: to use sports as a means of teaching life skills. We both had benefitted so much from playing sports ó developing self-confidence, team skills, and stronger relationships with friends and teammates ó and saw this as a potentially powerful way to help underprivileged girls abroad. We built a business plan, got funding, and set up in Peru. I lived there for a year and was amazed to watch our plan develop from a piece of paper into a program that changed studentsí lives. There was a terrific response from the girls, and we now teach in five schools. Every year, we send two American women to teach down there and over the past six years, weíve taught over six hundred kids.
After coming back from Peru, I got a job with an NGO in Washington, D.C., working on educational issues in Africa. I was sent to Southern Sudan to work with the Ministry of Education on budget and policy issues. At the time there were probably six people in the ministry who knew how to use computers. The city only had dirt roads, and there were occasionally ambushes outside of the city. The poverty was like nothing Iíd ever seen. Only two percent of girls graduated from primary school. It was a really exciting time to be involved in Southern Sudan, and I felt like I really was able to make an impact on the operations within the Ministry.
In Africa, the smallest ambitions can quickly escalate. I moved to Liberia to work on the start-up of another education policy project. The war in Liberia had ended a few years earlier and the infrastructure of the country was still largely in ruins. Every day was a challenge just figuring out how to keep basic things running. It was crazy, and I just loved it. But I came to see how difficult this type of work can be. In many ways, the old models just donít work anymore. We must develop new ways to help local communities build their own sustainable systems. I saw the need for more training and SOM was the only place for me.
I sometimes forget how much Iíve learned here. Itís great to talk with my nonprofitís co-founder and our board about strategic growth, employee contracts and financial reports and really understand whatís going on. This semester, Iím working with a classmate on a project for my Strategic Management of Nonprofit Organizations class that examines the development of my nonprofit in light of nonprofit growth theories, and potential options for future expansion. We must learn to use lessons from the private sector to make nonprofits more efficient and more effective.
This past summer, I worked for Distributed World Power, a startup in India that has come up with alternative energy solutions for people living off the electrical grid. They have developed a solar-powered lighting device that people can use to light their homes and charge cell phones. Itís a social enterprise, so the owners want to make a profit while improving the lives of thousands who donít have access to reliable power. I worked on a pilot program to get 400 units into the field, and a project looking at their sales and distribution. It was a terrific experience and gave me a good feeling for some of the new and innovative ways that for-profit organizations are improving peopleís lives.
After graduation, Iíll be working for Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington D.C. in a group that focuses on emerging markets strategy. Iím really excited about this opportunity to take all the things Iíve learned and apply them to a diverse set of clients. My plan is to build up my skills across the board, so that Iíll be able to have a much greater impact than I ever could before. And thatís the whole point, isnít it? Itís not enough to want to make peopleís lives better. Youíve got to make an impact.
Interviewed on January 28, 2010.