How an MBA Graduate is Making a Difference

My agency is an international development agency operating in nine countries to help improve  health, education, and rural development. I  recruit and train interns to go abroad and work in South Asia and East Africa, and I manage a scholarship that brings staff from our partner organizations to study in Canadian universities.

One of the most established international development–related internship programs in Canada, the program begins with interns following a one-month training course and then an eight-month overseas internship with a local nongovernmental organization. My work requires travel to these locations about 10% of the time.

I am also part of a team that is  developing an e-based educational tool to build the skills of nonprofit managers in Pakistan. This project will be developed over several years.

Most of my experience in the nonprofit sector came from 10 years of involvement with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), where I was primarily working in recruiting and managing volunteers. Running a group of volunteers has its own challenges, but I marvel at the vast experience of the volunteers who come together.

I love helping people have the opportunity to go overseas and develop their skills. The experience is so multidimensional and helps open people’s eyes to things they didn’t know were going on in the world. This generally makes them more effective when they return to work in their home countries in the West.

For me personally, my career in nonprofits has been life-changing. I’ve had experiences living and working in 8 countries, and traveling to 32 more. During this time, I have had experiences that were inconceivable in another career, from meeting the Queen of Denmark to being interviewed by CBC national radio and the Christian Science Monitor about the situation in war-torn Liberia. My kids have an international perspective that most of us never had growing up.

What I Enjoy Least

Earning about half of what other MBAs would typically make, while I have a full family to support. Ironically, nonprofit managers have more trouble with work/life balance than the corporate side because of the underresourced nature of the sector; in fact, a professor at the Ivey School at Western Ontario recently coauthored a study about this.

In a nonprofit, there is the sense that you have to work harder just to make a difference, because the resources are stretched so thin. Combined with the fact that there are many “bottom lines” to address, this adds greatly to the professional challenge.

Why I Chose This Career

In college, I took a sociology course called Deviance and Social Control, which required that I read Susan George’s book How the Other Half Dies, about world hunger. Furthermore, I was moved by the film The Killing Fields,about Cambodia. Both of these experiences changed my views about how the world works and led me at the age of 19 to participate in a youth exchange program in Mali (West Africa).

Then my co-op experience overseas opened my eyes to nonprofits and to overseas assignments, so I started looking for organizations sending people overseas. I have been very fortunate in the life experiences gained from working with both Doctors Without Borders and my current organization.

I had already been in nonprofits for a number of years before the MBA. When I went for the MBA at Ivey, the school offered a course in career management that was immensely valuable in allowing me do some focused personal reflection.

I realized that I liked what I had come from (because of the societal value and personal satisfaction) but that I could make more impact and better decisions with the knowledge and tools gained from business school. It also played a key role in opening even more challenging and better-paying opportunities within this interesting sector.