Stories Of MBAs Who Don’t Want To Be In The 1%

“If my life is about one thing, I want it to be championing (a) sense of possibility,” writes John Coleman of Harvard’s Class of 2010. (Photo courtesy of Tony Deifell.)


The result is a surprisingly compelling array of vivid storytelling that reveals this generation’s ideas and aspirations. The MBAs share personal tales that range from the launch of startups or taking on the family business to harnessing new technology to develop clean energy or helping children in the Arabian Gulf. Almost all of storytellers are Harvard MBAs, and they are hardly representative of the typical crop of students or graduates. After all, the percentage of Harvard’s Class of 2011 that went into non-profit and government jobs fell to just 2%, down from 6% a year earlier and the lowest recorded percentage in the past ten years. Most of the book’s contributors, however, work in social enterprise and startups. In general, they write more about social causes than profit. Only four of the 26 contributors are employed by mainstream MBA organizations such as Bain, Boston Consulting Group, Google, and Microsoft.

There’s Abigail Falik who raised more than $1 million after graduating from HBS to launch Global Citizen Year. It’s a non-profit that sends teams of high school students to country posts in Africa and Latin America for a year before they go on to college. She hopes to engage 10,000 student fellows a year by 2020.

“When I was sixteen,” she writes, “my sense of self and the world was blown open when I spent a summer in a rural Nicaraguan village. Living with a host family, I learned to speak Spanish and make tortillas by hand, spent my days working in the fields, and taught English in the community’s schools. And while my motivations as a do-gooder high school student were initially to provide some form of ‘help’ to a community plagued by material poverty, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my hosts were far from victims to be pitied. Instead, they were resourceful, persistent, and better attuned than any well-intentioned foreigner to what was really needed to lift themselves out of poverty.”

The experience emboldened Falik to contact the Peace Corps and find out if the organization would take her right out of high school. They told Falik to come back after college. “I was struck by the incredible irony that our country allows young people to wield a gun in military service at age 18, but requires a college degree or significant work experience to join the Peace Corps,” she writes. Ultimately, those feelings became the seed for her idea.

And there’s James Reinhart, the founding CEO of thredUP, an online marketplace that brings together sellers and buyers of used children’s clothing. Faced with a chorus of investors who pooh-poohed the idea as unsexy and impractical, Reinhart and two co-founders scraped together enough seed capital to run the company for six months.

“In those first few months,” writes Reinhart, “it was the words of HBS entrepreneurship professor Joe Lassiter that rang in my ear: ‘You raise money to buy time for experiments, you buy experiments to produce information, you produce information to make decisions, you make decisions to open or close options…You raise enough cash at each stage to get you to that decision point and to deal with its consequences.”

Reinhart and his two co-founded were able to raise $1.4 million after proving their concept. At the time he wrote his essay, thredUP members were exchanging more than 15,000 articles of kids’ clothing a week. “This new marketplace, literally built from scratch, was finding its legs,” he writes.

The book is organized around six core themes: the convergence between the public, private and non-profit sectors, globalization, people and diversity, sustainability, technology and the education of tomorrow’s leaders. Reinhart’s essay appears in the technology section, while Falik’s is in globalization.


But the very first and most prominent of these themes is convergence. “We saw it as one of the big rising trends,” said Coleman. “And it is very topical now. At Harvard, the social enterprise club is now the second largest one on campus, and some of the most exciting organizations today are in the social enterprise space: Kiva, Ashoka, the Grameen Foundation, and the Gates and Clinton Foundations.”

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