Greg Coussa’s life rolled out before him according to plan. A cum laude graduate of UCLA, he was on the partner track of a management consulting firm based in Los Angeles where he advised banks and financial firms. He rubbed shoulders with execs in custom-tailored suits and traders who swapped millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars in a matter of minutes. He hopped around projects, inhabiting sky-rise office buildings and savoring multi-course dinners. His future consisted of Four Seasons vacations, luxury cars, and a cushy 401K.
But unsettlingly for him, it was a lifestyle that lost its appeal. Instead, his mind flicked back to what $1,500 could do for a small entrepreneur in the developing world. In 2010, Coussa watched news footage of an earthquake that rocked Haiti with disbelief. And “for some strange reason” he couldn’t stop watching it. Every night, he’d scroll through the latest articles on his phone as the casualty count ticked upwards. “I’m a numbers guy, and they had lost 250,000 people in one day. I just couldn’t wrap my head around that,” he says. “The most recent disaster in the U.S. was 9/11, and that was terrible, and I don’t mean to downplay that, but we lost around 3,000 people.”
Coussa decided to do something about it and went to Haiti with a church group. “I’ve never been slammed in the face with that type of poverty, especially eight months after a natural disaster – the sights, the smells, the dirt – it was overwhelming, but in a good way,” he says. “It set the foundation for my life’s change.”
His new course led him to volunteer for a microfinance initiative, buy a one-way ticket to the Philippians, and eventually enroll in the MBA program at Oxford’s Said Business School. There, the Santa Barbara, Calif., native who skateboarded to class with a backwards baseball cap on, learned to navigate the mythical world of Oxford’s storybook campus, from laying out his testing robes to attending formal dinner parties. He’d visit Nairobi, Kenya, and Mumbai, India, and question his assumptions on wealth and happiness before it was all over. After graduating from Oxford’s one-year MBA program in 2013, Coussa joined the International Centre for Social Franchising as the U.S. country director. There, he helps successful social impact initiatives grow to scale.
Here’s his story:
I majored in business and economics as an undergrad at UCLA. For a business major, the traditional routes were accounting, consulting, and finance. I figured consulting was for me. It seemed to have more of a work-life balance plus the challenge of tackling new projects. I interned at Mercer Consulting, one of the largest consulting firms in the world, and I found it sort of bureaucratic, so during recruiting I joined CAST, a management consulting firm in the finance industry.
I’d travelled some, but I didn’t really have any experience in the social sector. In 2010, the earthquake hit Haiti, and for some crazy reason every single night I’d look at the latest articles on my phone. I’m a numbers guy, and they had lost 250,000 people in one day. I couldn’t wrap my head around that.
I guess I had a heart for it. I started reaching out to people over the next few months and attending a church that was hosting a mission trip to Haiti. I signed up. I’ve never been slammed in the face with that type of poverty, especially eight months after a natural disaster – the sights, the smells, the dirt – it was overwhelming but in a good way. It set the foundation for my life’s change.
I was on the partner track at CAST, and when you’re in undergrad, you think about making millions of dollars and enjoying your life. I had called my dad when I got the consulting job and told him I would be there for 30 years. But there was no going back to my old life, now that I knew what I knew.