2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Tony Senanayake, Yale SOM

Tony Senanayake

Yale School of Management

“I am passionate about using data and evidence to help alleviate poverty worldwide.”

Hometown: Brisbane, Australia

Fun fact about yourself: Over the course of my time at business school I have had the opportunity to work on development projects in five different countries: Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Zambia, India, and Sri Lanka.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Queensland, Bachelor of Law and Commerce, University of Sydney, Master of Law

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Deloitte, Manager in their New York office

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? IDinsight, Delhi India

Where will you be working after graduation? IDinsight, Manager in Washington DC and Delhi, India

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Led a team that helped with the architectural design of a new youth homeless shelter in New Haven using a human-centered design approach. I was able to use leadership skills learned through my time at business schools to work with a group of multidisciplinary undergraduate students and local neighborhood stakeholders, including local homeless youth, to design a shelter that would best meet the needs of the community members.
  • Acted as an Orientation Leader for the incoming MBA Class of 2021. As part of this role, I provided a presentation on the importance of Title IX Sexual Discrimination within the Yale grounded in experiences from my time at the school.
  • Worked with a team of SOM students to help design a new shared service model for the largest local non-profit seeking to work with the homeless population, whereby they could provide smaller local non-profits with back-office functionality such as bookkeeping and HR management. The project provided me with a deep insight into the challenges faced by small non-profit organizations and the desperate need of many in our local community.
  • I led a team of 14 MBA students to organize the annual Yale Economic Development Symposium on the topic of “Data and Development” within my capacity as the Co-Chair of the Economic Development Club. The Symposium has over 150 attendees with 8 panels and more than 30 speakers across a wide range of topics, all looking at how data can be used to improve development outcomes in various geographies and sectors. The experience allowed me to interact with professionals in the development space across the world but also taught me a lot about leading a passionate team to put on a major event.
  • Worked with a research team in Sierra Leone that is undertaking a series of randomized controlled trials that seek to better understand the impact of rural electrification on the welfare outcomes of citizens. Specifically, I prepared policy briefs, position papers, and implementation memorandums that were used to educate potential funders and decision-makers. I traveled to Sierra Leone multiple times and spoke with local government leaders, multinational development professionals, and members of the rural communities themselves.
  • Worked with a team of Yale School of Management students to design a monitoring and evaluation framework for an Indian social enterprise. This included a trip to India over the winter of 2019/2020 to meet with leaders on the ground, visit schools, and work directly with the social enterprise partner. The project was part of a class at Yale called Global Social Entrepreneurship that provides students with deep empathy for the challenges that social entrepreneurs face but also provides the opportunity to make a tangible impact.
  • Co-President and Vice-Captain of the Male Yale Graduate Rugby Club. The team is comprised of students from across all Yale Graduate Schools and is a fantastic opportunity to interact with the university mission of “One Yale.” The team plays other graduate rugby clubs, the Yale Undergraduate team, and even scrimmages against local amateur and pro-am teams in one-off games and tournaments. Before coming to business school, I never planned to dust the cleats off, however having the chance to compete with a group of committed players, travel around America, and build close friendships has been a highlight of my time at Yale.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As one of the Co-Presidents and the Vice-Captain of the Yale Graduate Rugby Club, I am most proud of beating our staunchest rivals, the Harvard Business Club Rugby Team. After losing to them the first three times we played them, from frostbitten Boston to marshy swampland in North Carolina – all in nail-biting fashion – I was not sure if I would ever be part of a victory over the old foe. However, in the annual fixture known as the Game before the Game in November 2019, in front of a home crowd on the same weekend as the Yale-Harvard Undergraduate Football game, I was able to participate in a truly memorable victory over the Crimson enemies. To be able to lead a group of teammates and friends onto the pitch and completely trust them to put their bodies on the line for the good of the team is an empowering and bonding experience that I will look back on fondly when I think of my time at business school.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While working full time, I was able to simultaneously educate myself on development economics. I read the book Poor Economics by the Nobel laureates Esther Duflo and Abhijeet Bannerjee and it inspired me to learn more. I enrolled in an online MITxMicromaster program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy that involved completing five online courses from MIT and associated assessments. I completed the series of courses in a year while working as a consultant with Deloitte and it became clear to me where my passion lay. I am proud that I was able to handle both my career and studies and maintain the self-awareness to identify that a career pivot made sense for me.

Why did you choose this business school? Prior to coming to the Yale School of Management, I knew that I wanted to pivot my career from consulting into the very non-traditional field of international development consulting. After speaking with some alumni and even faculty at the school, I realized that the school’s mission, “to educate leaders for business and society,” was a core tenet in everything that happened at the school. Having the chance to consider not just the business implications of today’s challenges but extend that to a deeper conversation about societal consequences is relevant to all students. However, I have found it particularly empowering as I pursue my passion in the development of economics space. Throughout my time at Yale, I have had the opportunity to pursue this passion through a number of unique research and travel projects which has placed me well in making my career change.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Many MBA applicants, particularly those to Yale, are seeking to make a positive societal impact through their careers in one form or another. One thing I would recommend to such applicants is not to focus so much on the ‘what’ of social impact, such as the sector or geography, but rather the ‘how’ of social impact. By this, I mean to consider your personal theory of change when it comes to impact and where you may have a competitive advantage or interest. For example, you may want to drive social impact through impact investing, advocacy for policy change, effective altruism, or corporate social responsibility. Having a grasp on the ‘how’ will allow you to better understand what skills you already possess. Even more importantly, it will show you what skills you want to focus on and as such how to optimize your time within an MBA program.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Ross Harris is the other Co-President of the male Yale Graduate Rugby Club and a dear friend. As a leader on the team, he led huge advances at building a stronger connection between the female and male teams and creating a more inclusive environment for all players from all backgrounds. Rugby historically is a male-dominant sport. However, within the Yale community, there is significant interest from the female population. Ross took on the role of engaging with the female team, creating a more welcoming environment, and organizing joint social events. Thanks in part to his efforts and largely to the strong leadership of the female team, the female Yale Graduate Rugby Club has seen a sizable increase in numbers and also a significant improvement in on-field performance.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mother: I am the son of immigrants from Sri Lanka who moved to Australia soon before I was born. My parents moved with no money to their name. Through their indomitable spirit and sheer hard work, they helped provide me with the best education available. My mother is an early childhood education specialist and from an early age she entrenched within me the belief that education is a catalyzing force that can open the door to opportunity. It is with this belief that I have pursued a life of continuous education and, more specifically, enrolled in business school to help provide similar catalyzing opportunities to those suffering from extreme poverty all over the world.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1) I want to be involved in influencing education policy using rigorous data within the developing world. I strongly believe that education is a catalyst for development and that there is a significant opportunity to better use evidence to design a more effective and efficient policy that could have far-reaching positive effects.

2) Build a team in Sri Lanka, my motherland, that uses the tools from the field of development economics to help drive improvements in the welfare outcomes of its citizens, especially in the field of education.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A passionate and compassionate friend who wanted to help empower those with less privilege to access the same opportunities available to those with the privilege to attend Yale School of Management.

Hobbies? I am an avid runner who competed in the 2019 New York Marathon while studying. I enjoy running around the local national park, East Rock, during the day and at night, and attending the wide variety of Yale theatre performances.

What made Tony such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Tony is a second-year student in the MBA program at the Yale School of Management and strongly demonstrates the qualities outlined for this award.

In my role as the Managing Director of Academic Affairs and Student Life at the Yale School of Management, I have had the privilege of watching Tony excel both inside and outside the classroom. He is a fantastic student and was tapped by many faculty members to serve as a Teaching Assistant for their rigorous courses.

Tony has focused much of his effort while at Yale in pursuing his passion for using data and evidence to help alleviate poverty worldwide. He has worked on development projects in several countries including Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Zambia, and India. In addition, Tony led a team that helped with the architectural design of a new youth homeless shelter in New Haven using a human-centered design approach. His leadership skills were exemplified as he worked with a group of multidisciplinary undergraduate students and local neighborhood stakeholders, including local homeless youth, to design a shelter that would best meet the needs of the community members.

Tony also served as an Orientation Leader for the incoming MBA Class of 2021, providing wonderful assistance and support to our first-year students. He was also the Co-Chair of the Economic Development Club, planning a symposium on the topic of “data and development,” looking at how data can be used to improve development outcomes in various geographies and sectors.

Tony’s involvement at Yale SOM is extraordinary. He is someone who continues to give back to our community in multiple ways and serves as a role model for his work ethic, dedication, and professionalism. I recommend Tony for this award and am so grateful for the incredible impact he has made at Yale and beyond.”

Rebecca Udler
Managing Director of Academic Affairs and Student Life
Yale School of Management


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