Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Lakshmi Davey, Wharton School

Lakshmi Davey

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

“Partnerships builder and problem solver connecting the public and private sectors to expand economic opportunity.”

Hometown: Warren, NJ

Fun Fact About Yourself: In college, I taught a financial literacy and entrepreneurship course to medium-security prison inmates.

Undergraduate School and Major: Princeton University, A.B. from the School of Public and International Affairs

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Manager, Partnerships at GiveDirectly

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I came to business school to develop the leadership, entrepreneurship, and operational skills to contribute to organizations that further my personal mission of increasing economic mobility and opportunity. Wharton is an incredible school for a lot of reasons, but for me its strengths in real estate, entrepreneurship, and financial services, as well as the rigorous analytical curriculum, were key.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Committed. Whether they’re passionate entrepreneurs, aspiring strategists, or talented quants, all of my classmates are just trying to get the best possible Wharton experience they can given the circumstances. I have been so impressed by how invested the class of 2022 is in this community and know it’ll mean stronger bonds through and after school.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I’m really interested in getting involved with some of the impact investing activities, either through the Wharton Social Impact Initiative or Wharton Impact Investing Partners. Through my roles in government, banking, and nonprofit, I’ve worked or pitched to investors of all kinds, but I’ve never been able to wear the investor hat myself.

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Wharton? What makes you most nervous about starting business school? For me, it’s all about community. I can’t wait to get to know the Wharton community over the next two years and see how that impacts my life for years to come. On the other hand, I have a lot of diverse interests and am generally a curious person, so I know focus will be challenging. Business school has so much to offer, but I don’t want to spread myself too thin and not feel like I achieved depth in addition to breadth.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Managing fundraising for GiveDirectly’s Project 100, our COVID-19 response fund giving $1,000 emergency grants to low-income Americans to help them get through the economic fallout of the pandemic. We raised over $100 million in two months from philanthropists like Jack Dorsey, MacKenzie Scott, and Rihanna. We were able to scale our operations quickly and were distributing over $10 million each week to recipients around the country. Knowing that I could do something to make people’s lives better during this crazy time made lockdown much more meaningful and bearable.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After five years in three very different roles, I was ready to take a step back to synthesize everything I’ve learned, broaden my network and horizons, and connect with others who are passionate about the same things I am. I also realized that while I’d had incredible exposure to the public and nonprofit sectors, I needed to better understand the business world to achieve my career goals.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? MIT Sloan, HBS, and Stanford GSB.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Tell me about yourself.” My story is nuanced and complex, and I spent a lot of time practicing this question to make sure I could tell it clearly and concisely.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I asked myself three main questions: Is this school best positioned to help me achieve my career goals? Do I want to be a part of this community? Do I (and my partner) want to live here? I think the middle question is actually the hardest to figure out while going through the admissions process – and can only really be understood by talking to students and (ideally) visiting the campus. At Wharton, the answer was yes, yes, and yes.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? At the New York City Economic Development Corporation, where I worked for three years, I was on a number of high-profile and contentious projects — but none will beat Amazon’s proposed HQ2 in Long Island City. On the day that Amazon pulled out of New York City, I was sitting in a conference room with EDC’s leadership and the rest of the project team when our CEO was suddenly summoned to City Hall. Before he could return, our executive assistant called us over to point at the New York Times’ headline – “Amazon pulls out of NYC HQ2.” That moment, and the weeks and months that followed, really helped me crystallize what I wanted to do next and gave me that final nudge to apply to business school. I’ve always known that to achieve my mission of furthering economic mobility, I need to know how to leverage the resources of all three sectors – public, private, and nonprofit – but that moment reminded me how much more there was for me to learn.

What have you been doing since you were accepted to prepare for business school? It’s crazy to think that when I accepted my place at Wharton, COVID-19 was barely on my radar. I was initially intending to spend time traveling in Peru and Europe, but given the pandemic that wasn’t possible. After leaving GiveDirectly in mid-June, I worked for an amazing early-stage social-mission startup called Career Copilots, helping to manage operations and define pricing and hiring strategy. Of course, after a few years in the public and nonprofit sectors, I spent the last month brushing up on my math skills and reviewing basic accounting to make sure I showed up ready to go on day one.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? I really admire Propel, the tech start-up that GiveDirectly partnered with for its US COVID-19 response. The way they approach their product is incredibly customer-focused, yet the product is aimed for a set of customers (Americans on nutrition assistance) that few tech companies think about. I would challenge business school students interested in entrepreneurship to think about what it looks like to solve problems for customers that don’t necessarily look like them and design solutions with the same high rigor that they themselves look for in a tech-enabled product.


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