Meet Peter Wasserman, UC-Berkeley Haas School Of Business

Berkeley Haas MBA Peter Wasserman co-founded a chat-based platform to connect refugees with essential legal information and services

Name: Peter Wasserman

Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA

Place of residence: Oakland, CA

Fun fact about yourself: My newborn just reached the milestone of weighing more than my attack chihuahua (small dog)

Business School program: MBA/MPH at UC Berkeley (Haas)

Can you tell us about your role and what it entails? I am a co-founder of Marhub International, which uses a chat-based platform to connect refugees with essential legal information and services. At such a small company we all do a little bit of everything to keep things up and running. I’m very fortunate to be working with a great team (including my co-founder Sarrah Nomanbhoy, also a Haas alum) and legal aid partners. In my current part-time role, I focus on our business strategy and operations–making our model scalable and securing the partnerships and funding we need to grow. Sarrah and I are now transitioning one of our core solutions to a key legal aid partner, who will be scaling it further through their organization.

How does the company you work for help refugees? 

We believe access to legal information and representation is a basic human right. As such, we work to ensure that refugees can easily access legal information, and that legal aid organizations have the resources to represent refugees at scale. Our solution enables refugees to directly access legal information about resettlement and other programs on messaging platforms (like Facebook and Telegram), and as relevant, to connect to a partner legal aid organization. We also enable legal aid organizations to expand their reach by automating their intake processes and by providing analytics that enables them to better understand the inquiries they receive. 

What is your motivation behind working in this role? 

Our founding team started at Haas during the peak of the Syrian civil war. As we learned more about the desperate situation of displaced Syrians, we felt we had to do something. So, like any motivated group of MBAs, we participated in a case competition aimed at addressing ‘the refugee crisis.’ Through our own research, the guidance of advisors, and Sarrah’s experience working with displaced populations in Sri Lanka, we decided to focus on getting refugees easy access to reliable information on their own terms. Although we didn’t win the competition, we got a little bit of funding for field research with refugees in Greece and Lebanon. Wherever we went we found kind, resilient, and incredibly frustrated people (both refugees and NGO workers) facing impossible circumstances and an equally impossible bureaucracy. We also found that many people used smartphones to cycle through Facebook and WhatsApp groups to get (often false) information about their situation. And, in many cases, refugees would run up to us pleading for information about and help with their cases (assuming any foreigner might be a lawyer). This experience led us to found Marhub.

What skills have you utilised from the program into your career in this role? 

My UC Berkeley MBA/MPH program gave me the foundation to co-found Marhub. First, our program taught us how to take a systems approach to examining problems. This enabled us to consider the needs and incentives of multiple stakeholders in designing our solution (which is extremely important in the refugee space). Second, Haas’ core principles helped guide our organization (confidence without attitude, questioning the status quo, beyond yourself, and student always). These principles enable us to be bold in tackling the immense challenges facing refugees and NGOs while still working effectively within the established ecosystem. Third, I apply the hard skills I learned through the program at Marhub including human-centered design and rapid prototyping when designing our product, financial modelling when analyzing opportunities and fundraising, negotiations when working with new partners and customers, and impact evaluation when evaluating our work (and ensuring we are making a difference). Fourth (and most directly), our program provided the initial funding, advisory support and network (at Haas and across UC Berkeley) to get our organization off the ground. 

Do you believe more B-school graduates need to utilise their knowledge and skills to help refugees? I believe that B-school graduates have a responsibility to use their knowledge and skills to advance causes they are passionate about, and to build a better, more equitable society. I also believe that the way that refugees are treated in our society is unacceptable. B-school graduates have the opportunity and the obligation to use our education and privilege to work to improve the circumstances of marginalized communities (including refugees).

How can businesses help NGOs and others in tackling this crisis? 

I believe businesses have a significant role to play in tackling this crisis. This includes hiring refugees to work at their organization, closely collaborating with NGOs to improve service provision for refugees (including bringing certain expertise and emerging technology from the private sector to the NGO space), providing funding to refugee entrepreneurs and organizations serving refugees, directly serving NGOs and refugees as valued and respected customers for their services, giving employees space to explore passions beyond their day job , and advocating on behalf of those with less influence (including refugees and often the organizations that serve them).

What advice would you give other graduates who want to help in this area, whether it be through initiatives or full-time job roles?

Be humble but bold. Remember that many others have considered (and struggled) to tackle this crisis, and you have a great opportunity to listen to, learn from, and support those who have worked in this space (and who have lived experiences as refugees). Also, the immense size of the problem and often misaligned incentives in the space requires bold and creative thinking. 

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I see myself bringing together my passion for building a more efficient and equitable U.S. healthcare system with my passion for tackling the refugee crisis. To me, this means playing a leadership role in an organization improving the health of marginalized communities in the U.S. and beyond.

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