A Life of Service
Industry: Consumer Packaged Goods
Recent Role: Analyst
GMAT Score: 760
Degree: Mechanical Engineering
Years of Experience: 4
Analysis: This essay is a great example of the emphasis on the “more” of HBS’s essay question, as the author builds a story around personal learnings from their grandmother. What the author explains in this essay is not so much what was done but why it was done. Starting with their grandmother’s example of service, the author develops a well-connected structure of personal development with a service backbone. A big takeaway from this essay for your own writing process, is to focus on a single motivating force which has pushed you to become a better person and professional–and will continue to push you during and after the MBA. Moreover, notice how the author mentions the impact they had on each situation, and the impact the situation had on them. This shows the drive and leadership that the author finds when motivated by service. The essay culminates with the author’s reason to join HBS, and with that thought, all parts of the essay fall into place. In particular, the backbone of service is complemented with the specialization in a certain industry and region, at the intersection of the private and public sector. If you also feel like you have a strong motivating force which keeps pushing you forward, you can use this essay’s structure as inspiration: a) where does this force come from?; b) what are different examples of this force moving you?; c) how does this culminate at HBS as the next logical step? For b), you can implement further learnings from this essay: include your impact and show a personal evolution from one story to the next.
With my mother, a doctor at the district’s largest government hospital, always rushing to serve emergencies, I was largely raised by my larger than life grandmother. Without breaking a sweat, she balanced home, raising my sister and me, and found time and energy to lead the local [International club], a global service organization helmed by women. When donor funding was hard to come by, I saw her leverage her social capital and her limited savings to raise funds and ensure that the service-drives continued. She taught me a very valuable lesson—that the only thing one needs to serve, is intent.
I entered [large university, South Asia] with her lessons and committed time to [name of organization], a grassroots education organization serving the local community. But it was as head of media and public relations for the 50th Inter-[large university, South Asia] Sports Meet, that I found the right platform to disperse my grandmother’s teachings. This 50th year of the sporting tournament among the 16 [large university, South Asia] was a milestone event that my organizing peers and I wanted to make unique and memorable. It could be so only with increased meaning and participation, not just from the sporting community but all students and faculty alike. To encourage people to participate with a purpose and in larger numbers, I conceptualized a torch, a series of short ‘dream runs’ modelled on the Olympic torch relay, across all [large network of universities
in South Asia]s. Proportional to the number of dream run participants, corporate sponsors would donate CSR funds to ‘[name of organization],’ a non-profit that funded primary education for underprivileged children. I coined the motto ‘You Run, They Learn’ and enabled all [large network of universities in South Asia]ians to be a part of the larger mission by keeping the runs an accessible 3km in length.
The response to [word for torch in South Asian language] was overwhelming, with 8000+ students and faculty from all 16 [large network of universities in South Asia]s running for the cause. The campaign raised [South Asian currency] 1 million in corporate funds for the foundation, and the experience opened my mind to how people are easily incentivized by a purpose. The team was filled with pride at having mobilized a large community for active participation towards our cause.
A year later, I pursued an exchange semester at [national university in Southeast Asia] and in the same spirit of service, volunteered for the [South Asian country] Bone Marrow Donors’ Programme (BMDP). BMDP’s Thalassemia Day awareness drive was organized with the objective of enlisting bone marrow donors for thalassemia patients in [South Asian country]. However, when they introduced their idea, a ‘living statues’ exhibit, I was completely unnerved. Volunteers were to paint themselves orange and stand frozen at the most crowded street in [South Asian country], to raise awareness on how an individual’s life essentially comes to a standstill when they suffer from thalassemia. Having grown up in a small-town in conservative West [South Asian country], the thought of having my painted body exhibited on a busy street was mortifying. I began to rationalize whether this was the best means to convey the message. However, watching fellow students—even the quiet, reserved few on the international exchange—volunteer for the part gave me strength and I joined the campaign. We stepped out on Thalassemia Day as a team and enabled BMDP to add over 400 donors to its registry.
That day was one of the pivotal experiences of my life. I opened up to embracing unconventional forms of service and learnt more about empathy from my peers’ actions than I’d ever learnt with words.
After I left [large university, South Asia], my idea of service evolved further. At [North American multinational consumer company] goods’s oldest [North American brand company] plant in [South Asian country], I was entrusted to manage a 2-tiered team—5 supervisors (my direct subordinates) and 40 technicians under them. All of my reportees were older than me, and half of them had been at [North American brand company] since before I was born. The inefficiencies of the organizational design soon became apparent. I noticed technicians regularly struggling with similar chronic breakdowns, and supervisors spending disproportionate time only fixing these issues. Worse still, because supervisors lacked managerial aptitude, they couldn’t effectively transfer their knowledge and often had to solve the same issues multiple times. Information sharing between supervisors was minimal and more importantly, they weren’t able to engage the technicians meaningfully.
To elevate the leadership capabilities of the supervisors, I designed and chaired a unique two-day Technician Leaders’ Development Programme (TLDP). Leveraging the wealth of experience of senior technicians and onboarding external trainers, I conducted the workshop for all supervisors on the plant. Through interactive modules and simulation based activities, we trained them on the leadership aptitude to motivate those under them and to resolve and manage small teams.
The TLDP enabled supervisors to contribute beyond organizing shifts and troubleshooting machine breakdowns, and to support technicians effectively. Widely appreciated by management and workmen alike, it lives on as an annual workshop at [North American brand company] plant in [South Asian country]. The experience also helped me realize that empowerment is the highest form of service.
All these experiences in service have shaped my creative, bold, and empathetic leadership approach. This approach has helped me gain buy-ins from multiple stakeholders in the Ministry of Health and empower thousands of frontline health workers with the tools to level up [South Asian country]’s national syphilis program. In two years, syphilis diagnostics coverage in pregnant women increased from a mere 29% to 60%, directing 9 million women through appropriate screening and treatment. This in turn helped prevent 22,000 adverse child birth outcomes like miscarriage, stillbirth and deformities. In a small way, I have been able to carry forward my mother’s work in public health.
However, syphilis is one minor success story. The stark inefficiencies in the [South Asian country] public healthcare delivery were widely evident during my field visits. Public health clinics often ran out of pen-G, a drug used to treat syphilis infected women and infants. Today, even with supply and demand modalities established, life-saving medicines like pen-G and testing devices fail to reach beneficiaries, potentially resulting in millions of lives lost.
The Harvard MBA experience, with leadership embedded in its DNA, will help uplift my potential to lead interventions and drive impact beyond one disease and region. Armed with the interpersonal skills I sharpen at HBS, I will seek to forge partnerships between private and public sector entities. By addressing the gap between suppliers and beneficiaries, I will smoothen the delivery of essential drugs and devices to empower people like my mother to save millions of vulnerable lives.
Author’s Comment: “The entire process took me about 30 days. From a pool of stories from my life, I shortlisted the top four and evaluated them for what I learnt from them. Since I had spent quite some time articulating my goals statement and visualising my career post MBA, I elaborated on the aspects of the four stories that had helped me build my vision. This constituted the first draft. Over the subsequent revisions, I wove a coherent narrative that explained my choices thus far and my goals in the future, building on the stories. I sent out the draft to friends and family, who pitched in with their comments and edits. Finally, I trimmed the essay down to about 1050 words so that it wasn’t excessively verbose. After a quick proofread by a smaller group of friends, I signed off on the final version.”
Extracurricular Activities: Volunteer teacher at Teach for [South Asian country], education NGO for underprivileged elementary school children in [major South Asian city]; Editor for Insight, [major South Asian university]’s student newsletter & Volunteer recruiter for the [Southeast Asian country] Bone Marrow Donors’ Programme.
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