From Haiti to Boston, Opportunity Can Make All the Difference

Ibe Imo, Contributor

Ibe Imo, writes on Sebastion Francois, 2020 Venture in Management Program participant, his experience and the life-changing impact that access and opportunity provide. 

Sebastion Francois’s participation in Harvard Business School‘s 2020 Venture in Management Program was an affirmation that opportunity and education create life-changing impacts for people and communities. 2020’s Venture in Management Program (VMP) was a one-week virtual program for graduating college seniors to increase diversity in business education opportunities.  

BOSTON, MA—Sebastion Francois, 21, was sitting in a virtual classroom at Harvard Business School’s (HBS) Venture Management program (VMP). With other rising college seniors from around the world, they tackled the LeBron James case. Sebastion’s opportunity to attend the VMP began from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Hyde Park, Boston.

His earliest memories are sunny and happy days at the beach in Port-au-Prince. His parents parted ways a year after his birth. To provide for Francois and his siblings, his mother split her time between the United States and Haiti. Francois and his sisters lived with his aunt. “Our early morning walks meant a lot to me. It felt safe to be around my family,” he said, recounting daily 20-minute morning walks to school with his sisters. He also played soccer with other boys in his neighborhood. His close-knit community was a haven. 

It was 2004 and the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence. There was an insurgence against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and violence was erupting. Looting and street gang activity were widespread throughout Haiti. “I remember hearing gunshots. There was always a kidnapping in the neighborhood,” Sebastion said. “Outside bad things happened. When I got home, worse things happened.” His aunt worked in politics. Inadvertently her career placed Sebastion and his siblings at the bull’s eye of Haiti’s political violence. To leave or stay at home was a choice between two evils.

One day, at their family home in Port-au-Prince, a political gang-member broke in through the window. He held five-year-old Francois at gunpoint. After pleas and negotiations, the situation was subsiding. Suddenly his aunt was shot. She was rushed to the hospital. She survived. More than ever, it was now dangerous to remain in Haiti. A few years later, Francois and his mother migrated to the United States. Together, they settled in Hyde Park—a southern neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. “Everything I have learned from discipline, hard work, and gratitude were planted from my time in Haiti,” he said. Francois spoke only Haitian Creole and now had to learn to speak English. He now had a dual identity. He was a migrant and Black in America. 

 “Growing up in Hyde Park was a choice. I could have gone down the wrong path.” Though the crime rate in Hyde Park is 31 percent lower than the national average, there was gang activity close to Francois’s home. He had already been in proximity to gang activity in Haiti, “I wanted to escape from that,” he said.  Sebastion desperately sought out positive influences. “I met many young leaders. They became my friends and neighbors.” With strong grades and SAT scores, he was college-bound. “I think I am a pretty lucky person,” he said. 

SEEN Leadership Team – credit: Donnay Ragland

While opportunity and preparation made him lucky, Francois could be any other teenage boy in Port-au-Prince or Hyde Park. Like anywhere else on the planet, adolescent boys in Port-au-Prince or Hyde Park have dreams and disappointments. The opportunity of choice and preparation could make them lucky. Francois applied to and got admitted to Boston College—a private Jesuit university west of downtown Boston. 

By 2019, Francois was a sophomore and he had a plan. If he stayed focused and graduated college, he would solve several macroeconomic problems in communities like Haiti or Hyde Park. He applied and interned at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). At PwC, Francois participated in management consulting projects that tracked donations going to classroom projects in underserved communities. He learned the reasons fundraising campaigns fail to attract donations in underserved communities. His experience at PwC was a personal reminder and call to leadership that could create sustaining and life-changing impact for underserved communities.

By the end of his sophomore year, Boston College was no longer affordable, and Francois transferred to the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass). “When I came to UMass, I realized there were not as many opportunities for internships,” he said. Francois was determined to build a solution to expand his fellow student’s access to internships and full-time roles. From his time at PwC, he realized that business leaders have large platforms to drive and scale positive outcomes in communities and organizations. From personal experiences, he also understood the micro nuances that hold back underserved communities—Francoi sought an opportunity to find a lifelong community and network with unmatched impact on organizations and people. He could build bridges to help communities achieve sustaining change. “ Harvard Business School is my opportunity to cultivate my skills as a leader in business and my community,” he said. 

Francois participated in HBS’s 2020 Venture in Management Program. “It was a bit scary in the beginning.” In a virtual classroom, along with fellow students around the world, they tackled the LeBron James case. “The case method informed my approach to conversations. I listen not just to respond, but to hear what is said.”After completing the VMP, he began building a career development program to host business leaders and the partners he met at PwC to speak at UMass. They would talk about their current roles and share available internships and full-time positions. “Over time, this will also create a pipeline to help expand access to management consulting and careers in business,” he said.

For now, Francois is focused on his coursework and career development program at UMass. He plans to graduate and work at a leading consulting firm and learn strategies to solve complex problems. He hopes to apply to the HBS’s MBA program. “I hope to make a reaching impact and make it easier for people in situations like I was,” he said. Whenever Sebastion shares his experience, he is aware it is unusual, “It provides perspective and keeps me grounded.”

Ibe Imo is a feature writer, HBS Online participant, and Harvard graduate student focused on journalism and digital storytelling. His storytelling chronicles inspiration from every-day human experiences. Ibe enjoys outdoor activities, including kayaking and trail cycling along the Charles River. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.