Service Leadership Fellows Program: Reports from the Field

Continuing Harvard Business School’s long tradition of supporting social initiatives, the Service Leadership Fellows Program (SLFP) was established in 2002 to encourage graduating HBS students to experience leadership in nonprofit and public-sector organizations early in their careers. The one-year fellowship provides an opportunity for a unique experience immediately after graduation through senior-level positions and high-impact projects at world-class organizations. Through a highly competitive process, students interview with selected nonprofit and public-sector organizations, and HBS provides grants for fellows to receive competitive salaries.

When Professor Michael E. Porter joined Dean Kim B. Clark and Senior Associate Dean and MBA Program Chair W. Carl Kester to announce the launch of the program, he said, “Given the close intertwining today between business, government, and the nonprofit sectors, the School can have a major impact on society through this program.” A year later, the first Service Leadership Fellows are finishing their fellowship year and have indeed worked to effect positive change in a variety of ways, and learned valuable career lessons in the process. Social Enterprise recently spoke with four fellows to hear about their experiences in the first year of the program.

Rob Zeaske: Mercy Corps
Prior to coming to HBS, Rob Zeaske (MBA ’02) worked for five years with kids aged 4-14 at Score! Educational Centers. Working in an entrepreneurial and socially driven company sparked an interest that he wanted to develop in business school. While researching schools, Zeaske visited HBS and attended some classes. “The powerful teaching and learning environment at the School was a big hook for me,” he recalls.

“That, along with the School’s commitment to social enterprise, was very attractive in terms of marrying my business interests and the mission-driven component of social enterprise.”

As he neared graduation, Zeaske investigated jobs in international development and humanitarian aid. When SLFP was announced, he saw the perfect opportunity to learn more about the nonprofit world, and took a position at Mercy Corps in Portland, Oregon, an organization that strives to alleviate suffering, poverty, and oppression by helping people to help themselves. “My job is to develop a system and a set of tools for our field offices to better understand exactly how we’re helping people, which is also vital information for our donors,” Zeaske explains. “I’ve developed a training module, and am now working on delivering it in three countries: Liberia, Eritrea (in the Horn of Africa), and Kosovo.”
Going forward, Zeaske says that he will be drawing on his past business experience “to enable us to deliver better impact for future programs and to grow as an organization.”

He notes that it has been particularly rewarding to work in an organization that is entrepreneurial and receptive to new ideas. “The opportunity for leadership is something that I’m very excited about. To work in an organization like this where you can really make a difference is a win-win situation.”

Monica Chi: Federal Bureau of Investigation
After graduating from college, Monica Chi (MBA ’02) worked in a consulting firm where she saw firsthand the challenges corporations face in struggling with large-scale change. She wanted to see some of the principles of change applied to the social sector, and eventually took a position at a venture philanthropy fund, working with nonprofits that run businesses with social missions. “I came to HBS to develop my management skills and then return to the social sector,” she says. Chi became involved in social enterprise right from the start.
Early in her second year, the shock of 9/11 had many students rethinking their career objectives. When she later learned about the new SLFP initiative, Chi was especially intrigued by one position. “I never imagined I would be working at the FBI,” she says. “But with all that has happened in our nation, the opportunity seemed too important to pass up.”

She believes that the work fits in well with her goals of taking organizational and management principles and applying them in the public sector. “My work at the FBI has involved setting up a reengineering program,” she explains, “analyzing processes and functions within the organization that need to be upgraded.” In the aftermath of 9/11, is there a sense of increased pressure to meet the challenges facing the nation? “Definitely,” she says. “It’s been such a privilege to work alongside dedicated leaders. I’ve been impressed with their eagerness to embrace change.”

Chi says that she is inspired that the School launched the program and that it is so committed to making it work. “To me, it is a visible, tangible way of standing by the School’s mission.”

Alexis Palmer: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
When Alexis Palmer (MBA ’02) applied to Harvard Business School in 1999, she wrote on her application that ten years after her graduation she wanted to be a leader in a major nonprofit arts and education institution. She believes that the Service Leadership Fellows Program, by affording her the opportunity to work at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, has provided a significant jump-start to the goal.

“Becoming a Service Leadership Fellow has definitely accelerated me along that career path,” she says, “with a high-level position early in my career.”

Palmer had little work experience in social enterprise prior to coming to HBS, but was always very active in volunteering. Her family background is strongly rooted in the arts, and she was frequently exposed to music and art as she grew up. When the SLFP was launched during her second year at HBS, she saw the position at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as the perfect match for her interests. “My work is really across the board,” she says, in describing the position. With the Lincoln Center in the midst of a more than one billion dollar redevelopment project, Palmer is chiefly involved in analyzing the various projects underway and helping communicate progress to the board of directors and Lincoln Center constituents. “Part of my work also involves budget-cutting analysis,” she says, adding with a laugh, “Everyone, of course, loves me for that.”

This summer, Palmer will leave Lincoln Center as the one-year SLFP draws to a close and will begin the next stage of her career at Carnegie Corporation of New York. At Carnegie she will be working in the investment office with fellow HBS alumna Meredith (Bradley) Jenkins (MBA ’99) to help manage the foundation’s $1.7 billion endowment. Of her time at Lincoln Center, she says that she has thoroughly enjoyed the chance to be involved in a project that will be such a significant benefit to the city of New York. “This has been a fascinating, in-the-field capstone to the MBA program.”

Juan Carlos Pereira: ProNicaragua, Presidential Commission for Investment Promotion

Throughout his time at HBS, Juan Carlos was driven to help Nicaragua. He even led a group of students from the January cohort to explore his much misunderstood homeland in May of 2001. With the SLFP grant, he found the opportunity to play a part in Nicaragua’s economic development early in his career.

Prior to HBS, he worked as a management consultant for two years in Washington DC, then as a regional manager for Sprint in France, Germany, Switzerland and Israel. His experience with Sprint in Europe gave him “the chance to witness the transformation that has occurred in that region as a result of free trade, economic integration, and harmonization.” Juan Carlos wanted to bring this experience, as well as the marketing, management, and analytical skills he learned at HBS, back to Central America, and in particular Nicaragua, with the conviction that “Central America, as a unified block of nations, could become a competitive manufacturing and export base for foreign companies looking to access the US market.”

When the SLFP program was announced, Juan Carlos realized he had found the perfect channel to return to Nicaragua with the support of HBS.

The opportunity to help President Bola¤os create ProNicaragua, the new investment promotion agency of Nicaragua, was a perfect fit with his interests and skills.

“If there is any one thing that can help Central America-and Nicaragua-get ahead in the next five to ten years, it will be foreign direct investment,” says Juan Carlos. “I am convinced that what we are doing in Nicaragua, helping the country develop a strategy to promote investment and implement part of that strategy, will have huge positive repercussions for my native country in terms of job creation, technology transfer, access to markets, and other benefits.”

Thanks to the new emphasis given to investment promotion in Nicaragua, and to President Bola¤os’ personal commitment to this issue, he is confident that after the expected approval of US/Central America Free Trade Agreement, Nicaragua will be ready to compete for its fair share of foreign direct investment.

He adds, “It is extremely satisfying to be able to use my international marketing experience, coupled with strategy lessons I learned at HBS, to help Nicaragua develop.”

Harvard Business School is committed to supporting fellows and organizations as together they address some of the most challenging issues facing society. The current group of Fellows (for 2003-2004) and their organizations are:

o Katherine Cunningham, Teach for America
o Louise Hulme, Endeavor Global, Inc.
o Lee Koffler, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
o Andwele Lewis, Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC)
o Maria Rivas, President of Nicaragua/ProNicaragua
o David Schlendorf, Federal Bureau of Investigation
o Stacy Schwartz, Hospital for Special Surgery
o Stephanie Snitow, Phipps House
o Jesse Souweine, City of Boston, Mayor’s Office