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Pablo Marco MC/MPA 2013 was working for McKinsey & Co. in his native Madrid when he and a childhood friend met for drinks one spring evening in 2000. As the two men caught up on each other’s lives, Marco confessed that his passions did not lie in the world of global consulting.
“I enjoyed the work at McKinsey—it was very intellectually stimulating, I learned a lot, and I respected the company’s work—but it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” says Marco, an industrial engineer by training.
He had been thinking a lot about people he admired, including international humanitarian aid workers, so he mentioned to his friend that he was interested in a similar job.
“He told me he knew someone who worked in Kosovo for an NGO,” says Marco. The rest was history. Marco left his lucrative consulting position and within six months was on the ground with the NGO Caritas in Kosovo, where he reconstructed schools and homes destroyed by the fighting.
Since then, Marco has travelled to many nations, including the Central African Republic, the Congo, Haiti, Sudan, Yemen, and, most recently Syria, all with the goal of helping people whose lives had been upended by wars or natural disasters.
During his time in the Central African Republic, Marco realized that his organization’s budget was larger than that of the country’s Ministry of Health. This stunning fact awakened in him a new understanding of the tremendous power his organization wielded—and it also provoked a desire for further education, which led him to Harvard Kennedy School. “I needed to upgrade,” he said to himself at the time. “I realized that I needed to learn more about international politics and public health administration. In addition, at the Kennedy School, I discovered other fields, for example, leadership and persuasion, which will be extremely useful in my work.”
Marco is now on the board of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), with whom he went to Syria to oversee the construction of a hospital in opposition-held territory. And he is adamant that aid organizations remain completely neutral both as a matter of practice and appearance.
“In recent years, different powers—mostly Western governments—have been trying to use humanitarian aid to advance foreign policy objectives, for example, to promote democracy and stability,” says Marco. “But when humanitarian aid is a tool, it’s not aid anymore, it’s no longer neutral. The people feeling aggrieved by these policies won’t accept aid workers in the field.”
Marco spends approximately 70 percent of his time abroad, primarily in the Middle East and Africa. His devotion to assisting others has not wavered, despite the difficulties of working in war zones. When asked to comment on the worst things he had witnessed in the field, Marco paused and raised his hand to his eyes, saying simply, “I think when you work in the context of war, you see the very worst of human nature and the best of human nature.”
Mostly, Marco is gratified that he is making a significant difference in people’s lives.
“The good thing about Médecins Sans Frontières,” he says, “is that the impact is very large.”