Carolyn Fallert MPA/ID / MBA 2018 unites the languages of business and international development.
By Calee Lucht
May 16, 2018
Carolyn Fallert MPA/ID / MBA 2018 traveled to Pune, India as an undergraduate at Northwestern University to research microfinance, but she found something more. As she interviewed borrowers over cups of chai, she saw the positive impact and the complexity of microfinancing in an emerging market.
She began to appreciate the power and limitation of economic theory and rigorous statistical analysis. The experience sparked her passion for international development.
After graduating, Carolyn worked at Boston Consulting Group before becoming a strategy consultant for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There, she managed a strategic plan to invest in the global development of family planning services for 120 million women by 2020.
The experience forged her professional goal: to interpret the languages of business and international development.
“While working at the Gates Foundation, I watched messages get lost in translation between a PhD and a former financial analyst,” Carolyn says. “A consultant would over-simplify the requirements of a new healthcare worker program while an economist would become absorbed by the sample selection process for evaluation. A room of diverse backgrounds and perspectives is essential for problem solving in the field of international development, but it often lacks an interpreter. Too frequently our leaders and problem solvers are fluent in one language or the other.”
Carolyn made it her mission to learn both languages and translate between the two.
She sought out a graduate program that would equip her with a rigorous toolkit of an economics PhD while teaching her how to effectively design, implement, and evaluate economic development programs.
“I wanted a graduate program that would give me the practical skills and the practice to have an effective, positive impact,” she explains. “The MPA/ID Program does exactly that.”
As a David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Carolyn joined a group of outstanding fellowship students studying at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. The joint degree and Rubenstein Fellowship experience, she hoped, would not only strengthen her communication in international development and business, but would also redefine her vision for the future of these fields.
“By becoming fluent in the two, I aim to lead innovation at their intersection,” she says.
Some of the skills that made an impact on her during her time at HKS and HBS?
“Rohini Pande, Lant Pritchett, and Dani Rodrik’s course Economic Development: Theory and Evidence, along with Asim Khwaja’s Economic Development: Using Analytical Frameworks for Smart Policy Design —the core economic development courses for MPA/ID students—changed the way I think about the design, implementation, and evaluation of development programs,” she explains.
“In my previous professional experience, I often thought about international development in silos: Health. Education. Financial inclusion. Agriculture. Infrastructure. The economic development courses taught me to think about development from the perspective of a country’s government,” she continues. “It challenged me to think through the full complexity of implementation and accountability in a resource-constrained environment. It called attention to weaknesses in our current system of NGOs, bilateral organizations, and government organizations. It challenged many of my assumptions about development and strengthened my ability to think critically about development programs.”
Carolyn tested her skills by taking on an internship in Manila, Philippines with the nonprofit organization Friends of Hope, to help launch an agricultural development program for more than 3,000 coconut farmers to improve their productivity and profitability. She was responsible for managing relationships with local government agencies, developing partnerships with other nonprofit organizations, managing a team within the nonprofit organization, and designing and launching the program.
“The experience gave me more responsibility and taught me more than I ever expected,” she says. “The Harvard alumni network, the MPA/ID administration, the Office of Career Advancement, and the Center for Public Leadership [which offers co-curricular activities for Rubenstein Fellows] made it a reality.”
She parlayed the experience into her Second Year Policy Analysis (SYPA), “The Future of Work in the Philippines.”
Carolyn researched how the business community in the Philippines can take action and advocate policy change to address the significant gap in problem solving and socioemotional skills. She plans to move to the Philippines after graduating from HKS in May to build on her SYPA research by joining an organization focused on workforce development in this part of the world.
“Effectively educating, training, recruiting, and coaching employees to keep up with the rapid changes in technology is a global challenge,” she says. “There is a unique opportunity for business and government to collaborate on a solution. After graduation, I aim to join one of the many companies, social enterprises, and government programs that are working to strengthen the earning potential and livelihoods of Filipino workers. I want to learn from these innovative programs while contributing to their mission.”
She takes with her the leadership skills she gleaned from her time at Harvard.
“To me, leadership means assuming responsibility, not authority,” she explains. “Leadership is a constant state of learning: being open-minded, striving for empathetic understanding, thinking critically, adapting, making decisions, and assuming the responsibility for those decisions.”
This is language that needs no translation.