Kate Hanford, FMS 2015 Alumna, began working with Unreasonable East Africa in Uganda through an FMS Fellowship. She is now their Chief Operating Officer (COO) and making big moves! We are proud to share her feature as we gear up for the new cohort of amazing FMS Fellows in the coming two months.
Tell us a little about your position and your daily activities.
My position is split between an internal facing side and external facing side. Internally I build processes and systems for Unreasonable East Africa so our team runs smoothly. Externally I am the primary focal point for our entrepreneurs. I work to make sure we understand, and are addressing their key challenges.
What has been the most exciting part about working with Unreasonable East Africa and professional life in the impact space?
Getting to work directly with companies that are changing people’s lives for the better, and seeing these companies grow! For example, one of our companies from this past year has really struggled to raise money because they are based in South Sudan, which is quite an unstable environment for investment. A funder that we connected them with in July just agreed to give them a $50,000 grant. This company works to train doctors in a country where currently only 60 new health professionals enter the workforce annually. That means only ⅕ of a doctor per person in a country whose population is growing the 3rd fastest in the world, and where the maternal mortality rate is 1st in the world. It’s an amazing feeling to see a company like that grow faster through our work!
Why did you decide to join the FMS program and what were you hoping to get out of the experience?
Starting in high school, I had a goal of working with companies in developing countries. After living in DC for several years, I was ready for the next stage in my career, and was considering going back to grad school for an MBA, or going to do something in a foreign country. I decided that getting more international experience was more time-sensitive than going back to school, so I applied to the FMS program to help me find positions internationally. I expected to work abroad for 6 months somewhere in the world. I hoped to gain a better understanding of a foreign culture, and to build my understanding of the social enterprise world.
Were there any surprises or unforeseen benefits that emerged?
Well, I’ve been here for almost 2 years, so yes! Including:
-Motivation/inspiration from being surrounded by like-minded people during the training
(some of which I’m still friends with)
-Getting a placement that was so aligned with what I wanted
(I didn’t necessarily expect this would be possible)
-Getting so into the work I’m doing that I would commit to being in Uganda for 2 years
-Being inspired by the entrepreneurs I’m surrounded by, both within Unreasonable East Africa and with the companies we work with. Coming into this role, I was very much a “big organization” type person, and really enjoyed structure and working within big systems. While structured approaches will always be a part of my thinking, I have come to really enjoy the sometimes crazy but exhilarating lack of structure, and the resulting increase in opportunities that comes with entrepreneurship.
What were some of your biggest obstacles during the experience – professional or personal?
-Adjusting to living in a different culture long-term. There are so many different layers of culture to understand! It’s fascinating, and working to understand it is one of my favorite things about being here, but it’s also hard to feel like you don’t understand the nuances of what is going on. I still feel like I learn new things regularly, and like I said, I’ve been here for almost 2 years!
-Adjusting from being part of a large organization to now being part of a tiny start-up team. Before I moved, I was working for a large NGO in Washington D.C. that had about 400 people at its headquarters, and about 2,000 staff internationally. Now I work on a team with 6 people. This means changes in the way I communicate, the way I work in teams, the roles people play – almost everything!
How would you describe FMS to a stranger?
FMS is a fellowship program that gives you 2 weeks of training on social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and then matches you with relevant job positions around the world. The program is a chance to strengthen your knowledge about the impact space, and connect with relevant people therein (both classmates and instructors).
What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges in growing the impact-driven economy?
I think the first challenge is how you define the “impact-driven economy”. 77% of Uganda’s population is under the age of 30, and 83% of people in that age bracket don’t have jobs. 83%!!!! That means that creating any business that creates jobs for locals is creating a positive social impact, regardless of what kind of business it is. The complicated part comes when you consider the details – is that business paying living wages; are they harming the environment; what impact do they have beyond employment? A second challenge in an emerging economy context is finding the right people to work for impact organizations. Especially when they are starting up, impact organizations are generally looking for people who are motivated by passion for the cause more than salary. This is easier to find in countries like the US, where people have more job options, and tend to self-select for these type of roles. In a place where some job, any job is hard to come by, people that are not necessarily passionate about the cause will still apply for jobs at impact companies. This makes it hard to tease out if a potential employee will be cause/values aligned over the long-term or not.
What are your top three tips for someone looking to start a purpose-driven career?
1. Have a clear idea of what your goals are, even if they are very broad. If you’re not sure, keep talking to as many people as possible about it! When I joined FMS, I knew I wanted to work with companies directly, and that I ideally wanted to work with a broad range of companies to get an understanding of the social impact space, rather than the understanding of a specific industry in more depth. Be honest with yourself about what is most important to you, and explain that to people you talk to about your career.
2. Be patient in looking for what you want to do. There can be a lot of pressure to find a job and jump into things, but if it’s not a good match with your skill set and passions it likely won’t be worth it.
3. Remember that there is no one “right choice”. This applies to any career path, but it’s important to remember that there is only so much you can do to predict what will make you happy and successful in the future. Make a decision on your next step based off the information you have now and some thoughtful self-reflection, and keep in mind that if it doesn’t end up being the thing for you, you can always change!
What’s next for you?
It’s time for me to go back to school! I’m currently in the process of applying to MBA programs, and will start next fall. (Fall 2016) I plan on continuing to work on operations for big, game-changing ideas!
Check out Kate’s post about Unreasonable’s learnings in East Africa, entitled “What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About Working in East Africa”
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