“Never in my life did I think I would go to business school – my parents laughed when I told them.”

Alice Yang was born in Taiwan, then lived in the Netherlands before immigrating to the United States. “The experience of attending public schools on three continents gave me a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities I’ve been afforded,” says Alice. At Harvard, she “gave back” by participating in numerous public service initiatives, including leading an adult ESL program that served six hundred people in Boston’s Chinatown.

In her senior year, Alice was inspired by a guest speaker in a health care class – Jim Kim, the co-founder (with Paul Farmer) of Partners In Health (PIH). Alice applied for a position with the organization and in the summer of 2003 became Farmer’s research assistant. “It was just before Tracy Kidder’s bestselling book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, was published. PIH was still relatively small – so I got to do a little bit of everything.” Alice worked on projects ranging from an analysis of PIH’s clinical outcomes in rural Haiti, editing and publishing a bilingual manual on AIDS treatment in resource-poor settings, overseeing potable water projects for at-risk families in Haiti, and serving as a teaching fellow for Farmer’s classes at Harvard Medical School.

Cross-sector coordination

Looking for a sustained way to engage in this work, Alice wondered, “Where can I add value in international development? I saw the answer in cross-sector coordination – more effectively matching needs with resources. At that point, I began seeking policy and business skills to better understand how goods and services, including health care, do or do not get to the people who need them.”

Her search led to the joint-degree program at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. “Never in my life did I think I would go to business school – my parents laughed when I told them I applied!” But Alice believes it’s the right combination for her. “The Kennedy School has some of the world’s leading thinkers on development policy, while the HBS case method really hones our ability to listen, to influence others – and to be influenced by others. The programs complement each other academically, professionally and socially.”

That cohesion reflects deliberate program design. “One of the most rewarding aspects of the joint degree is the friendships we’ve developed within the cohort. For me, that was made possible by a required immersion experience during our first year, comparing the US and UK health care systems. We spent intensive time in Boston and in London learning from leading healthcare policymakers, practitioners, and administrators.” That experience of traveling and learning together was so powerful, half the cohort organized a trip to Turkey and Ethiopia on its own initiative this year. In Ethiopia, Alice and her classmates worked with local NGOs and university students to conduct interviews with impoverished villagers, collecting data that will serve as a baseline for measuring the impact of upcoming health, water, education, and sanitation projects.

Putting together the pieces

“By attending both schools,” Alice says, “increasingly I see how the pieces fit together. Engineers, teachers, doctors, policymakers, businesspeople – everyone has a role to play. I want to help them do their work better.” The three-year joint-degree program has allowed Alice to undertake two summer internships in pursuit of her goals: one in the public sector, at Millennium Challenge Corporation, a foreign aid agency; and one in the private sector, at McKinsey & Company. Her ultimate goal: “a coordination role in global health and international development – facilitating and harmonizing public, private, and social sector resources.”