As a policy advocate focused on youth issues, I once had the opportunity to work alongside national nonprofit leaders, Congressional staff, and White House officials. As much as we extolled the importance of evidence-based approaches, I often felt like our critical work was lacking the analytical rigor it deserved. The more time I spent in the social sector, the more I recognized that robust applications of strategy, financial analysis, and enterprise management were underrepresented in the field. 

After surveying potential educational options, I decided that an MBA/MPP would equip me with the integrated management toolkit I needed to advance equity across underserved communities. I chose HBS and the Kennedy School because the experience offers peerless, highly integrated preparation for management across government, business, and civil society.

Although my graduate schools share a university affiliation, they’re two very different institutions that reflect the sectors their students gravitate toward. Physically separated by the Charles River, HKS and HBS embody an ideological tension that pervaded my graduate studies and will most certainly influence my future trajectory. Indeed, I often felt like my routine crossing the river symbolized efforts to bridge the gap between the distinct social, cultural, and intellectual communities. 

While I initially sought to resolve these contrasting worldviews, I now appreciate that the relationship between the business world and the public sector is dynamic, generating possibilities that neither sector alone could create. Reconciling social equity and economic justice with the profit motive continues to be one of our world’s greatest challenges, and my studies helped me make sense of these age-old tradeoffs through the languages of finance and political economy. Ultimately, the program affirmed by belief that society’s most intractable problems are best addressed by approaches that leverage cross-sector solutions.

Like all jointees, my first year was spent at HKS, where I dove into the core curriculum spanning statistics, economics, and econometrics. Here I received training that offered new lenses to examine to the social issues I’m passionate about. I also had the opportunity to dive deeper into my interests through an independent study, and organized several panel discussions that allowed me to connect with practitioners in youth development, education, and public policy.

While matriculating into Harvard was a major adjustment in itself, my first semester at HBS was easily the most significant transition I experienced at school. After being surrounded by aspiring activists, civic leaders, and social scientists, I joined a section of MBA candidates representing a variety of industries including corporate strategy, manufacturing operations, and private equity. Every day, the case method demanded an extensive level of preparation in advance of the cold calls that opened our class sessions. As an HBSer lacking private sector experience, I was also pushed to develop more effective strategies for translating the business case for equity and inclusion.

My final year provided opportunities for synthesis, as I enjoyed electives across both campuses including Entrepreneurial Finance, Strategic Management of Nonprofits, and The Role of Government in Market Economies. For my MPP capstone exercise, I tapped into interest generated by the HKS Government Performance Lab and focused on the burgeoning Pay For Success movement. Working in partnership with a client organization, I explored novel approaches to contracting social services through conversations with industry leaders. 

Beyond the academic exposure it afforded me, the joint degree program offered an incredible laboratory to develop my personal theory of change. As a fellow with HKS’ Center for Public Leadership, I also participated in a series of extremely valuable professional development workshops with classmates who pushed me to think deeply about how I will make a lasting impact through my career. Some of my closest friends and thought partners are people I encountered in this space, and the jointee cohort served as a critical backbone throughout all three years. 

At times, my studies left me overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work that awaits our generation. However, this tremendous opportunity comes with a responsibility to contribute to society in meaningful ways. After three years of training, hypothesis testing, and sparring with brilliant minds who often challenged my assumptions, I feel ready and eager to enact the change I’ve spent so much time studying. 

Since graduating, I’ve joined a strategy consulting firm that structures multi-sector collaborations to address social issues. Working across the divides between business, government, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector, I feel uniquely positioned to advance this work thanks to comprehensive training I received at Harvard. Not only do I feel well equipped to collect and analyze data that once seemed beyond my grasp, but I can also call upon a set of frameworks that will empower me to exercise adaptive leadership. Most importantly, I have a deeper understanding of the kind of leader I want to be and the change I hope to enact through my life’s work.