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Living the HBS Mission with BRAC

By: Donella Rapier & Hrithik Bansal 26 Oct 2017

During the year, we’ll be connecting with some of our 2017-18 HBS Leadership Fellows, who will share their experiences in the Fellowship year. In this post, we hear from Hrithik Bansal (MBA 2017), Special Advisor at BRAC USA; and his supervisor Donella Rapier (MBA 1992), President & CEO at BRAC USA.

Tell us about the organization and your role for the Fellowship year.

HRITHIK: BRAC is among the world’s largest NGOs; it works to eradicate poverty and empower the people it serves. It was founded in Bangladesh in 1972 to help with relief work soon after the country’s independence. Since then it has grown enormously and has played a key role in helping Bangladeshis improve their standards of living and come out of poverty. It now operates in 11 countries – many in post conflict zones – such as Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Sudan, to name a few. My role within the organization is to help it become more financially self-sustaining by driving the transition from a donor-funded model to a social enterprise model. I work with the various programs, among them – Health, Education, Migration, as well as Human Rights and Legal Services, to help develop the business strategy for the various services it offers and oversee its implementation.

What most excites you about the opportunity?
HRITHIK: The position with BRAC helps me synthesize the skills gained from my previous work experience with everything I have learned at HBS. The opportunity lies at the intersection of evidence driven rigorous analysis, deep social impact and the application of business expertise. It affords me the opportunity to be part of the transformation of an impactful organization as it adapts to a changing world. Rather than being a purely strategy role, I have the opportunity to go to the field and interact with the beneficiaries of the various programs in the countries that BRAC operates it. It is humbling and inspiring how people with few means have aspirations for a better life and work hard to give their children a better life. One of the ladies I spoke with mentioned that her family had to struggle to feed themselves when she was younger. When I asked her 5 year old daughter on her aspirations were, she wished to study in the United States. This interaction inspires me to make the little girl’s wish a reality and I think an HBS education equips us to do that.

Why did you decide to hire through the Leadership Fellows Program?

DONELLA: The Leadership Fellows Program offers BRAC the opportunity to bring in business expertise that is otherwise difficult to source. Despite being among the more business-oriented NGOs with numerous social enterprises embedded in our organization, we typically attract people from the NGO sector itself rather than those with business experience. In addition, the one-year nature of the Fellowship helps us to heighten the focus on nearer term strategic and operational improvement projects, which can sometimes be lost in the pressures of the day-to-day responsibilities of longer term, ongoing staff members. Finally, the support from HBS allows us to bring someone on with these skills and experience at a reasonable cost.

Why is the Leadership Fellows Program different from other post-grad opportunities?
HRITHIK: The opportunity to work with the senior leadership of an impactful organization is what distinguishes the Leadership Fellows Program from other opportunities. The program provides the opportunity to influence and drive change using the crucial business skills one acquires at HBS. It also provides an opportunity to be mentored by leaders in their fields and learn from them directly. The key differentiator of the opportunity is to work closely with the grassroots of the organization, while delivering social impact to those who need it the most. I enjoy interacting with the beneficiaries, learning about their aspirations about a better life and how they could be served better.

DONELLA: The Leadership Fellows Program allows us to think more strategically about projects that could improve our work – and to hire in the type of expertise that can help get them done. Hrithik brings strategic analysis skills, experience with business improvement processes, and facility with business research and data analytics. I would highly recommend the HBS Leadership Fellows Program to other social sector organizations. A Fellow can bring a unique set of skills and perspective that can add tremendous value.

In one word, what is the Leadership Fellows Program to you?
HRITHIK: Impactful

DONELLA:  Enriching

The HBS Leadership Fellows Program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a select group of graduating students to experience high-impact management positions in nonprofit and public sector organizations for one year at a competitive salary. Learn more about the HBS Leadership Fellows Program.