A Catalyst for Commitment

Abigail Falik, MBA 2008
Job Title
Founder & CEO, Global Citizen Year
Oakland, CA, USA

“It was a moment of commitment—a no-turning-back experience.” That’s how Abby Falik (MBA 2008) describes winning the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference’s Pitch for Change contest with her proposal for Global Citizen Year, a non-profit, social enterprise on a mission to make it normal to choose a “bridge year” after high school: an experience that builds self-awareness, global skills and grit—the foundations for success in college, and beyond.

“At the time, many of my HBS classmates were being recruited into lucrative corporate jobs,” she recalls. “I wondered if I was doing the right thing by trying to build something from scratch, but winning the Pitch helped me see that I was carrying a ‘big idea’ that resonated broadly…and that this was what I had to do.” Moving forward with Global Citizen Year, Falik also received the support of faculty, many of whom served as advisors and helped connect her to leaders in the field; she also cites the importance of courses such as LEAD and the Entrepreneurial Manager in defining her strengths and weaknesses. “Ultimately,” she says, “my experience at HBS brought me back to a fundamental commitment to myself and to the work I want to be doing in the world.”

Last year, Global Citizen Year placed 100 fellows in Brazil, Ecuador, and Senegal. And thanks to a recent partnership with Teach For India, the organization will expand its geographic reach and scale by placing fellows as teaching assistants in low-income schools throughout the country. “We’ve learned so much during our first few years of operation,” Falik says. “This next stage is about accelerating our growth and influence. How do we grow from 100 fellows to 1,000 and from 1,000 to 10,000? My time at HBS served as a catalyst that has helped me approach Global Citizen Year in a much more ambitious and strategic way—focusing on impact, scalability, and sustainability from our inception.” 

As the organization enters its next chapter, with expansion planned for China and the Middle East, and a growing list of college partners who actively endorse—and in some cases, pay for—the bridge year, Falik has stayed focused on the organization’s vision to create a new educational pathway for the next generation of leaders and global citizens. “Growing up, I was so lucky to have formative experiences traveling in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa,” she says. “I met kids like me who had been born into completely different circumstances. By the time I finished high school, I was hungry to do something real in the world rather than just go straight to college.” At the time, Falik couldn’t find an outlet for that passion; now, she’s committed her life to ensuring that others can.