First day of class beating my expectations

Day 1 of the new GIH Speaker Series – “Market-Based Solutions to Poverty”…how can any MBA—especially a Haas MBA—not be interested in this class given the title? Well, if the first class was any indication, it’s not going to disappoint.

This class, which was bursting at the seams, was the brainchild of my good friend Roxanne Miller, who didn’t join us for the kickoff as she was trekking around somewhere in Africa. She’s, you know, cool like that. But we were joined by two international development gurus – David Lehr, who will be running the actual course, and guest speaker George Scharffenberger, who heads the Richard C. Blum Center at Haas and as such has purview over all things international development at the school.

Lehr, who has spent time with Acumen Fund and is now with MercyCorps, expertly and passionately set the stage for the course and shared his overarching views on development. He then turned over the reins to Scharffenberger, who stole the show with his remarkably entertaining survey of the major modes of development and schools of thought over the last half-century.

It was an atypically hot late August afternoon in Berkeley – and the overflowing room of mostly first- and second-year full-time MBAs was noticeably engrossed as George walked us through the field to which he’s dedicated his life—and thus has an incredible knowledge base in—in a single hour. As someone getting increasingly interested in international development despite having no real experience in it per se, I found it to be a fascinating (and informative) look back. George drove home the point that, while prevailing development approaches have evolved over the years (and many efforts have been largely futile), it’s incumbent on us – the next generation of change agents – to really understand the history of development and what has and hasn’t worked. There are lessons to be learned from successes and failures, and we can’t (and shouldn’t) be reinventing the wheel.

That seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I was sold.

And George was a special treat for me given the crazy connections my family has to him – which he (uneasily for me) chose to mention at the very outset of his talk. My dad worked with him for years at an NGO outside of D.C. called Volunteers in Technical Assistance, and my stepmom was in the Peace Corps with him in Senegal!

Small world. Even when your workplace is literally, well…the world!

I felt the stares of my classmates bear down on me when he mentioned this, expecting me to be some kind of expert in the subject matter, which, again, I am not, but it was no big deal. I, like all of them and like my dad, stepmom, George and David, am all about playing my part in alleviating poverty and improving people’s lives. We were all bound by that shared interest and passion, and the excitement and connection in the room was palpable.

I’m super pumped for the rest of the class. The speakers and readings lined up seem well-thought-out and credible, and I can’t wait to dive deep into this newfound interest of mine. The class certainly got off to the best start imaginable – the stuffy room and lack of seats notwithstanding.

-Omar Garriott, 2nd Year Full-Time MBA


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