Externing at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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This year, I had the opportunity to step outside of my role at Bain & Company to pursue an “externship” working at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in Seattle. Over a series of posts, I will deep dive into the highlights from my externship. But first, I’d like to share some background about me and what led me to join the “Impatient Optimists” of the BMGF.

After graduating from Emory University, where I majored in both Business and Classics, I was eager to pursue non-profit work. So before my official start at Bain & Company, I decided to move to Washington, DC for six months to help run a small non-profit’s operations including its youth summer camp and afterschool program. Having grown up in a home where my mom ran a daycare, I missed that environment and was excited to work impacting youth and their education. Moreover, being part of a small organization, I was able to take on a number of additional responsibilities, such as setting up the network infrastructure – I have always enjoyed tinkering with computers and all sorts of technology, so this was a bonus.

Since starting as an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company in January 2010, I’ve had several more chances to pursue social impact work in education, including a pro-bono case (run entirely by Associate Consultants!) for KIPP Metro Atlanta, a network of charter schools. I also helped the U.S. Department of Education read and score grant proposals for their Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

During my Senior Associate Consultant year at Bain, I transferred to our Sydney office for six months to help out with a tech. case for a major airline. Not only did I get to learn more about IT and technology, but I heightened my desire to have a global career. When I decided to look for an externship, I wanted to leverage my skills give back on a global scale.

While I have loved working with youth and education, I realized that there are more fundamental needs to be addressed – 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty and struggle every day to find enough food. One of the best ways to address poverty reduction is through agricultural development, so I decided to look for positions in international development which address the needs of smallholder farmers. Within Bain’s network of formal global externship partners, I identified several organizations that interested me.  One of the leaders of Bain’s Social Impact Practice helped me to understand the work of the various organizations and set up informational interviews with several of my top candidates.

After speaking with a Program Officer at the BMGF, I knew I had found my dream externship.  The Foundation had recently launched a new initiative looking at how to use digital technologies to improve agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and was looking for someone to help design the strategy. The externship position at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had a perfect combination of three factors: First, it would allow me to use the Bain toolkit and skills I had been building over the past three years to help set the initiative’s strategy; Second, I was eager to expand on my affinity for technology; and finally, I hoped to learn more about international and agricultural development to help me decide whether I may want to pursue a career in the field long-term.

I look forward to sharing some of the journey that I went on during these exciting six months!

– Dan, Consultant, Atlanta

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