How Poverty Studies Can Shape a Career in Finance and Civic Engagement

By Katie Harris

Ms. Harris is pursuing Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Harvard Business School, expected graduation in May 2016.  She has worked as an Investment Banking Analyst, Deutsche Bank (2010 – 2012) and as a Private Equity Associate, Wellspring Capital Management (2012 – 2014).  She graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration and minors in Poverty and Human Capabilities and Environmental Studies from Washington & Lee (2010).

"The perspective I gained, both in my day-to-day work, and in living on $11/day, will stay with me for the rest of my life," writes Harris of her internship at a non-profit loan fund in Washington DC.

“The perspective I gained, both in my day-to-day work, and in living on $11/day, will stay with me for the rest of my life,” writes Harris of her internship at a non-profit loan fund in Washington DC.


My commitment to the Shepherd Program was sealed when I forwent an investment banking internship during the summer before my senior year to pursue the Shepherd Alliance internship. I worked at a non-profit loan fund in Washington DC, and it’s one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. It’s the smallest company I’ve ever worked for and probably has the largest aspirations. The perspective I gained, both in my day-to-day work, and in living on $11/day, will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Returning to school for senior year, I wanted to apply some of these learnings in my capstone project and chose to focus on access to credit for low income residents of Rockbridge County. I partnered with a classmate to create a study that surveyed many residents, community members and banks on the issues surrounding access to credit. This study not only produced results that I found interesting and hope were meaningful, but also taught me how to connect with a local community outside of the boundaries of Washington & Lee.

In the years since W&L, I’ve followed a more traditional finance career path and often struggle with how this job and my social interests can coexist. More recently, I’ve spent the last year and a half studying at Harvard Business School whose mission is quite literally “to educate leaders who make a difference in the world” – try tackling that responsibility. On many occasions I sit in class feeling guilty about my excitement to be returning to private equity, an industry I find exciting and challenging every day but doesn’t seem on the surface to connect with solving social or macro issues. Am I making a difference in the world by sitting at a desk in Manhattan? Call me crazy, but I actually think so. I believe that the education I’ve received at W&L and the lessons I learned from the Shepherd Poverty Program provide the backdrop for who I am as a person, my values, and how I conduct myself in my career. And I don’t think that education and perspective can be taken for granted. The perspective I gained through my experience with the poverty studies influence my continued efforts to focus on social causes, whether coaching a middle school basketball team in Washington Heights or mentoring a high school junior in Queens applying to college, and it directly impacts the decisions I make each day. I also believe that we will see more business leaders in my generation use their business skills as a platform to be influencers in areas of social interest, including poverty. I hope to be one of these leaders, and that hope originated in my poverty studies at Washington and Lee.

#PartnersfortheCommonGood

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