How I’m using my Kellogg MBA to lead a fish farming nonprofit
By Linnette Lam
I first visited Haiti in 2014. At the time, I was a management consultant based out of Los Angeles, California working with Fortune 100 executives from some of the most well-known companies in the world. While I really enjoyed the novelty of my work, I believed that my business knowledge could serve an even higher purpose beyond entertainment, high-tech and consumer goods.
When I traveled to Haiti — a land of beautiful, grassy vistas that is home to some of the most welcoming people I have ever met — I witnessed extreme poverty. Haiti was one of the most gorgeous places I’d ever seen, but it was also the most destitute place I have ever been. While many charities supplied food and clothing to help the poor in Haiti, I wondered if there was a way that I could help the poor in a realm that I had more expertise in: business, change management and people management.
Changing views of my career and purpose
It was hard for me to grasp why there was such a huge difference between the life I knew in the United States and the life I could see while standing in the slums of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I came to acknowledge that if I was born under different circumstances, I could have been born in Haiti. By taking on this perspective, I felt an even stronger connection to the people of Haiti. They could have been me, a person from the “first world”, and I could have very well been them.
Instead of feeling sad or helpless about the situation and doing nothing about it, I felt a renewed purpose in my career; I wanted to take my business acumen and apply it to the problems that I saw in Haiti. After all, problem solving was part of my job as a consultant — I diagnosed issues and then designed strategies to resolve them. My strength in identifying and solving problems led to my involvement with Fish4Hope.
A brief background of Fish4Hope
My brother and fiancé started Fish4Hope, and the organization is the reason why I visited Haiti in the first place. In one year, the organization raised over $140,000 to build 15 homes, four fish ponds and a fishing trade training system. After I visited the first completed Fish4Hope village in 2014, I was inspired to join the team. Like my brother and fiancé, I wanted to become an entrepreneur who brought business-based solutions to the poor, helping them gain valuable, lifelong skills that allow for self-sustainment.
Shortly after joining the Fish4Hope team, I accepted Kellogg’s offer of admission with a clear purpose for how I wanted to use my MBA; For the sake of Fish4Hope’s current and future beneficiaries, I wanted to become a better businesswoman.
Studying through a social impact lens
Being a part of Fish4Hope while earning a full-time MBA enriched my view of Kellogg’s coursework and extracurricular opportunities. The social enterprise course offerings and robust Net Impact Club programming developed my understanding of the intersection of for-profit business, non-profit business and social impact. I viewed my entrepreneurship, marketing, operations and management & organizations (MORS) coursework through a social impact lens; I constantly asked myself, my professors and my classmates how these concepts could move markets and make the world a more endurable, dignified and peaceful place to live.
Doing what you already love, where you already are, to make a significant impact
Thanks to my Fish4Hope experiences, I learned that making a difference to those in need doesn’t mean giving up what we really love. My fiancé owns and operates a chain of martial arts schools — a job he absolutely loves — while redirecting his profits to fund much of Fish4Hope’s operating costs. My brother is passionate about process re-engineering, and he does this for a living as a change management strategist. Because of his day job, he’s able to bring his analytical mindset to the way we roll out processes in our Haitian villages. Another leadership team member owns a photography studio, which has been extremely instrumental in bringing powerful images of Haiti to our donors and supporters. As for me, I leverage my consulting and MBA background in order to improve Fish4Hope’s operations.
Through the collective efforts of our leadership team, volunteers, supporters and partners on the ground in Haiti, we’re able to invest 100 percent of public donations into building fish farming villages for those who need it. Today, Fish4Hope continues its work transforming communities into lively marketplaces that are made possible by the sale and profit of fish. We welcome all volunteers who want to take part in our projects by way of donating their skillsets, time or finances. We also offer supporters the opportunity to join us when we travel to Fish4Hope villages to meet beneficiaries. Through Fish4Hope, we aim to do what we love, with people we love, to tangibly and transparently make a difference for those in need.
If you’d like to learn more about Fish4Hope, visit www.Fish4Hope.org, find us on Facebook or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re also invited to take a trip to Haiti with us! To donate to Fish4Hope, consider doing your online shopping via Amazon Smile – just select Fish4Hope Foundation as your charity of choice. Amazon will donate a portion of the proceeds from your purchases to our projects. Every little bit can have a huge impact.
Linnette Lam is a June 2016 graduate of Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year Program. During her time at Kellogg, she served as Vice President of Alumni Relations of Kellogg’s Net Impact Club. She also volunteered as an MBA intern with Piece & Co., a social impact fashion startup. Prior to Kellogg, she worked as a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP and received her B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Southern California.