Unlocking Knowledge to Drive Social Progress
On August 10, 2010, a bright-eyed, blonde-haired 22-year old from suburban America began a 38-hour voyage from Seattle, Washington to Ndejje, Uganda to change the world. It was her first trip outside of North America, and she was filled with all of the gusto and confidence one would expect of someone moving to Africa for a year.
If you guessed that the girl described above was me, you’re right. If you also guessed that I was very quickly humbled, you’re even more correct. Within weeks of arriving in Uganda, the expectations with which I approached that year were very quickly shattered. But in their place, I discovered qualities about myself that I never knew existed. These characteristics would later become those which would form how I approach my career, my purpose, and the values which I expect my employer to reflect. I developed a love for ambiguity and the challenge of solving complex problems, finding myself far, far outside of my comfort zone. More importantly, I started to understand how our world was truly changing, as people everywhere became more mobile and markets that had once been so isolated started to gain access to information and insights which would be crucial to helping them compete on a global playing field.
Fast forward two years later to when I began working at AlphaSights, which at the time, consisted of a small, 20-person office in a loft-like space in Manhattan on 21st and 6th. My interview process culminated in a final round interview with one of our founders, Max, during which we spoke solely about soccer and my experience in Uganda. I was intrigued by this idea of becoming a ‘knowledge broker,’ though I didn’t really understand what it meant, nor how Max had assessed I’d be any good at it based on our conversation about the Sweet Sixteen and herds of cows interrupting matches in Ndejje.
Upon joining the firm, I very quickly learned how valuable our service is to our clients, observing how investment theses were formed or discarded based on the insights of experts we provided them access to. And we’re talking sophisticated investors with multi-billion dollars of assets under management. As we started to explore new market opportunities as a firm, I began to think critically about how we as a business could leverage these core competencies in a philanthropic capacity as well. While my time in Uganda had left me fairly disenchanted with traditional charity, it had also exposed me to the ideas of some cutting-edge nonprofits and business people who were tackling issues associated with poverty from an entirely new angle.
Thus began what would later develop into our ‘Knowledge for Good’ initiative, involving a group of AlphaSights employees from all of our global hubs, numerous client-service team members, and virtually all of our support functions (legal, finance, tech, marketing). When we first embarked down this path, we knew we wanted to help solve these big, complex, global challenges, and we also knew that we had the resources to do so in a very meaningful way. A year and a half later, we are working with five globally recognized, innovative nonprofits. These organizations are enabling entrepreneurs, health care professionals, and business people across a range of sectors, pull their families and communities out of poverty.
We’re helping these nonprofits gain a more thorough understanding of the uncertain markets in which they’re operating by connecting them with experts across the globe who have tackled similarly complex problems, also within unchartered and volatile territories. By providing them greater access to targeted, relevant knowledge that helps them build better businesses and gain a greater understanding of a global consumer base, these conversations enable our partners to make wiser decisions when it comes to allocating resources. They also help the entrepreneurs whom they’re working with to create more scalable business models – which leads to additional job creation and a direct impact on families’ abilities to increase their savings.
Though still in its infancy, Knowledge for Good is rapidly gaining steam, both in its capacity to meet our partners’ needs in the most traditional form of our service, but also with respect to the opportunities it creates for our employee-base to be engaged in challenging social issues and to think creatively about how we can help solve these problems. For me personally, it has also been a very fulfilling way to create a blend between the commercial, competitive business environment that I love, and the international development issues that continue to pull at me. And as we work with social entrepreneurs and our nonprofit partners assisting them, across all corners of the globe, I often think about the small coffee shop I used to visit in Kampala, where I’d sit with the owner on Friday afternoons. He’d tell me about all of the different regions across Uganda and Rwanda that he had sourced his beans from, and the impact it had on flavoring, and his dreams of international expansion, and I smile knowing that at the most granular level, that’s the person we get to help via Knowledge for Good.
Courtney joined AlphaSights in January of 2013 and served as a manager on our Capital Markets team.