Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

When Plan B Becomes Plan A

By Amabel Escardo, Babson Graduate Student.

I have lived in Lima, Peru most of my life and my husband and I expect to eventually move back there. Our friends and families live in Lima and Peruvian food is simply the best, trust me. My background is in e-commerce. I’ve worked in this role in hospitality, retail, and most recently in the start-up service industry, and truly enjoy working on technology projects with engineers, designers, marketers, and analysts. In Peru, e-commerce has been growing steadily over the past 10 years and will no doubt continue to grow exponentially. But while this experience offers a high probability of an interesting well-paid position, deep inside I have always had a profound service vocation that makes me want to do something that matters.

This calling has led me on an often non-traditional career path. In 2005, a friend and I were looking into NGOs to work with during our winter vacations and found ANIA, an NGO that educates children on appreciating and caring for the environment. Somehow they convinced us to live in a 50-person community, 12-hours up the river in the Peruvian jungle for a month. The 999 mosquito bites were painful; everything else was awesome!

Just as I was graduating from college in 2007, another friend and I convinced the director of our undergraduate school to hire us to develop socially responsible projects in Pisco (four hours south of Lima) after the devastating earthquake of 2007. After five months of unbelievable bureaucracy with the regional governments and no improvements, we packed it in and went to work in the for-profit sector.

I became a project analyst at a supermarket chain and was frustrated; I thought I had failed my service vocation. But I saw the light at the end of the tunnel when we met Alfredo.

Alfredo is a philanthropist that I met at an undergraduate conference. He hired me almost on the spot (during my free time) to implement an education project. I traveled to Cusco and Puno, connected with two of the most important educational initiatives in Peru, put together a very interesting educational project, and…nothing happened. Actually, everything disappeared before it started because of the financial crisis of 2008. No money, no honey.

Of course at this point, I was thinking: Amabel, forget about this social rant, keep working for X and enjoy your free time.

A couple of months after the cancellation of this project, my cousin was doing her MBA at Stanford and convinced me that we could replicate Teach for America in Peru. I was so excited and, long story short, we did! My cousin and I, along with a team of six others, co-founded Ensena Peru and it was up and running in 10 months. I was a volunteer in the fundraising area.

I stayed at Ensena Peru as a volunteer for just about one year because, honestly, I realized that I never wanted a full time position there. The “real world” was calling so I left my job at the supermarket chain and went to work as a marketing online senior analyst at a very cool hotel chain.

I didn’t notice this back then, but now recognize that I had already made up these concepts in my mind:

  • socially responsible = non-profit sector
  • non-profit sector = highly dependent on charity
  • non-profit sector disappears during economic downturns = very risky sector
  • I am not Mother Theresa of Calcutta and therefore I will have to fill my service-vocation oriented heart with something else that will pay the bills.

In 2014, I realized that the two-year MBA train had passed because I couldn’t afford to lose that much time from earning an income. So, Pepo, my husband (37 years old) and I (32 years-old) decided to get very focused as we applied to grad school. He had a newly founded marketing agency and I was marketing online manager at the second largest department store in Peru (it paid the bills). We were looking for one-year MBA programs in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia…everywhere with the following characteristics: prestigious program, important network in Latin America, vibrant city, and an entrepreneurship focus. Gladly, we were both accepted to Babson.

At Babson something changed. I decided I wanted to give this service vocation of mine another shot. Why? Because I started talking about my hidden passion with my peers and they showed me a middle ground between the non-profit sector and the for-profit sector: profitable socially innovative and impact driven companies. Honestly, I didn’t know that being socially innovative and profitable could co-exist. There are companies that actually do not depend on charity to generate revenue, are scalable by their own means, and do things that matter.

The MBA gives us the platform to redirect our career anywhere we want (the sky is the limit). This is how a philosopher that studies an MBA can end up working in the financial markets. Of course, this is not free, it takes hard work to research a new territory.

So, my new Plan A is to find my dream job at a socially innovative and profitable company. This is why I will be at the Net Impact Conference this weekend, so I can explore and have a broader picture of the opportunities in this market. I am especially interested in impact investment, clean tech, healthcare, water, and energy. Hopefully, I can integrate my project management, marketing, and tech skills into my dream job.

Deep inside, I still see risk in changing my career. Just in case, I recently applied to a couple of positions in the tech industry. Let’s see if after the Net Impact Conference, I feel more confident about my Plan A. (To be continued…)