IBD Alumni Interview: Beth Foster (‘18 MBA and IBD alum) loves working in East Africa
Written by Danner Doud-Martin
IBD caught up with ‘18 MBA Beth Foster who was visiting the bay area this August before returning to Kampala, Uganda, where she works as part of the investment arm of Engineers without Borders; Canada (EWB). Beth sat down with us to talk about her experience prior to Haas, how IBD impacted her future career and her love for working with entrepreneurs in East Africa.
Before coming to Haas, Beth was in the Peace Corps in Rwanda building a small business with a co-op of farmers. “I understood the potential of business to address societal challenges and be transformative in a way that other foreign aid projects couldn’t be.” She knew she wanted to pursue international business development but didn’t have a business background or even know the terminology of the type of work she was interested in pursuing. Through conversations with people in the field she learned about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, terms that are now part of her everyday vernacular.
Haas offers opportunities in these areas:
At Haas, Beth took advantage of all the different opportunities in the space, including relevant coursework such as IBD and opportunities outside the classroom, like the Haas Impact Investing Network (HIIN), Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) and internships. As part of the 2017 IBD program, Beth worked with client Makerere University Private Sector Forum on a project in Kampala, Uganda. “It was great with IBD to get the chance to affirm that I wanted to return to East Africa. It was a really big decision, and not an easy one, but it felt right when I was there for IBD working with Makerere in Kampala. It was the last piece of validation for making that move after Haas.”
Beth’s IBD experience:
IBD’s policy is to provide students unique opportunities in international experiences and so even with her prior work in Rwanda, Beth shared that she thought it made sense she was assigned to work with the only project located on the content of Africa. “I have a background in education and youth development and the IBD project was with the leading University in Kampala. We were specifically working with Makerere’s Private Sector Forum to develop a strategic plan. The Forum was trying to address two challenges. The first was youth unemployment in Uganda which is incredibly high. Secondly, they wanted to address the issue of the university’s students graduating without jobs. Given that Uganda is a very entrepreneurial country, we saw the potential of many of these students becoming entrepreneurs and that informed the strategy we laid out.”
IBD leads to connections for future job:
During her three weeks in-country, working with Makerere, Beth learned about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Uganda, built connections with accelerators and investors and met with a lot of entrepreneurs. “IBD was a great experience,” shares Beth. “It was good prep for my job interview with EWB as I had already made the connections. Meeting with the entrepreneurs there made me more excited than I had been in a very long time and hearing about their ideas gave me goosebumps. When I came back (from IBD) I was on a mission to find a job in back in East Africa and am so grateful it worked out that way.”
How did you land on the field of Impact Investing?
When Beth was working in Rwanda, she realized that the most challenging part of making that business successful was the community politics and just knowing certain things about the consumer that aren’t obvious. Beth came to the conclusion after much reflection that “I loved the idea of social entrepreneurship but if I am going to work in this region, I would rather have my whole focus and energy be towards focusing on supporting local entrepreneurs. They have great ideas and know how to navigate the challenges of their space, but need the encouragement and resources.”
Beth admits that impact investing can mean a lot of different things so when she got to Haas she took two years of discovering where on the spectrum she wanted to be. Through all her encounters with Haas opportunities, she solidified that she wanted to work in very early stage venture capital in East Africa and in impact-first investing. She loves her job and the impact she has made with small business owners.
Do you have any advice for potential future students interested in IBD?
One of the unexpected surprises of IBD for Beth was getting more experience in the area of consulting. “I don’t have a consulting background, but I had an amazing Team Lead who taught me so much. IBD was like a semester long intensive consulting class. If you want to gain real world consulting skills, travel, and work on a meaningful project with impact, IBD is a good option,” shares Beth. Personally, she learned:
- How to properly lead team meetings
- How to implement design thinking approaches
- How to best interact with your client, including how to have tough conversations
- How to create timelines and deliverable that hold everyone accountable, including the client
The 2019 IBD Team meets with Beth in Kampala:
This summer, IBD sent a third team of five MBA students to work with Makerere University. Beth met up with the team and enjoyed seeing how excited they were about being in-country. “I just loved seeing how into the project the team was and the fact that I had that client previously meant that they wanted to know a lot of my thoughts. It was a proud Haas moment.”
Beth’s advice to the IBD Program Staff:
“I want to see more Africa based projects! My job is to research start-ups on the continent and there are just such amazing businesses out here. Haasies can support these businesses and there is so much they can learn.”
Perhaps IBD will have a future project with Beth and one of the many start-ups she is working with in Africa. In the meantime, we congratulate Beth on her many successes and wish her the best moving forward.