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To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps this year, CalBusiness issued a call for special notes from alumni who served as volunteers. They are among the more than 3,400 UC Berkeley alumni who have served in the Peace Corps—the most alumni of any university. As yet, no other university has even surpassed the 3,000-volunteer mark.
To mark the 50th anniversary, the Peace Corps and public service will be the overarching theme at Cal Day, the annual campus open house, on April 16. During Cal Day, the Peace Corps will recognize UC Berkeley's historic role in the organization and chat via Skype with Cal grads currently serving as volunteers.
Current volunteers from Haas include Madeline Wu, BS 05, whose thoughtful personal essay below leads our special Peace Corps Alumni Notes section.
Business and Knitting Circles:
Weaving together old-world views with
By Madeline Wu (right), BS 05, Peru 10-11
A year ago, I was a bond trader in San Francisco. My work was dominated by the excitement of timing a good trade and trading cutoffs. Nowadays, I am the "gringa chinita" volunteering with the Peace Corps in a small, rural Peruvian town. My work revolves on the excitement of my community taking risks, and my deadlines have become based on my community's motivation and willingness to challenge itself.
Today, I taught a starter class for a basic business series to the women in my town. The local women spend the afternoons sitting in knitting circles and gossiping about the latest soap operas. The women have invited me to take part in their knitting circle, asking me to teach them some of what I know about business. In moments like these, I'm the odd woman out—I cannot wield a knitting needle to save my life and the only pair of "needles" I own are chopsticks sent to me in a care package. It is here in this knitting circle that I have learned about the challenges and struggles of starting a small business for women with little education and few resources.
During a brief talk about "products vs. services," I was befuddled at why identifying products and services was so difficult for the women in the knitting circle. Products were easily identified: coffee, corn, oranges, chirimoya, passion fruit, and beans. Local services proved to be more challenging because they could only name forms of transportation as services, be it by mule, horse, or bus. Jesus, whose family runs a general store, came up with a couple of ideas. "Señorita, what about Internet cafes, ambulances, and seamstresses? Those are service businesses, right?" she asked me.
It's becoming clearer to me why business can be a tough concept to teach. Many of my students have never left our rural community. They do not experience certain service businesses, such as valet parking or delivery of Internet-ordered groceries. I have to take a step back and remember: Not everyone is so lucky to travel through Europe, scale mountains in Africa, or even to take a three-hour bus ride to Piura, the closest city that lies west of our town. For many of the women in this knitting circle, their worldview is local. As I'm teaching and motivating these women to become entrepreneurs, I realize that innovation can be quite simple. No longer are we talking about the iPad as a musthave innovation, but we're talking about innovation in the context of necessities, such as a cheaper, more efficient way to harvest crops or more accessible less costly medical remedies.
The class went wonderfully. Once a room fills with Peruvian women, there is bound to be giggling and laughing. Rural women are generally very timid at first, but even my shyest students stand in front of the class and practice public speaking. By the end of the class, I discovered that some obstacles will not be overcome in my two-year service here—one woman did not read or write and the majority of the women were happy to relax during knitting hour, instead of participating in my business activities. Jesus, the one woman who recognized local services, wanted me to teach her basic accounting. "How else am I going to know if my family's store is making or losing money?" she wondered aloud. She went on to take an accounting course with me in January.
While my town may not have luxuries, such as water or electricity on demand, there is certainly business being done. My students have an important role in increasing the local economy and improving the welfare of their families. As for myself, I will know that I have been successful when their businesses continue on long after the "gringa chinita" leaves.
Sonny Low, BS, Chile 68-70,
is happily retired to "America's
Finest City," San Diego. He writes, "Having slept in Peru's Machu
Picchu and climbed Huayna Picchu
as the sun rose to start a new day;
having hitchhiked some of the
same portions of the Pan American
Highway in Chile, described in Che
Guevara's 'Motorcycle Diaries';
and having photographed Bolivian
women street vendors up and
down La Paz's Sagarnaga Street
dressed in their wide skirts and
topped off by their bowler hats
still remain after 41 years among
the most vivid memories of my
travels while a volunteer with
Peace Corps Chile."
Richard Lyon, BS, Costa Rica 67-69, of Sacramento, Calif., is now a "chef at large" specializing in exquisite food and wine pairings. He volunteers as a purchasing agent for the Swords to Plowshares annual Backpack Giveaway for homeless veterans in San Francisco. He also completed a five-day, 1,000-mile Thanksgiving road trip with his 18-year-old daughter, Erin. Erin has helped him stuff the 250 backpacks for homeless veterans at Swords to Plowshares. He writes, "My Peace Corps experience served to give me a very different perspective on the world, and initiated my becoming a 'world citizen.' Absolute fondest memories are from hanging out with my fellow volunteers and working with 'las Ticas' in my little ceramics co-op in Guaitil de Santa Cruz on the Nicoyan Peninsula."
Vivian Lu, BS, Bolivia 06-08,
of Isibania , Kenya, writes, "Bolivia
is gorgeous and diverse. I never
got tired of staring at purple and
golden mountains or dense green
jungles over red earth roads. The horrific roads, rattling buses, and cramped cattle trucks were worth it for those views. I worked mostly in the beautiful Sucre region with a nonprofit called Pro Mujer, which provides microfinancial, health care, and business training services to low-income women entrepreneurs. I designed training for our rural microfinance program, allowing me to work at a grassroots community level. This experience greatly influences my development work at Nuru International and my passion for social enterprise."
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Donald Smith, MBA, see PhD 1982 notes.
Marietta (Sloan) Bartoletti, MBA, Bulgaria 92-94, of Falls Church, Va., has returned to the Washington, D.C., area as an area management officer for building operations for the State Department after three years as management officer at the U.S. Embassy in Malta. She writes, "Our Peace Corps experience shifted our careers towards work overseas. Steve became a development banker and has worked in many of the former Soviet countries. I joined the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. The fondest memory is of people welcoming us into their homes, only a few years after they feared arrest for contact with foreigners."
Meera Chary, MBA, Uganda 03-05, of San Francisco, is a consultant for the Bridgespan Group. She writes, "Working in a small, rural village in western Uganda was a life-changing experience. Being able to understand firsthand the challenges of being isolated from access to the infrastructure, services, and economy that I am accustomed to was eye-opening and provided a foundation for what I hope will be a personal future in service and global development. In addition, the friendships I made there are also lasting. I've been back to Uganda several times (many trips were made with the support of the Haas Blum Center) and will continue to have an important place in my heart for East Africa."
David Critchfied, MBA, Sultanate of Oman and Yemen Arab Republic 74-77, of Fremont, Calif., writes, "I always loved swimming in the ocean, so the barely inhabited Indian Ocean coast of Oman in the mid-1970s was heaven. I snorkeled almost daily, and often caught dinner. I learned what hospitality was. I learned patience. I learned to get by on little. I learned that most of the people in the world are born, live a full life, and never own a car or see a doctor. I met people who had never owned a pair of shoes. I learned to take a nap after lunch in the afternoons. And I ended many days sleeping on my rooftop under a million stars. Wow. What memories I still have of that time. I think of going back for a visit occasionally, but I also think that maybe just leaving those memories the way they are may be a better way to go. The Peace Corps experience was a high point in my life—even higher than an MBA perhaps."
Luke Filose, MBA, Mauritania 04-05, of Oakland, Calif., is the vice president of business development at Fenix International. He writes, "In West Africa, I helped groups of informal sector entrepreneurs (mostly women) get loans to expand their businesses, and I saw how many constraints they faced to break out of poverty. Somehow I got my hands on a copy of C.K. Prahalad's The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, which inspired me to apply to Haas. Now I'm pleased to say that I am doing exactly what I said I would do with my MBA—selling a product that directly improves peoples' lives in the developing world."
Donald Smith, PhD, Peru 70-72, writes, "I was an undergrad at San Jose State. I really believe that it was my Peace Corps experience that differentiated me enough to get into the Berkeley MBA program, which I started in 1974. I liked Berkeley so much I hung around to get a Ph.D., then came to Boston. I still am very good friends with about six of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers. Sharing that adventure created a lifelong bond."
Haas Staff & Faculty
Kristi Raube, adjunct professor and executive director, Health Management, Haas, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), 81-83, and Togo 83-85, writes, "My years as a Peace Corps volunteer were life changing. I learned how poverty and opportunity can influence the course of one's life, about the importance of tenacity, hard work and kindness, as well as how the U.S. and world economies, politics, and cultures are intertwined. The lessons and personal growth from my years in Africa profoundly influenced my view of the world and my professional aspirations."
Jeanne HuangLi, senior director, development (international), Haas, Hungary 92-94, writes, "I still remember a quote from my Peace Corps training book that I paraphrase: 'It may be some consolation to you that the pains you are experiencing are undoubtedly growing pains.' I would not say that every moment was idyllic, but my experience first taught me what I am capable of and also the type of work (fulfilling, creative, for the public good) that would enliven me. It has been an ongoing challenge ever since to continue to seek those paths in other work and experiences. The skills, flexibility, and creativity needed to survive and thrive in a different country in a Peace Corps setting is invaluable to the person I am, and even to my current role working in the Development and Alumni Relations Office at the Haas School in international outreach and development.
I was an Asian Studies and English major, but the Peace Corps was sending all who could teach English to Eastern Europe at the time. I was the primary organizer for some major national English projects; it is wonderful to learn that the projects have continued to this day under host country nationals.
I have been working on the committee to organize the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary activities on the Berkeley campus. There was an International Symposium on Feb. 26 and Peace Corps will be the theme at Cal Day on April 16. For more information, check peacecorps.berkeley.edu.
I am also happy to report that Dean Rich Lyons, Professor Henry Chesbrough, and I will be traveling to Budapest for a business symposium there on June 3-4. We are working with our alumni and officials in Hungary to organize aspects of the trip."