The work itself is neither quiet nor easy. An average workday in this world can be summarized in a word: long. "It's action, action, action all the time," said Suchman, in Washington. "Being close to the center of power here in D.C., seeing how the country is run, and being involved in the direction of something as big as Medicare reform—it's powerful."
Jennifer Pope 96 with children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she works for Population Services International. As project director for the agency, she works in eight provinces and speaks French most of the time as she provides HIV and reproductive health education.
Photo by Ben Olander
On the other side of the world, Pope spends a lot of time on the road, traveling through the troubled region in Central Africa in her capacity as project director for Population Services International, coordinating staff scattered across eight provinces. After her staff leaves, she answers e-mail, then is off to her Lingala language class. "My days always seem extremely tiring, especially since most of it is conducted primarily in French," Pope said.
A capacity for exhaustion is essential to work in the nonprofit sector, said Pamela Young '91, recently named Oxfam International's country program manager for the English-speaking Caribbean. For Young, leaping out of bed in the dead of night during an earthquake or spending hours at military checkpoints are mere mile markers on the way to the real destination: seeing girls going to school for the first time in Tanzania, supporting women's rights in Yemen, helping people get access to doctors in Armenia, Kosovo, and Azerbaijan, helping farmers sell their goods in Albania and Georgia.
"I've worked with people who have lost their homes in the tsunami, those affected by past or current conflict, people who have no money to put food on the table or access to water," Young said. She meets with local government officials, runs training sessions on everything from monitoring to community participation and advocacy, talks with members of the local community where her organization is building houses, talks to the press, and sometimes spends hours sitting at checkpoints.
As it does for others in this field, the list goes on. But these jobs can offer an immediate and personal sense of job satisfaction, alumni say. Pope saw a single nurse in Mali form a women's group, start a soap and jam business, and, with the proceeds, create a nursery school.
Kristin Saucier '04 has seen a reshaping of Guatemala's education policy, including an increase in spending on primary education after years of efforts of her program, PREAL (Partnership for Educational Revitalization in the Americas), in promoting education reform there. "Most money used to go to [secondary] education, which never benefited the poor, because they drop out earlier," she said.
Not everyone has to travel to Mali, Indonesia, or Guatemala to effect change. Danny Reed '90 worked during and after law school for various organizations that work to provide high quality legal services to underserved communities. Reed now is a fund raiser for Equal Justice Works, which runs the largest postgraduate legal fellowship program in the country.
"The issues [the Equal Justice fellows] tackle are some of the worst injustices in the country—homelessness, domestic violence, immigration issues," said Reed, the organization's regional development director. "I wanted to be part of the solution, but I also knew I lacked the disposition to do field work because I am too enraged by [the problem] to be objective. But, I had a talent for raising the resources needed to support that work."
Choices made by these graduates are often informed by a clear-eyed assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses. As a result, the phrase "a perfect match" is uttered frequently. They are where they are because they want to be, and because they weren't afraid to hold out for the right fit or turn their backs on the wrong one.