Katherine St. Onge came to Wharton’s EMBA program to further her career in the social impact investing space. We asked the senior officer at Calvert Foundation in Washington, D.C. to tell us more about what brought her to Wharton and her experience so far in the program. Here is what she said:
On Life before Wharton
I have had a somewhat unique career path that has allowed me to explore several different industries. After college I worked for Goldman Sachs in New York City. I eventually realized that I wanted to pursue a career in which I could directly affect positive social change. I ended up taking a job with a state agency, Louisiana Economic Development, where I developed policies and strategies to make the state more economically competitive. Two years later, interested in gaining experience in international economic development, I joined the Aspen Institute to focus on developing the early-stage investment ecosystems in the Middle East and North Africa.
With my background in finance and economic development, I became interested in impact investing. I currently work at Calvert Foundation, a nonprofit financial institution that makes loans to nonprofits and social enterprises throughout the U.S. and the world. We raise capital through a retail fixed income security, one of the few in the industry. I help educate investors about impact investing and Calvert Foundation’s investment products as well as structure investments from banks and foundations.
On Going Back to School
I spent several years deciding if graduate school was right for me. Before Wharton, I worked in a variety of industries, most of which I knew little about — and in very entrepreneurial environments. I ultimately decided I wanted to attend Wharton to gain business frameworks that would help me create structure in ambiguity and the financial skills to make my mark in the impact investing field.
While I was working at the Aspen Institute, I applied to Wharton’s full-time MBA program to prepare me to enter the impact investing field. During the application process, I accepted my job at Calvert Foundation. As I wasn’t interested in leaving my new job, I called Wharton’s EMBA office and was amazed by how receptive they were to my interest in the program.
Several members of the EMBA administration proactively reached out to talk about the program and answer questions. When I visited campus, I was very impressed by the executive MBA community. I liked that the EMBA program would allow me to continue developing knowledge and contacts within my field and immediately apply classroom learning to the real world.
On Interest in Social Impact
There is a high level of interest in the social impact space at Wharton and among my EMBA classmates. About once a week, I connect with an undergrad, full-time MBA student, alumni or contact of my classmates to talk about impact investing and/or Calvert Foundation.
I enjoy sharing my insights and am inspired by the social impact goals of the Wharton community. These conversations — and the questions I receive during them — are a great opportunity for me to expand my network and my knowledge.
As for classes on this topic, there is a social impact investing elective as well as Global Modular Courses (GMCs) that focus on sustainable development in emerging economies. In addition, several of our classes discuss social impact and include cases on the topic. Wharton San Francisco EMBA students organize a Social Impact Conference each year and EMBAs on the East Coast are helping to plan the Philadelphia conference for the first time this year.
On Wharton’s Reputation
The Wharton name opens doors in any arena, and it is definitely helpful in the social impact field. The number of Wharton alumni in this space was part of the reason I was interested in Wharton.
A recent Wharton Magazine article featured the founder of Calvert Foundation, who is an alumnus, along with several other prominent alumni in this field. The School is evolving with the times and interested in attracting unique people. There are many people here who want to make a difference and change the world.
Wharton is definitely increasing my visibility and future prospects. I’ve connected with many people both in and outside of the Wharton community as a result of my classmates and my executive coach at Wharton (the coach is an opportunity available to each EMBA student).
As for the learning, it’s tremendous to be able to come back to my office and take on leadership roles in projects for which I previously wouldn’t have felt qualified. The knowledge I take away from Wharton is helping me do my job better and giving me a greater understanding of my business.
My favorite part about the EMBA program is the people. I’ve been amazed by how thoughtful, passionate, and fun my classmates are; I learn a lot from them.
The intensity and uniqueness of the EMBA program brings everyone together. I’ve been privileged to develop strong friendships with people I genuinely admire.
On Advice for Incoming Students
Wharton’s EMBA program is a great place to get a strong business foundation. It’s also a network rife with people who are successful in the social impact field. You’ll meet a lot of people who are interested in or involved in this space, and who want to be innovative and push the industry forward.
Posted: October 6, 2015