Perspectives: Peggy Mativo-Ochola
Source: Harvard Business School
“Once someone has that spark of experience, there’s no way to take that away from them.”
As the daughter of two pioneering civil engineers in Kenya, Peggy Mativo-Ochola learned to be ambitious. “I saw my mother as a woman who broke glass ceilings and my father as a man who strove for excellence in his field,” Peggy says.
While her parents continued their graduate education, Peggy lived with her grandparents, both of whom were teachers. “When you see all your grandparents’ sacrifices for your education,” she says, “you always have to bring your ‘A game.’ Education meant a lot.”
Peggy’s academic excellence brought her to Harvard College where she assumed she’d follow a “traditional path” toward medical school. But her advisor encouraged Peggy to think more holistically about her life and career. Even though Peggy enjoyed her lab work, she increasingly felt “it took too much time to see the tangible impact on people’s lives,” Peggy took advantage of Harvard’s flexibility and explored courses at the Graduate School of Education. Her desire for “visible impact” led to tutoring through the Harvard Allston Education Portal and working with Teach for China.
Taking a gap year between her junior and senior years, Peggy returned to Nairobi, Kenya where she founded and launched Pacemaker International, an educational nonprofit similar to Teach for America. “Kenya is short about 70,000 teachers,” says Peggy. “The people most affected by the shortage are students whose parents can’t afford access to additional tutors and have to make do with what’s available.” Through Pacemaker, local youth support professional teachers by mentoring younger students and engaging them in a variety of afterschool activities. “The idea is improving education today while preparing Kenyan leaders for the future. Education is an investment that does not go to waste. Once someone has that spark of experience, there’s no way to take that away from them.” Today, the organization has grown to include more than 200 fellow teaching assistants and nine employees serving 15,000 students each day.
APPLYING BUSINESS SKILLS TO SOCIAL PROGRAMS
Peggy came to HBS with “an awareness that some of the challenges in education can’t be solved by teaching alone; we have a lack of resources that could be alleviated by business.” Personally, she also “craved a new skill set: analytics, number-crunching, understanding macroeconomic indicators – these and more are better covered in business school than in education school.”
“I was initially intimidated by my finance classes,” Peggy admits. “I was in classrooms with students who had much more experience. But I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed these courses! I’ve discovered that successful investing isn’t an accident but can be approached through a rational understanding of risk and rewards. I want to apply the same kind of principles to financing the social causes I care about.”
In the summer, Peggy intends to develop a fundraising program she began in Startup Boot Camp last January. “My big hairy audacious goal is a self-sustaining endowment fund to employ teachers in slums and rural areas.” Looking ahead, Peggy knows that she wants to return to Kenya where she can “help learning systems become more innovative and contribute to stronger social outcomes for marginalized groups.”