By Elaine Kubik
As a Panamanian-American, I grew up experiencing life in both emerging and developed countries. I had completed my undergraduate degree in business in the United States and then worked for five years, in both the public and private sector, focusing on marketing and communications. I had specialized in digital marketing, integrated communication strategies and digital technologies. Advancing my education wasn’t necessarily a requirement in order to have a successful career. However, I knew my career trajectory wasn’t connecting to my roots as a Panamanian-American and living a life of purpose and social impact.
Although my pivot to connect my marketing and communications background to the world of development seemed at first illogically aspirational, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice offered a program that allowed me to explore potential paths in a career of development by having the flexibility to connect the dots with my previous experience. The first year of the program laid the foundational knowledge of my career change through advanced studies of economics, political governance and development sectors such as agriculture and health. Also within the program was a required summer placement abroad. Once my first year had wrapped up, I was off on a plane to Maseru, Lesotho, a city with a population of less than a million people and a 24 percent prevalence of HIV.
During my summer placement, I was able to connect my previous work experience with my newly gained foundational development knowledge, and merge it in a way to deliver value to my host organization. I worked with Jhpiego, a global health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, on two different prongs of communication: 1) organizational marketing and 2) social behavior change communications. Furthermore, I was able to integrate my experience and love for digital technology to help upgrade their data collection methods for advanced monitoring and evaluation. In the end, I was able to use different parts of my professional and educational experience to help drive impact in reducing HIV in Lesotho.
The summer placement and the MDP program overall helped shaped my direction into social impact, and I look forward to continuing to working on initiatives that concretely deliver value to communities in need.
Find out more about the MPA-DP program here.