Undergraduate student Kevin Li, class of 2019, interviewed Naresh Kachoria as part of his 2018 summer internship experience with the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Kevin: Tell me a little about yourself and the path that brought you to what you are doing now?
Naresh: I’ve been fortunate to have had diverse career experiences that have been valuable along my journey to get to where I am today, founding and leading Step Up International. Before coming to the University of Maryland, I was working in marketing while doing a lot of volunteer work with organizations like the Boys & Girls Club and Home for Little Wanderers. After graduating from the Smith MBA program, I continued to volunteer with organizations in the Boston-area that were supporting and empowering young people, familes and refugees. What I discovered through volunteer work was that I was driven by a passion to help others – to help those who don’t have a voice gain access to opportunities so they can improve their lives. I remember being more excited to engage in my volunteer work than to go into the office for my marketing job. I reflected on what I was doing and how I could align what I was passionate about with work that I really cared about. So I started looking into how I could transition the valuable skills and experience I had gained through the MBA program, and from my marketing and business management experience, into work that was more mission-driven.
Kevin: Could you elaborate a bit more as to how you made that transition?
Naresh: Prior to making the transition into social impact work, I had worked in marketing consulting and business management. The more I looked into how I could apply business skills to mission-driven work, the more interested I became in issues related to education and the public education system, and so I started looking into opportunities in that sector. I was fortunate to be hired to run a business unit for a small education company providing academic services to young children and high school students. I learned a lot about the public education funding environment and the challenges families faced in supporting their kids to excel in school.
My next stop was at Harvard Business School where I partnered with internal clients implementing social enterprise initiatives and education projects for urban youth. As I learned more about nonprofit and social impact work, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in international education. I had always been interested in global development issues and the timing was right to take this next step. After receiving my degree, my family and I moved to Botswana, in southern Africa, where I worked for an international NGO that had received a five-year award from USAID. I was the project’s Economic Development Advisor and my role was to lead the design and execution of an economic development initiative that improved the lives of young people and families affected by HIV, poverty and other socio-economic challenges.
Kevin: How did your experience at Smith prepare you for this transition and to start working in this area that you’ve done so much in?
Naresh: As I progressed early in my career, I recognized that I needed to gain a stronger comprehension of finance, build quantitative skills and understand how to use data to make business decisions. So, I decided to pursue an MBA.
I got a lot more out of the MBA from the Smith School than I was expecting. I gained quantitative skills, but I also learned about strategic planning, collaboration, people management, technology, the regulatory environment, and how these elements jointly contribute to the decision-making process. Working with classmates on projects allowed us to put knowledge into practice, but those were also incredible opportunities to learn from peers who came from diverse backgrounds and from across the world.
All of this really helped make the transition to the nonprofit world easier - I was able to bring strategic thinking, adaptability and a focus on metrics and outcomes to the projects I was working on. Just as businesses must measure success, mission-driven organizations must use data to learn what works, what doesn’t work, and to adjust course when needed. Nonprofit and social impact organizations must hold themselves accountable for achieving their goals, just as a for-profit business does.
Kevin: What advice would you give to current Smith students interested in using their careers to make a difference?
Naresh: Just start. It seems so simple but those two words are so important. I know it’s hard to take that first step when you don’t have all the answers. There is a lot of anxiety, questioning, fear of failure, when you want to pursue something new or start your own business. I’ve been there, and I still go through those emotions. But I can tell you from experience, you don’t need to have everything figured out. If you just take a small step each day or week or month, you’ll begin to figure it out as you go. You’ll see that those small steps add up, and eventually, you’ll take a really big next step. It’s ok not to have all the answers, but don’t let that keep you from pursuing your passion. Just start with small steps to get you going.
The second suggestion, and it’s related to the first, is to not let the process get in the way. Any new endeavor will have twists and turns. Try to remain flexible. Expect the unexpected, but believe in your ability to navigate uncertainty. Be adaptable and trust that you know more than you think you know.
Kevin: Building on that, what advice do you have students pursuing a typical industry job but still want to do something in the realm of social good?
Naresh: I think there are now so many ways to get involved, whether you want to directly apply your Smith School knowledge in a social impact environment – your passion combined with business skills are invaluable – or if you want to get involved through crowdfunding for your favorite cause, raise awareness of issues through social media or volunteer a few times a month.
If there’s a social issue you’re passionate about, technology is making it easier to get involved, whether the cause is next door or across the world. But I will say that it’s a very competitive funding environment and mission-driven organizations are always looking for talented individuals to support their work. If you have an hour or a few hours a month to volunteer, there is no shortage of organizations that would welcome your help with anything from social media to fundraising to program support.
Kevin: Can you tell me a fun fact about yourself?
Naresh: I like to find creative places to hide at home and then scare my kids when they least expect it. When we were living in Botswana, as I was putting my kids to bed, I ran into the shower, closed the curtain and was waiting to scare them. When one of my kids turned on the light, I saw there was a spitting cobra inches away in the shower right next to me. I was too scared to scream, but thankfully the snake was subdued and we quietly left the bathroom closing the door behind us.