Alumni / January 25, 2019

Building Bridges Between U.S., Africa

Rashida Petersen, Undergraduate '03

Rashida Petersen, Undergraduate '03

Different environments pose different challenges, which is why international business developer Rashida Petersen ’03 says seeking information about local contexts is more important than ever.

As the founder and CEO of 1847 Philanthropic, a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm specializing in the financial stability of organizations in developing countries, Petersen takes a “first, do no harm” approach to her work.

To achieve long-term viability of her organization's development initiatives overseas, she focuses on understanding the local conditions and challenges of each culture.

“When you actually have to run a business in another country, having to pivot between perceptions and reality to solve issues is critical, especially when doing it in a culturally sensitive way,” she says.

Petersen, born in St. Croix, moved to Colorado at a young age with her family. She says her desire to further her education and experience other cultures led her to Maryland Smith, where she studied international business.

Together, she and her roommate became the first African American students accepted in the Hinman CEOs Program. She credits the program, and the financial support it provided, with enabling her to complete her degree.

Since graduating from Smith in 2003, Petersen has pursued development initiatives in Africa with 1847 Philanthropic.

Her latest project, DIA-Fund, is a mobile fundraising platform that connects community-based organizations in Africa with diaspora organizations in the United States. Through her work, Petersen has seen firsthand how sustainability and financial funding are two sides of the same coin.

“Why 1847 Philanthropic is special is because we focus on the money side,” Petersen says. “I find that that is really where the missing piece is. It is one thing to train somebody on program management software, but if those organizations are not able to actually bring in that level of funding that they need to sustain those programs, those programs will not exist.”

In addition to securing funding for her initiatives, Petersen emphasizes the importance for students to acquire internships and experiences abroad, as well as learn how to adjust to different personalities and cultures.

She says this approach has not only benefited her career, but it is essential for the next generation of leaders.

“I have been trying to figure out ways to continue my career and pursuit of a world with no extreme poverty, but also looking at how that can be done in a more sustainable way,” Petersen says. “I truly believe that people within their communities, whether that be in the U.S. or internationally, have to be the ones that lead.”

- Pablo G. Suarez is a marketing communications writer at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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