Why are you here and not somewhere else?

From the first day I walked through the doors of Harper Center last summer, I may have heard “why are you here and not somewhere else?” about a thousand times. And if you haven’t heard this Booth mantra yet… you definitely will. In fact, this mantra is even a popular installation of the infamous Chicago Booth art collection. Simply put, this is the million dollar question. Imagine me before B-school… I’m in a room of around 500 Zambian students; all bright, eager and vulnerable. My Kucetekela team only have a year to develop applications that will further the education of Zambian generations to follow. I am teary eyed because of the cycle of academic inefficiency and inaccessibility that breeds poverty from the lowest to the highest levels in developing nations. I am faced with selecting the “talented tenth,” having to leave behind the other portion of Zambia’s student population without the proper solution. I raise my head, dry my eyes, and pray for the many students the startup’s efforts cannot reach. I am hopeful that if some succeed, each student can support many others.

In African-American Christian vernacular, “standing in the gap” is to intercede on behalf of those struggling spiritually and emotionally to make their prayers heard by God. In my role with Kucetekela Foundation, I serve as an advocate for academically gifted, impoverished youth by assisting students to learn and flourish academically through free educational services & tech applications. As I get to know the students, many of whom are orphans with life stories that have brought me to my knees in grief, I realize that I have and will always sacrifice my own agenda to stand in the gap for those in need.

However, my goal is not only to intercede, but to devise mechanisms that allow the needy to bridge and close gaps for themselves. I thought that I knew poverty, hardship and struggle. As the de-facto 3rd parent of my brother and sister, I have always been keenly aware of and duly motivated by financial difficulties. With two unemployed parents at the height of the Great Recession, our home was near foreclosed on. Through this experience and hardship, I learned to make do, so my family could make ends meet. This adversity grew heavy in my heart like weights used on a bench press and it shaped my outlook like cookie cutter.

So, now fast forward to THE DECISION: When I was considering taking a Princeton Fellowship to go to Zambia, I agonized over leaving everything comfortable (family, friends, street lights, GOSH – Just plain familiarity) to take on one of the third world’s toughest social issues: scaling effective and efficient education. However, I recognized two things (1) how vital my contributions to the student beneficiaries of the Kucetekela Foundation would be and (2) how invaluable this experience would be to my personal growth and professional development.

As I worked with the Zambian students, I recognize the parallels of our experiences. We are all driven to succeed to be in a position to help family, community, country and continent. As I worked in the city of Lusaka in Zambia, I found purpose in the many days during my adolescence spent fretting over whether we would have a roof over our heads or food on the table; the moments of hopelessness when I questioned God’s motives for allowing the torment of my faithful family. In this moment, I am “remembering in the light what I learned in the darkness.”

So why a Booth MBA? So, as I experienced life in Zambia, I evolved my mission to leverage private equity as a sustainable model to scale effective education in developing countries with the goal of eliminating dependency on what Zambian author Dambisa Moyo calls “Dead Aid”.  Her book offers proposals for developing countries to finance development, instead of relying on foreign aid, on the premise that limitless assistance to African governments fosters dependency, encourages corruption, and perpetuates poverty thereby hindering economic growth.

In closing, at this time in my life, I was at a crossroads of staying on the continent and working as chief of staff for a top boarding school or applying to business school to gain the skills and business acumen needed to scale effective education and address some of African’s toughest social issues. After continuous experiences like mentioned above, I realized that I would be more prepared to achieve my mission to scale effective and efficient education across the continent if I pursued a degree that gave me the skills to analyze problems and implement change. This is my why… What’s your why?

This article was written by Gordon Taylor, a rising second year student at Chicago Booth interested in using private capital to build and support organizations that promote economic change in Africa.

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