“The open learning environment with small classes encouraged questioning and independence….It also taught me a level of discipline and core skills as well as the confidence to be able to take on challenging projects… [and] take risks.”
When Trushna Patel ’97 was growing up in Washington, DC, she traveled frequently to East Africa and India where her parents spent their childhoods. Trushna was struck by the inequities between her upbringing in DC and the poverty and suffering of children in lesser developed countries.
Since Trushna’s father worked for the World Bank, dinner conversations often centered on poverty alleviation and international development programs, and Trushna became well versed on these topics. “I felt I couldn’t just stand by and that these issues were real and personal for me; I wanted to be a part of a solution. I believe Maret nurtured that feeling as a very international school and by promoting a strong sense of ethics with the academics, and by encouraging community service and environmental responsibility,” Trushna explains.
After Maret, Trushna completed her B.A. in economics and international relations at Brown University and received her master’s degree in development studies at the London School of Economics. During her three summers in college, Trushna interned with the U.S. State Department, including a posting in Mauritania, which further fueled her interest in African nations. After completing her master’s program, Trushna began working with the Corporate Council on Africa on a trade promotion program for West Africa. “It was a great first job,” Trushna relates, “I was covering 18 countries in West Africa as part of a two-person team, and I travelled throughout the region trying to promote trade and business deals between American and West African companies. Not the easiest task, but we did have some success and it was a real eye opener for me as to the realities on the ground and challenges of development in Africa.”
After a couple of years, Trushna decided that she needed some experience in the field. She started working with a Gandhian NGO in India called the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an organization that also partners with Maret’s summer program in India. “What started out as a six-month project became a year and half and one of the formative experiences of my life so far,” Trushna describes. The earthquake rehabilitation project took Trushna to Kutch, Gujarat in Western India to help rural people rebuild their livelihoods after a massive earthquake in 2001. She worked with women to promote informal group savings and credit, train and connect them to SEWA’s natural resource management, and further promote health and education. They were an inspiration to Trushna, and it was this experience that led her to microfinance and ultimately her current job at Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM) based in Geneva, Switzerland. AKAM owns and operates microfinance banks across Africa and South and Central Asia. Her primary responsibility is to raise capital for these banks to provide desperately needed loans and other financial services to over a million clients in 10 countries.
When Trushna reflects on her time at Maret, she is quick to note, “My 13 years at Maret really built a strong foundation for me that helped me succeed in college and in my work today. The open learning environment with small classes encouraged questioning and independence… .It also taught me a level of discipline and core skills as well as the confidence to be able to take on challenging projects…[and] take risks…qualities that have proven very useful in my work.” Trushna took full advantage of the many opportunities that Maret provided studying in France and on Sanibel Island in the summers, and engaging in Maret’s various community service programs. She credits her Maret teachers with giving her the most valuable and fundamental set of writing and communications skills that she applied throughout college and each and every day at work. And, the greater world is better for it.