Student Spotlight | Julia Iyo MBA ’17 | Project Pyramid Chair 2017

How did you first get involved with the TFC?

I got involved with the Turner Family Center through Project Pyramid. I took the course last year and quickly became impressed by the level of commitment of students, staff, and professors and the incredible wealth of experiences that each of them brought to class. The discussions led by Prof. Bart Victor were so rich and challenging, allowing us to contribute our unique perspectives from different disciplines. My experience in this course was so rewarding that it encouraged me to become President of Project Pyramid. I could not be happier about this decision. Despite the challenges of being part of a relatively young and growing organization, I am grateful for all the learning opportunities and the incredible professionals I met through the TFC. Furthermore, it is amazing to see how much the TFC has grown over the past year and the great initiatives that students are leading. Definitely, my experience at Owen would not be the same without Project Pyramid and the TFC.

What made you interested in Project Pyramid?

Project Pyramid is one of the reasons why I chose Owen and Vanderbilt. Prior to business school, I worked in the corporate social responsibility field in Peru, helping companies shape their sustainability and social impact efforts. When I heard about Project Pyramid, I quickly realized that it could offer me the opportunity to continue growing in that field while honing business-related skills. Three aspects set Project Pyramid apart: interdisciplinary approach, experiential learning opportunities, and a strong student leadership.

First, Project Pyramid’s interdisciplinary approach allows students to understand complex social issues from different perspectives by collaborating with people from different backgrounds. This translates into a richer learning environment that sets basis for in-depth analysis and well-rounded, innovative solutions. Second, students have the opportunity to travel to the partner organizations’ home country so that they grasp a better understanding of their partner’s unique challenges. Finally, Project Pyramid is a 100% student-led from curriculum to partnership development. These three aspects definitely make Project Pyramid unique, so I wanted to be part of it as soon as I got to know about the program.

Please briefly describe your role and responsibilities as the Project Pyramid president?

As president of Project Pyramid, I was responsible for setting the vision and goals of the program, in coordination with the Turner Family Center. I worked closely with Project Pyramid board to establish strong and sustainable partnerships with likely-minded organizations across the world, and to improve the students’ learning experience throughout the course. The continuity of partnerships is critical for Project Pyramid because we could create a broader impact as the knowledge and understanding of our partner organization grows over time.

As we look into the future of Project Pyramid, the TFC and the incoming Project Pyramid leadership are analyzing rising challenges in this field and how to better prepare students to be change agents. I am pretty sure that Carys – the incoming President – and her committee will do an amazing job.

How has your experience been holding this leadership position?

My experience has been challenging but incredibly rewarding. When I came to business school, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and find ambiguous problems that would push me to think critically and strategically. That’s exactly what a leadership position in Project Pyramid brought to me. The TFC has provided unparalleled institutional support, allowing Project Pyramid to operate at a different level. This aspect is reflected in the strength of our partner organizations this year, which range from smaller startups to larger and well-established social enterprises.

More importantly, I would like to acknowledge the amazing team I am part of. The Project Pyramid board – Sarah Stephanoff, Caroline Martin, Maheen Shakeel, Devyn Riley, Lorez Qehaja, and Taylor Moore – are so passionate about the program, and they had shown great commitment throughout the year. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with great professionals like them.

What were some of your key learnings?

From an academic perspective, Project Pyramid provided opportunities to understand social issues and how different approaches to poverty alleviation could impact end beneficiaries and other stakeholders. I plan to take this multi-stakeholder approach to my future job as a senior consultant at Deloitte. From a professional perspective, I learned about the value of listening. My leadership position in Project Pyramid exposed me to different work styles and I had to adapt my own style to be a better leader and team member. I am a better professional now because of Project Pyramid and the TFC.

What were some unexpected challenges and how did you overcome them?

This year, Project Pyramid faced the challenge of an increased professionalization and ensuring continuity, which is a great problem to have! Not many student-led organizations can proudly say they have been around for more than ten years. However, the constant transition of leadership year after year sometimes could create some information gaps. This issue has been already addressed thanks to the collaboration with the TFC. It has provided tools and resources that helped us focus our efforts and become more impactful.

Additionally, the complex and changing environment in which our partner organizations are immersed implied some additional planning challenges in terms of traveling and security. These issues will be addressed with a more thorough analysis of partners that allow us to identify those problems in advance.

What is some advice you would give to someone hoping to delve into the field of social entrepreneurship?

Somebody told me once: “Let your eyes follow the dream, but keep your feet on the ground”. I believe that such expression is very descriptive of the social entrepreneurship field because it requires practical and concrete solutions to great human problems. Thus, I would suggest that you learn as much as you can while you are in school. Rarely, do we have all the answers when facing complex social issues and having a wide wealth of knowledge can help you find patterns in the noise and create the solutions that will drive social change.

Also, build on your strengths! Self-knowledge is incredibly important for any kind of leadership, whether corporate or social. You will most likely work with people from different backgrounds and disciplines, thus knowing what your strengths are can accelerate your professional path. And when you lack some of the skills needed, surround yourself with great people that are as passionate as you.

Finally, take any opportunity you can to explore this field. The TFC has different initiatives for students, so definitely get involved!