Friedman Student Emery “Hattie” Brown was one of three people recently selected by the Kirchner Foundation to form an investment team that will manage a portfolio with funds to invest in companies and organizations focused on new agricultural technologies and social enterprise in the interest of global food security.
As a team, the trio will develop an investment mandate which includes specific criteria for the benefiting organizations to meet. A large part of the project will involve research; “…seeing who’s out there, and who’s on the cusp of a really amazing approach,” said Brown. “We’ll also be receiving intensive training about investment and capital allocation– The investment decisions will ultimately lie with us. It’s incredibly exciting.”
The Kirchner Food Fellowship is a unique and innovative impact investment program that harnesses the power of millennials to find, fund, and assist promising socially responsible agricultural businesses. Now entering its sixth year, the program is the world’s only fellowship dedicated to developing and implementing issue-focused, lean impact investment models and educating the next generation of capital allocators.
Through her previous professional experience, Hattie has gathered a unique combination of skills that dovetail with the mission of the Kirchner Food Fellowship. After college, she went to work in finance, starting out with administrative work and eventually turning her focus to compliance and regulatory matters within the banking world. Four years in, Hattie decided to switch gears and pursue a career in food and agriculture policy. “I went to lots of conferences and started volunteering while trying to figure out exactly which sector I might be interested in doing work in,” she said. “I’ve been passionate about food my whole life but didn’t see myself becoming a dietician. When I found Friedman, I thought: This is the perfect marriage of all of my interests– food security and access, production and supply chain management, and policy that fosters a more equitable food supply.”
Friedman ended up being the only school Hattie felt the need to apply to. “Friedman offered this incredible holistic view of the food system, which is exactly the way I wanted to approach health and nutrition– through food security.” Next month marks her second year in the Food and Nutrition Policy and Programs program at the school.
The Kirchner Fellowship will provide Hattie with an opportunity to experience food and agriculture focused work in the private sector, a useful counterpoint to her current fellowship in DC at an international development project under the umbrella of the USDA Foreign Agricultural Services.
The question of whether one can make a greater impact working in the government, or in the private sector, is one Hattie often considers. Her time at the USDA has been a valuable, eye-opening experience. “I sit in this seat and I think, ‘wow, the potential you have here to make a big impact is incredible. There are big budgets— one project could potentially benefit 150,000 people.” In government, often the needle doesn’t move in a big way, but it’s not supposed to, Hattie explained. “I find a career in government so compelling. Having been here now, I finally understand that it’s not the job of a career government employee to influence policy, but to inform it and find creative ways to implement it.” Those who devote their careers to government service are able to take the long view, Hattie said. “That’s what allows programs and initiatives to ride these massive tidal waves from administration to administration. It takes a special kind of person to pursue that work, to have that foresight and perseverance.”
Conversely, Hattie acknowledges the opportunities and benefits of working in the private sector. “They have all the toys, and there’s more resources and less constraint in employing them.” However, she argued, there’s no silver bullet solution. The concept of public/private partnership is a big topic these days. “I think the biggest impact will come about with policy change, Input from the private sector in the form of expertise and capital, in concert with the work of NGOs. No one solution works in isolation.”
In the future, Hattie hopes to explore solutions for funding mechanisms in the developing world. Although the Kirchner Food Fellowship is just beginning, she believes the experience will be highly applicable in achieving this goal. On her current trajectory, Hattie stated “I enjoy the work I’m doing so much more than I ever imagined. You rarely get to reflect on your life as it’s happening, and now that I am, I see how cyclical my experience has been. I’ve come full circle from my undergraduate career in International Relations and first job in finance. It’s a funny phenomenon. The quality of the education at Friedman has benefited me so much in this process. The Friedman School provides an incredible education and network– I’m very proud of it.”