– Meet Alexandra, a global program manager at the McKinsey Social Initiative (MSI). A neuroscientist by training, she joined our London office as a business analyst about three-and-a-half years ago. She explored a mix of industries and functions, but served mostly retail and consumer clients and was promoted to the associate level. Then, about six months ago, Alex applied for a year-long fellowship with MSI to focus on social sector work and see more of the world.
Interviewer: Why did you apply for the MSI fellowship?
Alexandra: It felt spontaneous, yet in retrospect, there were a couple of things that led me to MSI. I’ve been passionate about social sector work, especially educating and empowering young people, throughout my time at McKinsey. Since 2013, I have co-lead the McKinsey Leadership Academy for our offices in the UK & Ireland. That program focuses on inspiring and training 17-18-year-olds, so MSI felt like the perfect way to take this work to a whole new level – full time and on a global scale. I was also ready for a change in terms of topic and geography. Now I focus on Project Generation, MSI’s first program that aims to improve employment prospects for young adults around the world. I work with teams across five continents in an exciting start-up environment tackling one of the biggest issues facing our generation.
Interviewer: What is your role with Project Generation?
Alexandra: One of the (many) things I love about MSI is the variety. Since we’re still a start-up, my role is shaped by Generation’s biggest priorities at any given time. For example, when I started, I focused on building our Kenya location. I worked with the local team to find employer partners, a training venue, program facilitators, and students. I’ve seen the program grow from 50 to more than 200 students in a class and from one location to three centers in Nairobi.
After three months in Kenya, my role shifted to growing and supporting our programs across all locations. I’ve worked on our recruiting strategy and building a stronger sense of community between our locations, among many other things.
Now, most of my time is spent analyzing our student data and learning from the past to innovate for the future. I’m learning to code – an entirely new experience for me. And I just returned to London after spending a month onsite in Madrid with Generation Spain.
I knew I was signing up for a host of new experiences when I took this fellowship; the reality has exceeded my expectations.
Interviewer: What have you learned from your experiences with MSI?
Alexandra: Every day with MSI is a learning experience. It’s shifted my mindset and taught me a wholly different attitude toward time management (which has been very necessary to surviving across 5-6 time zones and multiple work streams). I’ve visited a whole host of new cities and countries.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ll take away with me is the mantra to try, fail, try again, and fail better. With the rate MSI is growing, we have to test things quickly to evolve at the right pace. I’ve learned the value of experimenting and trusting I know the facts well enough to make the right decisions.
I’ve also learned to be calmer and more centered. I’ve had to adjust to an environment where everything changes daily, so there isn’t time to worry about the small stuff or the little things that would have fazed me.
There’s no doubt in my mind that my time at MSI will make be a better consultant when I return to client service next year. I’m looking forward to exploring new opportunities and I’ll stay in close touch with Generation and MSI.
Interviewer: It sounds like your days are very full. How do you unwind?
Alexandra: My work is intense, but it’s rare I leave the office without feeling energized. Since I travel so much, I spend my down time connecting with family and friends, in person when I’m in London or over Skype and FaceTime. When I’m not working, I also disconnect from the office and explore the places I visit. My safari in Kenya was a particularly memorable example. On the plane, an other-worldly novel, like those by my favorite author Terry Pratchett, always helps me unwind.