Atlanta, GA, US
Risk Manager, Ernst & Young LLP Atlanta
The Real World: EY Earthwatch Edition
Let me tell you about the first time in my life where I knew that my purpose fully aligned with my career. It was my third year out of school and I pondered what EY’s purpose of “building a better working world,” meant to me. Through my experience as an EY-Earthwatch Ambassador in 2013, I was finally able to formulate my own definition; We were working to solve problems for the people around us so that the world is a better place for all.
When our group first met, it felt like an episode of MTV’s classic reality show, The Real World. I could almost hear it in my head: “This is the true story of 10 top-performing strangers picked to live in a house in the middle of the Atlantic rain forest with no phone, TV, or internet, and forced to work together on biodiversity research and ecotourism. Find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. The Real World: Earthwatch!”
One component of the EY-Earthwatch Ambassadors program was to develop a pitch to increase ecotourism in the Guaraqueçaba region of Brazil. To meet the tourism board’s goals, we needed to conduct sound research, create revenue projections, and highlight the societal and economic impacts in a strategic plan. This is when things got real! We discovered pretty quickly that this would be difficult with only a couple of laptops and no internet or contact with the outside world.
To learn about the region, we toured local art shops, tapioca processing plants, natural waterfalls and most notably, incredible restaurants. We ate bananas right off the trees (if you’ve never done this, I guarantee you don’t truly know what a banana tastes like), saw tapioca transformed, and devoured seafood caught minutes before.
While we loved trail running and swimming in natural pools, we knew without a doubt that the food would be what drew people here. Therefore, we decided to focus on the area’s amazing cuisine in our proposal for the tourism board. The ambassadors teamed together to interview stakeholders and used our exploration of the region to design different time-based tours and experiences.
The local residents were so incredibly happy with the plan we put together, and we were pleased to learn that they had already begun discussing plans for a food tour. It was a great feeling to know that our work had helped provide them with the tools to deliver on this vision and that we had created something that future visitors would proudly give five-star reviews on TripAdvisor.
When we left the region, we felt as if we had really contributed to building a better working world — from helping Earthwatch scientists with their environmental research to aiding the incredible people in Brazil’s poorest region to develop a new revenue stream.
The trip also inspired me to continue volunteering my time following the conclusion of the project. Once I returned home to Atlanta, I re-engaged with Earthwatch and also began working once again with my mentees from College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence) — another EY corporate responsibility programs, focused on education — to plant trees around their neighborhoods.
Although I’ve moved on from EY, the organization’s three tenets of corporate responsibility — education, entrepreneurship and equity in the workplace — still guide how I live my life. Every day, I aim to empower my team so they work better, build up my community to help it harness its youthful and innovative spirit, and support my ecosystem.
Leveraging many of the skills I learned during my EY employment, and drawing on the courage I gained from my Earthwatch experience, I moved to Nigeria to continue walking in my purpose and perhaps star in a new Real World Episode; Entrepreneurship (insanity) in Nigeria. I now work with a group of FinTech entrepreneurs to support and invest in 21 companies and counting. We have built our own business worth over $70 million dollars, which develops solutions for Nigeria’s aviation, power, education, financial services and social investment sectors.
Today, I know I’m helping to build a better working Nigeria, Africa and world.