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Taking Time To Explore

Taking Time To ExploreFor Lauren Clark (A'06), a gap year between high school and college helped her discover a passion for international development that fueled in her time at Tufts.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.25.08] With the pressure of choosing a college and deciding on a career path looming in the average high school student's future, it can often be forgotten that these students are still just that: students. It comes as no surprise then that some graduating seniors are not quite ready to make these decisions.

For Tufts graduate Lauren Clark (A '06), giving herself a year between high school and college helped her define the path she wanted to take.

Called the gap year, the increasingly common practice of taking a year off between high school and college typically involves travel, sometimes work experience or even studies outside a traditional university structure. These varying experiences are tied together by the hope that they will yield some insight into the course of study a student would like to pursue.

"I wanted to postpone the whole application process and focus on my studies during senior year," Clark told The New York Times in a June 15 piece that profiled her gap year experience. So, she took a year and traveled, studying art history for a semester in Italy and doing aid work in a village in Ghana.

"My four months in Ghana turned out to be a defining experience. It introduced me to the field of international development," Clark said. "It was my first experience in a developing country, and it was my first hands-on field experience in development work for their village... I came back from that experience really wanting to work in international development."

This realization helped finalize her education plans, ultimately deciding on Tufts, with a major in international relations and economics.

The passion for international development which Clark discovered in Ghana continued on through her college career. She returned to Africa to study abroad in Cameroon her junior year, and stayed for the summer to help provide water to rural villages.

Clark decided to begin her career working in microfinance. Microfinance firms give "microloans" that help poor people in developing countries launch businesses.

After graduating, Clark worked for MicroVest, a microfinance firm based in Bethesda, Md. She recently moved on to a microfinance consulting firm, this time India-based Intelicap.

"The name actually stands for intellectual capital, so the company is based on the concept of using our intellectual capital to increase the value of companies who work in either microfinance or pro-poor sectors or companies," she explained.
Clark's new task is to develop the company's training efforts. "They want to create training workshops that we can provide to microfinance institutions not only in India, but within the region and potentially on a global scale."

According to Clark, this type of training is in high demand, especially in poorer areas around the world, as the microfinance industry expands. For developing economies and economies with a high level of poverty, the influx of capital based on investment rather than philanthropy represents a major step in establishing long-term business models.

Clark said she has seen the kind of positive effects that such work can have on communities, like the village in Ghana where she volunteered. But she couples her passion for the field with the education and experience in understanding that initiatives like microfinance are "not a silver bullet."

"It's not going to cure the global poverty problem that this world faces," she admits. "I don't think in those, what are to me, overly unrealistic or idealistic terms."

While she believes strongly in the promise of microfinance, Clark knows that economics and global development work in cycles and that new solutions can emerge from active, engaged minds not unlike her own.

"You read and you learn in these classes about the various cycles that have occurred throughout history in terms of international development and the models that arise, and everyone is like 'Oh, this is going to change the world,' and every twenty years there's a new model that comes up, and that rises and falls," said Clark. "Microfinance might be different, but I think that in twenty years it will be a different animal that is the current hot topic."

Either way, as Clark told The New York Times earlier this summer, her ultimate goal remains the same.

"I want to make a difference and improve the lives of people in impoverished countries around the world," she told the newspaper.

Profile by Hayden Reich, (A'09)

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