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Patrick Starr
Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

Class of 2014

Patrick Starr MBA ’14 knows that some people might consider his motivation for an advanced business degree unconventional.

“I didn’t come back to business school to chase the dollar. It’s not what I want to do,” he says.

After earning a degree in finance from the University of Notre Dame in 2008, Starr was on a more conventional MBA path as an associate in the McLean, Virginia, office of PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP. But after two years with the firm, he turned his focus to service. Starr joined the Peace Corps.

“I have always been interested in helping people,” he says, crediting his Catholicism and his early years in Tiger Cubs, his participation in the Boy Scouts, Eagle Scouts, and his experience as his high school’s student body president. “That sense of service is what spurred me to join the Peace Corps. After two years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I wanted to get my hands dirty and help people.”

Initially, Starr wanted an assignment in South America, but at his interview he learned most of the Peace Corps’s work is in Africa.

“I asked: ‘Where should I go?’ The answer was West Africa,” recalls Starr. “Then I said: ‘I don’t know French.’ ‘You’ll learn,’ they said.”

Learning and serving

Stepping outside his comfort zone, Starr accepted the assignment in Benin, a former French colony, although he knew communication would be a challenge.

“There was a big culture shock, but I credit my host family for helping me get past that,” he says. “They immediately accepted me as a member of the family. They took good care of me, and they were very patient as I learned French.”

The Peace Corps assigned Starr to work with the Moringa Association of Benin, a non-governmental organization established to educate the public about Moringa oleifera, a fast-growing tree that is known for its potential to alleviate malnutrition in tropical countries. Moringa leaves can be consumed fresh or turned into a dry powder for use as a health supplement.

Benin, a country about the size of Pennsylvania, is nestled between the countries of Togo and Nigeria. While food scarcity is rare in Benin, family diets often rely on corn and millet grains—foods that lack adequate amounts of protein and vitamins that growing children need. As a result, more than 12 percent of Beninese children die before their fifth birthday. More than half of those deaths are related to poor nutrition.

“When you’re in the bush far removed from the cities in Benin, you have very little access to nutritive food. That’s where Moringa comes in. It’s like a multivitamin growing on the doorstep,” says Starr.

During his two-year stint, Starr organized and conducted nutrition education sessions for pregnant and nursing women and children on how to best incorporate Moringa into their daily diets; helped teach farmers how to grow and harvest the plant; coordinated efforts to connect farmers and other Moringa producers with consumers such as local hospitals, 
health centers, and pharmacies; and taught the Beninese how to turn Moringa leaves into powder that is easily packaged, transported, and sold.

Making an impact

Now, as an MBA student in the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Starr is focused on the goal of honing his financial skills in preparation for a career in impact investing. “It is a career area that can combine my love of helping people, my Peace Corps experience, and my finance background in college,” he explains.

Impact investing refers to investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. Johnson’s strengths in finance and its connections with the impact-investing sector (through its Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and its Emerging Markets Institute), made Cornell the perfect choice for Starr.

“It goes back to a theme from the Boy Scouts—that wherever you go you should leave it better than when you found it,” he says. “I’ve sort of kept that as a mantra in my life—to leave any place that you go better than the way that you found it—and I felt that an MBA would give me the tools that I needed to hopefully make a change in the world.”

After graduation, Starr would like to work in the impact-investing sector, preferably with a company such as Root Capital or the Acumen Fund, as a loan innovation officer or a portfolio manager.

“That’s been my goal, the reason why I came back to business school,” says Starr. “I would love to find myself in one of those positions when I graduate, helping people like those I served in Africa, or helping others in similar situations around the world.”