Alumni Spotlight – Kate McElligott

In May 2013, the first cohort of students graduated from the School of International Service (SIS) with Masters of Arts in Social Enterprise. They are now working in different fields, ranging from microfinance to impact investing; from women economic development to higher education, among others. This week, we are featuring Kate McElligott, who currently works as the Senior Manager for Strategic Partnerships at Grameen Foundation. Kate shares her experience with the Social Enterprise program and also some very helpful advice for current as well as prospective social enterprise students.

Kate McElligott

Can you give us a 30-second introduction of yourself?

My name is Kate McElligott and I’m an alumnus of the SIS MA in Social Enterprise program. I was honored to be a member of the “founding cohort”. I have ten years of experience in economic development, fundraising and marketing. I began my career as a consultant and have now been at Grameen Foundation for four years playing various roles. My current role is developing a comprehensive thought leadership strategy across our global footprint. I’m also responsible for managing key global strategic accounts including donor relationships, partners and alliances.

How does it feel to be a Social Enterprise Alumna?

I decided to work while I was in school and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m very proud of what I accomplished during my time at SIS and how it’s enabled me to do a better job at Grameen Foundation in the short term and how it will benefit my career in the long term. It was an adjustment to be in a structured learning environment again and I’m excited about taking what I studied and applying it in creative ways at work.

What was your favorite class? What was your favorite professor?

One of my favorite things about the degree was its flexibility. I was encouraged to design my own concentration and decided to take classes both at SIS and the Kogod School of Business. I think this approach made for more diverse conversations and learning. At SIS I really enjoyed NGO Private Sector Engagement course offered by Professor Tomasko. It involved reading about the challenges and opportunities that NGOs and private sector companies face when working together and explored the concepts of Michael Porter’s shared value in great detail. It was also valuable in that it brought in experts from outside NGOs and companies in corporate social responsibility roles to provide candid insights into those roles.

What was one important turning point during your time at SIS that influenced your professional path?

There was something really special about my first semester at SIS that I will never forget. It was during those few months that I forged new relationships with fellow students – social activists, strategic thinkers, and global social entrepreneurs. It was a transformation to become a student again after 7 years in international development and I remember the articles, books and reports I read but mostly the discussion we had in class debating current issues on economic theory and our post-financial crisis reality. I learned so much from my professors, classmates, and special guest speakers. I will look back at that first semester very fondly.

What did you like most about the program? Why did you choose the Social Enterprise Program at SIS?

I like the focus on experiential learning, the access to professionals outside of class, the flexibility of the courses and the balance of management and business skills with other more academic-based theories. I chose the program because I knew I wanted to continue to work in the social enterprise space but expand my knowledge base and skill set. For me it was the perfect opportunity to do so.

Why did you chose SIS?

I spent several years comparing various programs including international relations degrees (which seems too theoretical) and MBA programs (which seemed too prescriptive). I knew I wanted to stay in the field of social enterprise but I wanted a mix of academic theory and practical learning. When I learned about the framework for the social enterprise program – rooted in international development – I knew it was the right fit for me. I’m even more committed and passionate about how social enterprise can revolutionize emerging markets by building economic opportunities for the poorest citizens. I’m excited to contribute as a budding leader in the field.

How has the program helped you achieved your professional development goals?

The program helped me dive deeper into current management and development trends and round out my skill set in tangible ways. I believe this was possible because of the program’s emphasis on both a theoretical learning process as well as action-oriented learning. For example, I was able to dive deeply into design thinking based on IDEO methodology which we use at Grameen Foundation to develop financial products for the poor. Through the leadership classes we took I was able to learn and understand power dynamics and the underpinnings of change management and how I relate to power, leadership and change based on findings from Myers Briggs testing and personal experiences.

What would you like to share with current /prospective SE students?

I would encourage prospective students to think hard about what they want to achieve with their careers at least in the short term and what skills they need to accomplish those goals. They should then compare what the SE program has to offer to see if it can help them build on their strengths while also filling out gaps. For me, I knew I wanted to stay in the same career but grow in the breadth of my abilities outside fundraising specifically. The degree has build on those business development and marketing competencies but has built upon that so I can be a strategic leader more broadly. It’s been an exciting journey.

How do you make a difference in the world?

I’m passionate about disrupting the way international development works. It’s not about ‘borrowing’ for profit models and importing them into the non-profit world. It’s about finding new and creative ways to solve problems together in ways that are uncomfortable, or even quite obvious. I will continue to contribute to the strategy and development of Grameen Foundation’s work to alleviate poverty through market-based solutions in emerging markets. I’m excited about how we can leverage the mobile revolution to provide the poor with appropriate and viable financial and information services that will enable them to help themselves and their families. I get excited about economic empowerment and how liberating and empowering it can be.

World issue of interest?

Economic inequality; Emerging market economic development; NGO-Private sector partnerships; Development management

Professional role model?

Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2006 and Founder, Grameen Bank

Favorite book?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Betty Smith, A Brave New World; Aldous Huxley

Favorite movie?

The Usual Suspects; neo-noir film by Brian Singer

Thank you very much!

To learn more about Grameen Foundation and Kate’s current works, visit: and follow her on Twitter @MceKate

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