Vanessa Ko is a second-year MGA/MBA student who wants to do it all. She is passionate about technology, business and humanitarianism – just to name a few topics. This summer, she found a way to combine her interests as a summer intern at a non-profit advisory firm in San Francisco, California and at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where she helped co-author a policy white paper on the different ways in which the humanitarian sector can use blockchain databases, a type of secure infrastructure that maintains a chain of records, called “blocks”. Ko tells us what inspired her to pursue all of her interests without compromise.

Describe your big “a-ha” moment.

Throughout my undergrad, I had a lot of different interests, namely technology, economics and humanitarian affairs. I had no idea how to fit them together. I was worried that I’d have to make the choice to stick to one interest and eliminate the others, which I didn’t want. I wanted to be able to do everything! I found during my first year at the Munk School that all of my interests can be combined. There are so many new jobs out there and if one doesn’t exist, there’s probably a need for it and I can create that job. Most importantly, I learned that I don’t have to silo myself into one thing. I can be someone who researches financial technology in the humanitarian sector and make that research useful for everyone.

What’s a global issue you’re passionate about and why?

My family moved to Canada from South Korea when I was two. My parents are entrepreneurs and I watched them encounter barriers such as not having access to services, or not knowing the language. Going through that personally made me passionate about economic access addressing inequalities in the system and changing things to make them more equitable. I think that economic development and income equality in underserved populations is such a huge issue. How can we make the world more equitable for people, whether using technology, business or humanitarianism?

What impact do you want to make on the world or your local community?

 I’d like to be someone who is able to create new ideas and change the way people look at issues surrounding economic access. One of the big frustrations I have is how people look at this problem with tunnel vision. A businessperson sees things from a business perspective. A field worker thinks about the field. I’d like to be able to bring everyone together so that we can collaborate to create a needed change.

Who or what has influenced you the most in life and why?

So many people! When I worked at the David Suzuki Foundation, I was having a hard time figuring out what my next step should be. Should I go to grad school? What kind of work should I pursue? One of the community organizers there told me to “do the thing that excites you the most, regardless of constraints. Pursue the thing you’re motivated by.” That made a big impact on me.

I also think all of the professors I’ve had throughout my academic career have been really amazing. When I began studying at the Munk School, I didn’t really understand how economic access, technology and humanitarianism intersect. But I learned that I could take these passions of mine and make a career out of them. That’s how I chose my two internships this summer. They were a blend of contrasting sectors, like technology and humanitarianism. I wanted to find spaces where I can blend my interests.

Tell us your personal philosophy.
Keep pushing yourself. Keep improving, constantly changing and being open-minded to whatever comes your way.

November 28, 2016