Jeff Fonda runs an Africa-based nonprofit alongside a full-time MBA at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
Started in college, The Literate Earth Project opens libraries at schools in Uganda, driving social impact. To date, Jeff’s helped start up 13 libraries – opening new libraries at a rate of four per year.
He built Uganda’s second public library in 2013. The country’s vice president attended a library opening in 2015. Last year, Jeff was named on the International Literacy Associations ’30-under-30’ list in recognition of his work.
Now, Jeff is looking to kick-start a career in business with an MBA at Fox. Where better? In 2016, Fox placed 100% of actively seeking MBA graduates into jobs.
Jeff’s just returned from an MBA immersion trip to Beijing and Shanghai in China. He’s currently on a summer MBA internship at IBM, which he got through the school.
Jeff’s taking a unique approach to his post-MBA jobs search – he’s only looking for jobs at the world’s most ethical companies.
How did the idea to start The Literate Earth Project come about?
I went to Uganda in the summer of senior year of my college undergrad. I was placed in a school there that had literally no books – those they did have were under lock and key in the headmaster’s office. I brought the books out in a study session, and you could see that this was the first time some kids had seen atlases, and different pictures of trees or animals.
The internet is not something people have big access to in Uganda. People have phones but the cost of data is too expensive. I saw how much impact a book could have. We’ve partnered with primary schools that provide a space for a library, then we come in with the books and train the staff.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start up their own nonprofit?
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult. There’s no space for startup money for nonprofits. Make sure you reach out to someone who’s already started one and get advice. We reached out to five dozen different organizations, and heard back from one person. They helped us avoid thousands of dollars’ worth of mistakes.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Fox?
Part of it was about gaining access to a high-quality network of alumni and recruiters. I definitely wanted to stay in this part of the country. With business schools like Yale or Wharton, it seems like the vast majority of students go into consulting. Fox had that wider reach.
The other was about getting a better understanding of the business world and what I could bring to it. I didn’t have much of a background in finance or accounting – I’ve been surprised with how much I’ve learned!
What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?
Look at how many students are getting jobs after they graduate. Post-MBA salaries are pretty consistent across the board in the US. But if at one school 60% of grads are getting jobs, and at another it’s 90%, you need to look at that. Fox has one of the highest placement rates in the country.
What stands out from your Fox MBA experience so far?
The professors are great and very much open to meeting, talking to you, and getting to know you on a much deeper level. I often talk politics and business with them, and there’s research projects you can go and work on with them. We’ve become quite close!
The immersion trip to China was a fantastic experience. I’ve travelled to 18 different countries, but this was very different. I think we talked to 14 different executives from different companies doing different things in China. We really got an idea of how you do business out there.
What are your plans for the future?
My approach to where I want to work post-MBA is slightly different to most students. I started out by looking at the ethical ratings of companies; those with ethical managers and a structure where things are handled fairly and appropriately for customers and employees. IBM completely falls within that.
I got my internship at IBM just by networking with a second-year MBA student at Fox. Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to even talk to these companies and get in front of recruiters without Fox.