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MBA Quits Corporate Job To Travel The World As A Volunteer

IE Business School MBA Adam Pervez is running down the savings he made as an oil rig engineer to fund his indefinite

By  Ifeatu Nnaobi

Wed Jun 20 2012

IE Business School grad Adam Pervez quit  a secure job at Siemens last summer to travel the world helping locals communities. We caught up with him during a brief pit stop in London to find out what it's like to be "Chief Happiness Officer" of your own life, and why he quit the corporate world.

Prior to IE Business School Adam worked as a field engineer for oil services giant Schlumberger. He graduated from IE Business School's one-year MBA programme in 2009, and took up a role as a Business Development Specialist with Siemens Wind Power. The move into renewable energy was a deliberate one, to "atone" for his sins in the oil industry, but it wasn't enough.

After ten months,  Adam Pervez quit his well-paid job to travel around the world pursuing his passions of volunteering, writing, and teaching. He describes this drastic step as his “Happiness Plunge” and he kicked off his "Happy Nomad Tour" in Mexico last August.

Adam has made his way around Central and South America volunteering in countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. 

BusinessBecause met Adam in London this week, where he was spending just 12 hours before heading to Singapore to for the Asian leg of his tour. As this story is published, Adam has been a "happy nomad" for 315 days and 13 hours. 

Dressed in a red jersey and blue jeans, only his trekking shoes and his deep tan gave away the fact that he was not your everyday Londoner. We sat on the terrace of London's South Bank Centre, with a magnificent view of the Thames, the London Eye and Big Ben for our conversation. My aim was to understand why someone who seemingly had all he wanted in terms of a career would leave it to go on a vacation. Or was this some sort of career sabbatical?!

In the 90 minutes we spent together Adam had plenty of stories to share. As a 23-year-old he had spent time offshore on oil rigs in Abu Dhabi, Scotland and Qatar. He said he sometimes spent days away from civilization and the only exercise available was doing laps on the rig's helipad. But the pay was good, tax-free and he was young with few responsibilities. Not a big spender, Adam ended up saving loads. 

Adam’s current job as Chief Happiness Officer at Happinessplunge.com is miles away from his days at the oil rigs and his post-MBA role at Siemens.

Adam's plan is to live a life without the stresses of a corporate job and travel around the world, helping the communities he meets, and going wherever the journey takes him.  He says that in his attempts to give back, he usually ends up gaining proportionally more than he has given: “This trip is like my university. The amount I learn everyday is more than I ever gained in all my school years combined”.

His volunteer work includes installing solar panels for homes in Honduras. Adam was volunteering with El Camino a la Superacion, a co-operative composed of indigenous Mayan women and their families who make artistic goods. He first helped them build a website so that their goods could have a wider reach and immediately afterwards the idea of the solar panels came up. 

He went on to teach other villagers how to install solar panels which was, he says, one if his best experiences so far.

His first voluntering assignment was in Mexico, cleaning out dog cages at a shelter called El Perro Abandonado (The Abandoned Dog) in San Luis Potosi. On arrival the only Spanish word he understood was 'Limpiar' meaning 'Clean' and he agreed to it. 

Adam thinks the workers at El Perro Abandonado must have wondered why this Gringo (slang term for a white person) who told them he was an engineer was cleaning out dog shit in Mexico. BusinessBecause had also picked up on that and asked why he was cleaning dog shit in Mexico. "Its all about changing perceptions", he said.

He continued, "I saw a magnet on there which is the same magnet I have at home on my fridge. It has Gandhi’s quote ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ and Gandhi is one of my heros. I wanted to tell the lady in charge this but my Spanish wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t think of the word for magnet”. 

Adam said that people often wonder how he can afford to do this and whether he’s been travelling luxuriously. In reality, he earned a lot of money working out in the Middle East and while employed in Demark he was on a salary of $105,000 per year, although more heavily taxed this time, so he has a lot of savings.

We took a shot at guessing how much Adam had spent on the trip so far. $3,500 was the BusinessBecause estimate, but only because Adam mentioned he travelled all over the Americas by bus, stayed rent free where possible, and ate only cheap street food if he had to buy any. This happy nomad had stayed in rooms with as little furnishing as a mat to sleep on and sometimes with cockroaches flying over his head. In total, he had actually spent approximately $5,000. 

The lowest points on the trip were getting robbed twice. Luckily, Adam escaped without getting hurt and with his essential possesions.

The highest points, aside from erecting solar panels, include getting to see the world through the eyes of kids. Adam spent time volunteering at kids' orphanages, teaching them English or playing with them at the homes of people he stayed with. "Before this trip, I saw kids as aliens because I didn’t get many chances to interact with them. I remember this five-year-old kid in El Salvador giving me something to read because she liked my accent”, he said.

“I got to see how the kids' view of the world is simple. There is no concept of poverty or perceived danger and the smallest things make them happy. At one of the places I volunteered, two little kids came to serve me sweet bread and tea through the window. They ran away laughing and squealing . I remember they had no indoor plumbing. I had never imagined serving someone something could bring you that much joy”

It's a message that Adam wants to take to MBAs all over the world. While in Costa Rica and in Peru, Adam got the chance to speak to business school students and share his experiences and journey with them.

MBAs are a target world for Adam because it was during his time at IE Business School that he understood the meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility and learned that we can all do our bit to live more sustainably. 

"Most people on the MBA are there for change so they are already thinking about their lives. It is only about planting the seed for people who want to know more to let them know that there are opportunities out there", he said. 

Adam’s travels will take him to India where he plans to walk Gandhi's salt path, a 240-mile trek from from Sabarmati to Dandi. It was a non-violent march protesting the British Salt Tax  in 1930. “It will be an honour to walk in Gandhi's footsteps and will be also be time for meditation”, said Adam.

As we wound down, Adam painted a picture of being on a mission that is ultimately about learning, growing and sharing. It doesn't come across as facile or prententious, rather it exudes simplicity. As he puts it: "The world is beautiful. It just depends on how you see it". 

Will the happy nomad ever stop travelling? We touched on sticky situations such as romantic entanglements but it seemed that was already covered. Adam met a special lady out in Peru but they're keeping things long distance for now although they may well be meeting up in India later in the year. 

So it seems that this nomad won't be getting "vaccinated against the travel bug" any time soon. If and when he does get tired of travelling, Adam envisions applying his MBA skills to set up tourist locations that  will plug their profits into local causes. He called this "Tackling poverty from the bottom of the pyramid".

For now, he is staying on the road. "I have accumulated so much in my travels and I hope to accumulate more and then spend the rest of my life doing good with all I've learned", said Adam. 


Adam taking the plunge into the Caribbean


Adam at Machu Pichu


Adam in Cartagena, Colombia


Adam with the Panama City skyline from Cerro Ancon


Rappelling down a waterfall in Ecuador


Selling bread in the streets of Arequipa, Peru for Rayo de Sol


Volunteering at the dog shelter in Mexico


Setting up solar panels in Honduras


Read more about students doing an MBA in Europe here