Harvard Kennedy School. At the Harvard Kennedy School, she was the recipient of the Center for International Development travel scholarship and the Women and Public Policy’s Roy Family Internship Program fellowship. She also co-chaired the International Bridge Builders Conference that convened grassroots leaders from developing countries to exchange experiences and gain skills. Upon graduating from Tufts University in 2002, with a BA in International Relations, Magna Cum Laude and high thesis honors, Karina received the Samuel Huntington Public Service Award and spent one year developing the Esperanza Cultural Center in a shantytown in Santiago, Chile. In 2008, when Karina completed her studies at the Harvard Kennedy School, she moved to Mexico and held leadership positions in diverse social change organizations dedicated to poverty alleviation. When she returned to the United States in 2012, she worked as a Program Associate at the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. (AJLI), where she provided capacity-building services to the organization to strengthen its community impact programs. From 2013 to 2015, she was successively a fellow at We Are All Brooklyn and Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations (COJECO). Currently, Karina is leading FXB USA, an international development organization, by developing a broad base of support for FXB programs, building a strong evidence base for FXB’s impact and expanding its presence in the U.S. In her free time, Karina loves to spend her time with her two children.
Our Interview with Karina
What schools did you attend for undergrad and grad school?
I attended Tufts University from 1998 until 2002. I majored in International Relations with a focus on Latin America. I graduated with high thesis honors. Four years after completing my undergraduate studies, I enrolled at Harvard Kennedy School, where I received a Master in Public Policy with a concentration in Political and Economic Development.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I was born in Odessa, Ukraine in the former Soviet Union. I moved to the United States when I was eleven years old. My immigration experience deeply marked my personal and professional trajectories. Initially I struggled to adjust to a new life and culture in the United States. After having lived in the United States now for over a quarter of a century, I realize how privileged I am to have accessed opportunities to study at elite institutions, explore the world, and most importantly to be able to dedicate my life to doing what I love. I lived abroad for about five years. I spent one year in Santiago, Chile setting up a library in a shantytown. I lived in Mexico for four years where I worked in social development and explored the beautiful country and its cuisine. I now live in Brooklyn, NY and I feel very grounded in my community since I am raising children here. In 2014, I completed the We Are All Brooklyn Fellowship program in order to understand the challenges facing my community. I finally found a balance between being rooted in one place, focusing on my local community, while staying very connected to global development and affairs.
What was your career like before grad school and what is it like now?
Before graduate school, I was very set on always working for direct service non-profit organizations. I wanted to improve the lives of underserved communities and I believed that providing direct services was the most effective way to help people. I also had an opportunity to connect my Jewish identity to my passion for social justice at the Workmen’s Circle, a secular Jewish organization dedicated to progressive values. Since completing graduate school, I have a much deeper and nuanced understanding of the root causes of poverty and inequality and more effective tools such as advocacy and capacity building. I focused on acquiring diverse sectoral experience such as working for government, non-profit, and the private sector. I realized that my passion was strengthening the capacity of social change institutions to create transformative social change. I currently lead a US affiliate of an international development organization, defining its strategic direction, engaging in global development dialogue, and building a broad base of support in the United States for its poverty alleviation work in developing countries.
What influenced you to go to grad school?
I am passionate about eradicating poverty and inequality. After working directly with underserved communities, I felt that direct service work was not enough. I wanted to understand the systemic root causes of these issues so that I could make a greater and more lasting impact. Beyond seeking professional growth, I wanted to continue learning, to be surrounded by an intellectual and passionate community of peers, and access new learning opportunities.In graduate school, I gained a much more nuanced perspective on the issues of poverty and inequality, tools to effect change such as advocacy and capacity-building, and a deeper understanding of the importance of cross-sectoral partnerships. Beyond my academic and extracurricular experiences at Harvard Kennedy School, I actively sought additional learning experiences such as business plan project in New Orleans through the Harvard Business School and a negotiations course at Harvard Law School.
What was the most challenging part of the application process for you?
I have very diverse passions. I knew I loved helping people so I thought a degree in social work could be interesting. I also knew that I wanted to understand public policy in order to address systemic causes of poverty. I am also very passionate about global affairs, being an immigrant and having lived abroad. Therefore, I applied to three different master degree programs: Social Work, Public Policy, and International Affairs. I believe that I applied to over ten schools. The most challenging part of the application was tailoring my essays to the different degree programs, basically recounting the same personal trajectory but through a slightly different lens depending on the program. I was accepted to every graduate school that I applied to.
Tell us one of your favorite memories from graduate school.
Most people think about graduate school as a necessary step for professional growth, networking, higher salary, etc. In retrospect, my degree has given me so much more than just professional growth. The personal and professional network of peer and alumni from the Harvard Kennedy School is the most invaluable asset I take away from graduate school. I was constantly inspired by their commitment to public service, diverse professional backgrounds, and intellectual curiosity. My favorite memories include all of the times I spent with my classmates, whether working intensely on group projects, exchanging our perspectives on the high level Forum speakers, or planning our dance for the talent show. Almost nine years since graduation, I have very close friends I can turn to for support and a really wide network of professional peers in diverse sectors who are open and willing to collaborate on projects. (In 2015, I made a documentary about Soviet Jewish women during World War II with one of my classmates from Harvard Kennedy School.)
How long have you been with TAOA and what led you to join the team?
I have been with TAOA since September 2016. I remember feeling daunted during the application process for graduate school. I wanted to provide guidance and support that I believe would have been very helpful to me. I really enjoy editing essays and providing feedback so I knew I would have a lot of fun reading essays and guiding clients to craft essays that reflect both their professional ambitions and also their personal passions.
Would you say you have any specialties when it comes to client work? If so, what are your specialties?
My professional experience is mainly in non-profit organizations. I can guide clients on careers in non-profits. I have extensive experience in international development, having lived abroad. I can add value to clients who are seeking experience in international development. Since I lived in Ukraine and parts of Latin America, I can effectively guide European and Latin American clients.
What are three things you would want The Art of Applying’s clients and subscribers to know about you?
One is that the process of applying to over ten graduate schools gave me a much better sense of who I was and what I wanted to do in life. There is a silver lining during an otherwise stressful and uncertain time. Second is that my graduate school experience was transformative for both my personal and professional trajectories. Beyond gaining opportunities for professional advancement, graduate school will expose you to new perspectives and a really extensive network of professional peers. Third is that I definitely doubted myself on whether I really deserved to have an opportunity to study at Harvard. I later learned that many of us felt the same way. I would say to never doubt yourself and your passion for making the world a better place.
Anything else you want to add?
I love working with clients, understanding their stories and motivations, and helping them to craft and communicate a compelling narrative to the admissions committees.