How I found my purpose in the Peruvian Amazon
April 29, 2021
Alexander Schmidt always wanted to work on social impact projects. A two-year career break in South America crystalised that idea to a burning passion. Our Accenture Development Parternships Lead on his journey to head up our non-profit impact practice in Australia.
I grew up between Australia and the US, where my Dad worked for a large oil company in Texas. I came back to Australia for high school, but that international experience broadened my horizons from an early age. I knew I wanted my work to include travel.
I joined Accenture straight out of uni after my interest was piqued by the work of our impact practice, Accenture Development Partnerships. ADP acts as a non-profit inside the business, delivering the global power of Accenture to address social, economic and environmental issues. It uses a co-investment model where Accenture forgoes profits and subsidises overhead costs, and volunteers contribute a portion of their salary. Since launching in 2003, ADP has completed more than 1,800 projects across 95 countries.
As soon as I started work, I made it my mission to get involved with ADP, pursuing volunteering opportunities and leveraging my languages (I speak fluent Spanish and Portuguese). Eventually, I took a two-year career break in South America. I spent 4 months in the Peruvian Amazon working as a biodiversity research assistant, and taught English in Chile and Brazil.
My career break changed my life – personally and professionally. First, the connections I made there led me to my partner, Thaynan, who I met during a trip for a friend’s wedding in Chile.
Second, living in developing countries and seeing social issues first-hand was a transformative experience. It made me come back to the corporate world with a different view.
When I returned to Accenture in 2015, I moved into health and public services projects. I did a Master’s in International Development and reached out to our global network to see where I could make the biggest difference.
For the next five years, I had a day job at Accenture Interactive, but through ADP I also got involved in various volunteering opportunities. I connected with our team across Latin America and Africa to hear about some of the great work ADP was doing and see how I could support, such as the work with Amref Health Africa to design, develop and scale their market leading mHealth mobile learning platform. This eventually led to my first ADP project experience, a digital strategy in Latin America and the Caribbean for Youth Business International (YBI). As part of that project, we travelled to six different countries across the region (Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Bolivia and Paraguay) to visit the local member organisations and work with their staff and local entrepreneurs to help devise digital products and services for the entrepreneurs and embrace digital transformation as an organisation.
After YBI, I went back to Colombia to lead a project with a large development bank focused on addressing barriers to employment in Colombia for Venezuelan migrants and refugees. We developed the first government portal to help Venezuelan migrants find employment in the country. I also spent time in Columbia working with our local ADP team, helping to embed digital and human-centred design capabilities in our projects across the region.
Then, last October my dream came true and I became the full-time Australia Lead for ADP.
It’s a fantastic time to be in this role because Accenture has doubled down on its global role in driving positive change, with a renewed focus on sustainability. With every project, we’re trying to find a way to improve sustainability outcomes.
Given this, our ADP focus areas in Australia are around the health, livelihood and education of first nations people, refugees and marginalised groups. We offer organisations helping in these areas the full range of consulting capabilities that Accenture offers our commercial clients, from market research to growth strategies, to implementing technology solutions. I believe it’s vital for big businesses to lend our expertise and resources to address inequity wherever we can.
I feel priviledged to be part of this. I can’t wait for what the next few years brings.
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