Campus & Community

Shapeshifter Bratt moves between Wall Street and NGOs

4 min read

“I really don’t have a plan for my life,” says Martin Bratt, who is receiving his master’s in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government (KSG), “but feel that by being who I am I can help break down some stereotypes.” Bratt has seen both sides of the chasm that splits public service and the private sector, and believes his experience will help him build a necessary bridge between the two.

“When I graduated from HEC business school in France I got a job in consulting at McKinsey & Co.,” says the Norway native. “It’s kind of a nonchoice when you graduate, because consulting is a way to see everything, many different businesses, many different countries, and sort of try out new things.”

One of the “new things” he tried, eventually, was applying to KSG. “I wanted my life to be about more than just making money,” he says. “I very much feel that there are important things that the private sector and the development community can learn from each other. They have a lot more in common than they think: Both are filled with people who are often brilliant and always extremely driven, and who have a very strong passion about what they’re doing.”

Bratt spent last summer in Mozambique working on biofuels for a 40-year-old American NGO called TechnoServe, whose motto is “business solutions to rural poverty.” A few months after his return to Cambridge, the director of the Mozambique project, David Browning, called to say he was spearheading a foray into Burundi, where coffee makes up about 80 percent of the country’s export earnings, but could comprise a lot more. “Something like 60 to 70 percent of the population grows coffee in some form,” Bratt says, “but they generally get very low prices for the coffee, because there has been very little focus on quality.”

In January, Bratt traveled around Burundi with TechnoServe talking to stakeholders across the coffee industry and in government to try to identify the potential in terms of poverty reduction through better coffee — a similar TechnoServe project in Tanzania saw a 50 percent increase in the price of coffee once an infrastructure supported better systems “from picking to packaging.” He’ll be returning this summer to help set up assistance for farmers’ groups in acquiring and setting up processing equipment.

“Martin is a really smart student,” says Robert Lawrence, professor of international trade and investment for whom Bratt has acted as teaching assistant. “His intellect sparkles. But what’s more impressive is that he has made a commitment to public service, when he could have had a career in investment banking and pretty quickly made tons of money.”

Though this is certainly true, Bratt doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive. “I certainly feel I will be spending some time in my career on the private sector side, and some on the not-for-profit side.” He obviously feels comfortable switching between the two: He went to business school after majoring in the humanities at university in Norway, and took the job at McKinsey just after publishing a volume of poetry in his native language; now, of course, Bratt’s pendulum is again on the backswing.

“People in NGOs think everyone on Wall Street only cares about money,” he says, “and people in the business community think everyone in NGOs is a hippie who walks around dreaming. Both of those stereotypes are incredibly wrong.”

According to those who know him, if there is anyone who can convince each side the other has much to offer, it is Bratt. “Martin has that most rare combination of passion, pragmatism, and idealism,” says TechnoServe’s Browning. “This is a powerful formula for making a dent in the universe.”