Stories from Our Community

Alumnus Seeks to Make a Difference in the World Through Sustainable Markets

Roger-Mark De Souza, MA ’95, is the vice president of sustainable markets at Pact, an international nonprofit that works in nearly 40 countries building solutions for human development based on evidence and data and owned by the communities they serve. We recently caught up with him to learn how GW and the Elliott School influenced his career.

GW: Tell us about what you are doing now and why it matters to you?

RMD: At Pact, we aim for thriving, resilient and engaged communities leading their own development. My role is to direct our work on environment, energy, extractives (with a focus on small scale and artisanal mining) and livelihoods. This work is tremendously important as these sectors reflect key dimensions of community well-being. Sustainable markets represent one of the most transformational ways we can affect lives around the world. In addition to engaging key international development clients such as the U.S. Government, we also work in partnership with the private sector. Partnering with the private sector is strategic for advancing work on environmental, social and governance issues. This reflects our values and the difference we would like to see in the world.

I have just returned from visiting Pact projects in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda – and seen the impact we are having across the value chain. From the most marginalized populations in the communities where we serve, to traders, exporters, the private sector, local and national government officials, and donors – we are making a tangible difference.

These intertwined outcomes all matter to me – we are working in partnership with millions of people, helping to improve their lives and to develop systems for local ownership and empowerment.

GW: What drew you to the Elliott School for your graduate studies?

RMD: I was particularly attracted to the Elliott School for its location, its course offerings, and its flexibility in programming. I was looking for a program that was linked to the development community and would connect me to instructors and lecturers who were actively engaged in current debates and approaches through real life examples of development applications. I was also looking for a program that offered access to internships in the DC area compatible with my course load. The Elliott school offered me all these benefits. I also wanted to create an area of study/specialization tailored to my specific interests as someone from the Caribbean, and the Elliott School gave me the flexibility to focus on migration and development in the Caribbean basin. Finally, I was looking for a program that was both well-established and engaged with other GW departments, particularly the geography and sociology departments.

GW: How did the Elliott School influence your professional choices and successes?

RMD: For me, the Elliott School cemented my power of perspective, integration and knowledge. I soon realized that my background as a Caribbean man with degrees from the University of the West Indies set me apart from the core group of students. I tapped into my lived experiences to bring a diversity perspective and thinking to course offerings – and the program helped me realize the power of those perspectives in ways that I hadn’t fully appreciated before coming to the school.

Additionally, I was very much interested in a holistic approach to development – and the course offerings as well as the interests of faculty allowed me to have a more deliberate approach to integration. I am grateful for this unique opportunity and have brought it to bear on my work throughout my career.

The Elliott School also allowed me to appreciate the value of community – communities of practice, technical communities, communities where we work internationally, and to understand different perspectives on knowledge and on knowledge generation. All these important perspectives have informed my work globally.

Throughout my graduate studies at the Elliott School, I took advantage of the school location and a course schedule that allowed me to keep two internships in the development sector as well as a job waiting on tables to pay the bills. The importance of practical work, both within and outside of the development sector, cannot be understated. Upon graduation, I obtained my first job working directly for the president of a leading environmental NGO. He told me that a key component that set me apart from the 500 other applicants was my work experience in the development sector.

GW: Are there particular classes and professors who stand out in your mind? Who helped you on your career path?

RMD: There are many. Dr. Steven Tuch in Sociology helped me refine the methodological approaches I used to examine key development questions with communities and refined my thinking about race, identity and development. Dr. Stephen Smith in Economics helped me make connections to economic well-being and tested some of my assumptions about poverty and economic empowerment. He also encouraged me to question some of my biases about development approaches. Dr. Brian Boulier in Demography opened up the world of demographic analysis in an engaging and exciting way. I loved his courses and the materials he covered.

Most of all, I am grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Marie Price in Geography. I had reached out to her before deciding to come to GW. She mailed me her personal copy of a book that I was interested in and that would be relevant to my areas of interest. Her support cemented my decision to study at GW. Over the course of my graduate studies, she connected me to experts in the field whose work I had studied, introduced me to professional associations, and encouraged me to present on academic and professional panels. With her support, I was interacting with scholars whose work I was studying and started to publish my own research. She opened a dynamic world of learning, collaboration and inquisitiveness that I carry forward with me today.

GW: What would you say to current Elliott School students who want to make a positive difference in the world?

RMD: Understand and appreciate that your course of studies is one component of how you will show up in the world. It will offer insights and perspectives that you will test and question later in your career. Your college learnings will not all be directly applied to your work, but together the learning will inform your thought process and how you approach wanting to make a positive difference in the world.

Know that there is more than one way to make a difference – there are many opportunities that I didn’t get or succeed at. I landed in other places that were different from what I anticipated, but ultimately they led me to a place of successful engagement and learning vis a vis my work.

Enjoy the experience of being at the Elliott School and connect with peers, take advantage of being in Washington, D.C., and don’t limit yourself to activities on campus. Seek out advisors who offer perspective and insights and learn how to network in real and meaningful ways where you connect with others based on shared values and interests. The Elliott School is so much more than a set of courses and a degree – it is a step to finding your own path towards making a difference in the world.