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Broad alumna aims for impact at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

By Chelsea Stein
Thursday, March 9, 2023

Since 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has devoted $53.8 billion to saving and transforming lives. The foundation is the world’s largest nonprofit fighting poverty, disease and inequity, made possible through its grants and strategic investments.

In the United States, the foundation has emphasized equal education access for all students to learn, graduate and succeed. And one Broad Spartan is applying her human resources acumen and teaching background to help make a strong impact in this space.

“I believe deeply in the importance and transformative power of an excellent education,” Kara Peters (MBA ’16), senior HR business partner for the Foundation’s U.S. Program, said. “I have worked for years in the classroom and with various workforce-focused organizations to support training programs that promote access to economic opportunity and mobility. In my role now, I support foundation employees and teams who are working with our partners to help improve educational outcomes for those who have been historically marginalized in this country, which is very rewarding.”

Peters joined the foundation in 2022, providing leadership to ensure its U.S. Program division has the right talent, culture, structure and HR processes to deliver on its mission. Her passion for education and her desire to support others have been hallmarks of her career, ultimately leading her to this role at the foundation, where she is deeply aligned with its mission and purpose.

“I have spent my entire career within the nonprofit sector, and it’s important for me to be mission aligned, and also aligned with leaders to execute the mission,” Peters said. “It’s a privilege to be able to support large-scale strategies that seek to improve access and outcomes for students and to increase economic mobility for people in America as well as to support the employees who are engaged in furthering this mission.”

Peters always knew she wanted to make a difference, and she sought out opportunities to teach English to refugees in Egypt during college and participate in Teach for America in Pennsylvania after completing her degree at the George Washington University. She eventually found herself in Michigan when her husband enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Michigan State University. Soon after, she became a Spartan too.

“When we came to East Lansing, I became deeply involved in the community, teaching at the YMCA, serving as a coach and then a board member of Girls on the Run Mid-Michigan, and eventually I found my first full-time job teaching classes through a local credit union in Lansing area schools,” she said. “I heard about an opportunity at Peckham and, because of my background in education, it was a natural fit.”

She spent nearly seven years working at Peckham, a Lansing-based nonprofit known for providing job training opportunities for people with disabilities. She worked with young adults transitioning from high school to the working world, easing them into a new role and working directly with employers to make inclusive adjustments to the workspace. As she advanced through the organization — eventually leading Peckham’s team tasked with hiring nearly 1,000 people with barriers to employment each year — Peters felt a business degree would amplify her impact, so she chose the Broad College’s Executive MBA program.

“At the foundation today, I get to focus on both strategy and people, and my MBA gives me the tools to better understand the business side of the work.”

“I went with the Executive MBA because I wanted to bridge the business and human services worlds,” she said. “The program at Broad provided insight into corporate culture, structures and operations, with most of my school colleagues coming from large Michigan-based corporations.”

Besides being able to tap into the knowledge and skills of her classmates, Peters said the EMBA program allowed her the chance to bring her own experience to the classroom and validate her career pathway.

“As one of only 10 women in the Lansing-based cohort, and as one of the only nonprofit professionals surrounded by top talent from corporations across Michigan, I realized that my experience was unique and that I could offer a different perspective, grounded in a human- and heart-centered approach to business.”

Peters said her time as a Broad Spartan helped set her up for success at the foundation, not only giving her the skills to work across business disciplines but also the confidence as an HR professional.

“I didn’t see myself as a human resources professional before the MBA program. After, I realized that I could combine my human services background and skillset with my business knowledge to practice a more holistic kind of HR than I had experienced. This approach has allowed me to serve in spaces that have brought me professional fulfillment, and which I hope are additive to the companies I’ve worked with.

“At the foundation today, I get to focus on both strategy and people, and my MBA gives me the tools to better understand the business side of the work,” she continued. “Working in the philanthropy space, we attract employees from all sectors, and I am comfortable navigating different spaces with employees of diverse backgrounds, in large part due to my experiences at Broad and in the Lansing community.”

Peters’ story is just one example of how MSU alumni achieve excellence across industries, sectors and geographies. With the passion to make an impact and the skills to get the work done, Broad Spartans inspire the future of business.

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