Tufts alumna Wendy Walleigh, J70, and her husband Rick had been successful corporate executives in Silicon Valley, but they were looking for something more. In 2006, they decided to leave their corporate jobs in the tech sector to pursue encore careers. This type of civic engagement, in which those who have finished their formal careers embark on a full-time commitment to community service, offers a valuable path for many recent retirees and represents a vital source of support to non-profit organizations both domestically and around the world. Tisch College caught up with Wendy to hear her story and what drove her to leave her career in marketing software to work in rural developing countries. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
Wendy Walleigh: Rick and I started thinking about doing an encore career around the year 2000, and in 2006 we felt ready to take the leap. We were especially interested in how connecting people economically would lead to more peace around the world. Our research pointed us to TechnoServe, an organization that advocates “business solutions to poverty,” and it seemed like a great fit.
Within 48 hours of agreeing to join TechnoServe, the Swaziland Country Director called us and asked if we could be in Mbabane—the capital—the following week. The Swaziland project leaders wanted to establish an entrepreneurship program for young people to develop and grow their own businesses. We jumped at the chance, and we were excited to finally be engaged in what we had been considering for the past several years.
TC: What kind of businesses were you helping?
Walleigh: We worked in a tiny office with 15 people all sharing the same basic internet connection—quite a change from Silicon Valley.
One of the projects we worked on was a commercial forestry and processing business that makes telephone poles. We also worked with a local bakery to develop a business plan that would provide year-round availability of mealie-meal, a type of cornmeal that is a staple in the Swazi diet.
I worked primarily with young people and started a Junior Achievement chapter in Swaziland, which provides programs for adolescents to foster work-readiness and entrepreneurship. I helped get it going and build the local capacity to keep it thriving. By the time we were getting ready to leave Swaziland, the local organization had taken it over and was piloting programs on its own.
But we were only there for six months, and it felt too short. Rick and I decided we wanted to do more. At that time, TechnoServe was starting new programs in Kenya and Uganda, so we went to Kenya in early 2007. We lived in Nairobi, and I focused on youth again, most notably with the Young Women in Enterprise life skills projects, which TechnoServe runs to empower young women to launch businesses and build support networks. I also worked with local banks in microfinance, and we organized a business plan competition that resulted in 6,000 applicants from all across Kenya.
TC: How did a Tufts University education have an impact on your decision to pursue an
Walleigh: I always wanted to live abroad, and that was a seed that was planted at Tufts. I loved to travel and wanted to include that as part of my career. Tufts also opened my eyes to a lot of sociopolitical issues—the Vietnam War protests were happening during my time there, and I became more aware of how interconnected the world was becoming and the social implications of policy decisions.
Tufts continues to be an important part of my life, and I’m still very close with friends from my time there. I’ve become even more involved with Tufts because of my encore career, working with Tisch College and the Tufts Social Impact Network. I even have a Tisch College pin that I wear, even though Tisch didn’t exist when I was a student!
TC: What advice do you have for other Tufts alumni who may be trying to figure how to be more active and engaged citizens?
Walleigh: Find your passion and then figure out a way to do it. You will be amazed at how easy it is. You don’t have to go to Africa to make a difference—look in your own neighborhood. The possibilities really are endless. We were just ordinary people who both loved to travel and wanted to use our skills to help others. Our story and the approaches we took to get there are just two of many ways to contribute. We gave our time and our expertise, but I feel like we gained even more in terms of emotional satisfaction.
Originally published November 2015