Very few people who manage to secure a management-consulting job—arguably the most competitive positions for post-graduates—leave just a year in a half later. But after realizing his passion for global public service, that is exactly what Travis Noll did. A graduate of Stanford University, where he played division I Water Polo for one of the Nation’s top teams, Travis has always prioritized others over himself. While his time spent consulting for large corporations at ZS Associates was valuable, Travis grew restless thinking about the hands-on work he could be doing, improving the lives of impoverished individuals instead of executives at Biotech and health care firms. “My heart was set on something related to education and abroad,” Travis explains, “I wanted to spend some time working for an organization that served a more significant purpose than simply driving profits.” Fortunately for Travis, a friend of his at Stanford has worked closely with Action in Africa for the past eight years, and after a quick conversation about the organization, the former Stanford Water Polo player sent in his two weeks notice letter and booked a flight to Entebbe.
This seemingly impromptu decision was more calculated than it appeared at surface level. Travis is still evaluating career possibilities and defining his long-term ambitions, but public service his been the top priority for some time. Three months on the ground in Uganda for Action in Africa not only afforded Travis the opportunity to improve individual lives in a meaningful way, but also to learn about education in Sub Saharan Africa. Having closely followed education reform policy in the U.S., Travis has had “an intense passion for education and learning theory.” In Uganda, an impoverished country ruled by a semi-autocrat in Yoweri Museveni who has undermined the development of political institutions and quietly diverted international aid money to personal beneficiaries, education is likely the key to future economic development. For this reason, working at AIA will help Travis recognize how narrowly focusing on education can have broader implications on a national and global scale.
While his time with Action in Africa will be beneficial for himself, his time in Uganda will be even more invaluable for our organization. Travis brings a wealth of operational and managerial experience. Between studying Management Science and Engineering and playing water polo, Travis worked for Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), the financial and business branch of the student government. While serving as the organization’s COO, Travis “learned an immense amount about how to operate a business at the nuts and bolts level, as well how to organize a diverse group of people and get them focused on accomplishing big tasks.” Likewise, Travis’s experience at ZS Associates has provided him with the analytical framework necessary to evaluate Action in Africa’s operations objectively. By employing the nuanced expertise he has garnered through his course of study at Stanford, his work at SSE, and his first year and a half at ZS Associates, Travis will improve the functionality and efficiency of Action in Africa.
Travis has an extensive list of objectives that he hopes to accomplish while working with Action in Africa. Generally, these include organizing AIA’s operations, defining our organization’s key priorities, and articulating our broader vision. This will require minimizing the time spent on administrative tasks, instead focusing our efforts on operations that directly relate to our core missions. Travis explained, “We need to refocus our time so that we are spending at 80% on key initiatives.” Similarly, Travis hopes to streamline AIA operations by improving the efficiency of various tasks and instituting regularity to others. For example by more clearly defining our volunteer programs, developing pre-planned trips with structured itineraries, we will likely incentive increased participation. Likewise, other tasks must be institutionalized, including regular updates of the website and the implementation of transparent and organized accounting practices. Clearly, Travis’s vision, experience, and work ethic will help Action in Africa reach new heights both during his time in Nakuwadde and beyond.
At Action in Africa, we could not be more excited that Travis has decided to join our team. When Travis first signed on in March he said, “I hope that my career involves work that directly impacts people and improves their lives.” We are confident that his time in Uganda will help him realize these goals while redefining future career objectives, and we are happy to watch what will certainly be a wild ride.