For their second event in as many weeks, The Fletcher School’s Ralph Bunche Society, led by two rising second year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy students, Joseph Zorokong and John-Mark Gladstone, welcomed Alexia Latortue (F97), for their ongoing speaker series on diversity.
Latortue, now the managing director for corporate strategy at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, earned her MALD at The Fletcher School in 1997. Speaking to a Zoom room of about 65 Fletcher students, faculty, staff and alumni, Latortue told the group, “I loved my experience at Fletcher. I thrived at Fletcher, it fit me like a glove.”
Turning to her experience as a Black woman building her career in the world of development, Latortue was frank when asked why she chose a field that isn’t necessarily known for its qualities of diversity and inclusion. “I thrive in a multicultural environment, which development does give me,” she said. “There are challenges around race. There are challenges around power and gender. There are challenges around elitism.” Latortue went on, “one of the things that I always said at Fletcher, with my very international friends – and that’s something really important, when thinking about the cross-section of international work and racism – I always said that many of us here at Fletcher, from many different countries, have more in common with each other than we do with citizens of our own countries. And that becomes incredibly relevant when we’re talking about development,” she said.
Today, Latortue sits on the executive committee of one of the best-established international development organizations in the world. It’s been a journey to get to that place and there have been challenges along the way, but Latortue is humble about her rise to the top. “I think Fletcher prepared me well,” she said. “I never expected that I was owed anything, but I was raised that you work really, really hard. And there were disappointments along the way. For instance, at Fletcher, I didn’t get any of the internships that I wanted between first and second year. So rather than flying off to New York or Washington D.C. […] I went to Boca Raton, Florida, where my parents had just moved to retire and found an internship with a small business development center.”
It was at that – what she had initially deemed, disappointing – internship that she learned to create her own opportunities. While tasked with organizing a conference for the center, she took it upon herself to organize a panel that suited her interest in financial inclusion. The field was much smaller at that time, she concedes, but when she cold-contacted “the gurus of the field” they all showed up. Taking advantage of the opportunity to speak with them while they were at the conference was invaluable. “Two of them became my mentors,” she said.
The journey that Latortue has taken in her rise through the field of development has left her with some advice for Fletcher students. “You need to have a vision. You need to know the red threads of what you care about and what you want to work on, but be open to different ways of getting there,” Latortue said. “People often want to start at the prestigious, big name places. You can sometimes learn more - and if you’re willing to work the extra mile, have more exposure, more responsibility earlier in your career – at the smaller firms.” She credits her time at a “small, little firm” that she’d worked at early in her career with giving her the exposure to all aspects of development consulting. When it came time to interview for her first job after Fletcher - an interview that she applied for in “the most classical of ways – the Fletcher Office of Career Services,” she had the knowledge and expertise of an industry insider. The interview was a breeze and right out of Fletcher, she found herself working at one of the premier development consulting firms, Development Alternatives or DAI.
Finally, she said, pay attention to people, relationships and networking. Be curious and be open. Basic manners – treating everyone the same way because today’s intern can be your boss tomorrow – go a long way in work and business, Latortue reminded everyone. “People need to be able to visualize you with all different types of people at all levels,” she said.
Bringing the conversation back to the issue of diversity and inclusion, Latortue urged everyone to be purposeful and inclusive in creating their own informal work networks. “Who are you asking out to coffee at work? Who are you spending the extra five minutes asking about their summer holiday when you come back to the office in September?” she probed. Noting that it’s these networks that lead to greater opportunities. “The reality is that people of color and Black people often have a smaller social network and that is really dangerous,” she said.
“If I’ve got a job opening – I’m not promising anyone the job – but I can only invite those whom I know to apply. I can only remember someone if they’ve been part of my environment,” she said, imploring everyone to be more intentional about expanding their formal and informal networks.