Park Fellows alumni spotlight: Elicia Carmichael, MBA ’11

Elicia Carmichael, MBA 2011, Park Fellow Alumni

There’s no question that our Park Fellow community is a diverse one. Fellows are making an impact where they work and within the communities where they live. We recently took the time to chat with Elicia Carmichael, MBA ’11 and a Park Fellow, VP of strategy at Root Capital in Cambridge, MA, to get some reflections on her Park experience and how she’s making a difference in her role today.

Q: A large part of the Park program is about increasing our capability as leaders to have impact in ways that are important to each of us. In what ways are you having an impact?

“I chose to apply my MBA skills to the field of impact investing for development agriculture, a sector that I care deeply about. On the macro level, my work helps to improve the livelihoods of smallholder producers around the globe. But on a more personal level, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is supporting the success of the people I supervise or lead. Helping them understand the context beyond their own vantage points ultimately helps them grow within their own roles.

On that theme, one Park-inspired initiative I designed was a stakeholder workshop that built the foundation for greater empathy and collaboration across teams. For one afternoon, our entire global staff, hailing from our offices in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, stepped into one another’s shoes to overcome a sampling of real business challenges. This experience transformed many staff members’ perceptions around interpersonal tensions and workplace frustrations into conversations around the effective alignment of goals and the collaborative design of business systems. My workshop design applied numerous insights I gained from the Park curriculum; I can certainly trace its impact back to my experience in the program.”

Q: Are there experiences you recollect from the Park program that have increased your effectiveness and ability to have an impact?

“I still refer back to the PDF that accompanied a change management simulation we participated in as second-year Park Fellows. I remember, quite vividly, how our simulation broke down the various elements of shepherding change through an organization: clarifying decision-making structures and processes, team-member mapping and engagement, and appropriate communication and follow-up. As a leader in an organization undergoing near-constant change, these building blocks have helped me on numerous occasions. Resurfacing that Park resource to help me establish my general guideposts has helped me navigate around some particularly challenging icebergs.”

Q: What is your most memorable memory as a Park Fellow?

“The most powerful feedback I received during Park was given, at my request, after testing out a new presentation style (not entirely successfully) as the Destination Johnson speaker my second year. Following the presentation, my Park Fellow peer and I engaged in a deep and brutally honest critique of my presentation. A Johnson dean overheard us and expressed bewilderment regarding my peer’s critique; he thought my presentation was perfectly good. She informed him that she wasn’t interested in helping me be merely good—that she knew I could do so much better. This is the kind of relationship, in which your peers are genuinely invested in your success, that the Park program can cultivate.

Over this past summer, seven years after our program ended, I have been in touch with numerous Fellows from our cohort. Our relationships flow seamlessly between the roles of coaches, champions, and friends – and carry us across continents, years, and life milestones.”

Q: What advice do you have for your peers on having an impact every day?

“If you feel unsettled about your impact, I’d advise taking a hard look at your role and asking yourself how to transform it so that you can approach it from a place of greater authenticity. You may have to inspect it from multiple angles: is it your goals, or the way you are approaching them that is not optimized for impact? Even if your field is not impact-oriented per se, how can your management style drive growth for the people who report to you, or bring greater benefit to your clients? A role transformation can take significant energy in managing up and sideways, but I have found that it is always worth the investment.”

Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

“I feel deeply grateful to Johnson for its commitment to leadership and service, as evidenced by its investment in the Park Program as well as in its commitment to JLF and SGE. Early in my career, I had a formed a general idea that I would like contribute to a more equitable and sustainable global food system, but I lacked the perspective and network to propel myself forcefully in that direction. The investment I was able to make in myself through the Park program helped me crystallize my vision and launch myself into a challenging and rewarding dream career—I found myself applying business principles in remote agricultural territories and leading international teams to expand a powerful impact finance platform. Years later, the self-awareness and leadership skills I developed in the Park program, along with the friendships that came with it, continue to buoy me through the myriad challenges I encounter in my field.”

Link to learn more about the Park Leadership Fellows program