Dedicating her career to giving back

By Karen Shih

“If you have the motivation and the desire to make change happen, you can pull people together to really make an impact,” says Lisette Anzoategui, MA SID/COEX’15.

That’s what she’s been doing, first locally in Los Angeles as a teenager, then globally through international development initiatives since college. As the daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, she’s acutely aware of the privileges she’s been afforded in the United States, and her goal is to give back in countries struggling with poverty and conflict.

As a program manager at Social Impact, she leads impact evaluations for two USAID programs: one on improving nutrition for women and children to reduce child stunting in Laos, and the other for a sports-based workforce development program that targets at-risk youth in Guatemala and Honduras. Since graduating from Heller, she has worked to develop quantitative and qualitative evaluations for both development and conflict and peacebuilding programming.

“When you witness dollars that could have been used more effectively, you want to understand how a program could be improved,” she says, “We look at program intentions, ask questions and see if we’re meeting those needs. If we get better data, we can improve our design and implementation.”

Her passion for social justice started when she was in junior high, when she was an activist and volunteer. “Growing up in LA, I became highly attuned to the inequalities and injustices that existed within minority communities,” she says.  

In college, Anzoategui went to Tanzania to teach about HIV/AIDS, and founded a nonprofit with fellow students to build an orphanage.

“A lot of that experience was diving headfirst into international development,” she says. She joined the Peace Corps after graduation for a “more grounded experience in practical tools and how best to work with local partners.”

The Peace Corps sent her to Honduras to work on a property tax system, female entrepreneurship and community banking.

“Throughout my time there, I saw constantly the interaction between violence prevention and conflict and peacebuilding and development,” she says. “That was a huge part of why I chose Heller, where I could do the dual degree in sustainable international development and coexistence and conflict to make those linkages.”

Heller provided critical support for her interests. In class, she shared first-hand experiences with fellow development professionals about education and conflict in countries as far-flung as Afghanistan and Honduras. She also conducted six months of independent research on the “barras bravas,” soccer fan supporter groups in Honduras commonly associated with gangs, for her master’s thesis.     

“Embrace uncertainty and failure,” she advises students, “It opens a door to the unknown, and only from the unknown can we begin to imagine a meaningful life and success.”