Addressing economic and social inequity for community well-being

By Daniella Fernandes, MA SID'19

Ricky Ochilo’s commitment to poverty alleviation is global with a strategy that is meticulously local. From growing up in Kenya to becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer to co-founding a microfinance nonprofit with beneficiaries in Africa, Azerbaijan and Nepal, he has gained a global perspective on socioeconomic inequity in different contexts. Now equipped with frameworks learned at Heller, Ochilo, MPP/MBA’15, is working with communities to provide access to resources and support upward mobility by promoting mixed-income housing development, business enterprises and education.

“Sometimes policymakers don’t understand the contextual issues at the community level. That’s why I wanted to focus on the role of policy analysis and research. How do you craft policy to change the situation and the negative aspects of policymaking to address the challenges in the community that you’re witnessing?” Ochilo says. “I realized, to shift paradigms we were witnessing with respect to economic fragmentation, I needed to have the tools to champion all the outcomes I’d like to see and that’s what led me to Heller.”

At Heller, Ochilo took full advantage of the opportunities offered in the MPP and MBA programs. In the summer of his second year, Ochilo used matching funds of $2,500 from the Dean’s office earmarked for summer internships for MPP students. He served as a research analyst, working at the Council on the Underground Economy at the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development in Massachusetts, and then as a policy analyst for the Regional and Community Outreach department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

“Heller really grounded me in being critical about encompassing various viewpoints and working to bolster shared interests, shared values and at the end of the day, have a semblance of social justice without being so fragmented,” says Ochilo. He’s happy with his decision to pursue dual degrees at Heller, noting the practical experience of the Team Consulting Project (TCP), part of the MBA curriculum.

“The MBA opens up many doors in the U.S. and internationally,” he says. “The skills you learn here can be used across the board. It teaches you about leadership, the essential keys of managing folks, managing institutions, fundraising, reading financial statements, problem solving, coordinating with boards—everything you need to know.”

Ochilo first started pursuing social justice work through AmeriCorps VISTA after completing his undergraduate studies. He worked for the Neighborhood Developers in Chelsea, Massachusetts, connecting residents to educational, career development and financial capability resources. After that, he sought out new avenues and strategies to champion economic mobility in low-income neighborhoods. He joined the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, which works with 25,000 households annually, serving as a program representative in their rental assistance program, connecting low income and at risk populations to housing to prevent homelessness.

Today, he’s a relationship manager at MassHousing in Boston, where Ochilo focuses on affordable housing lending, working with minority and women-owned business enterprises to promote business solutions and economic scale through the financing of projects that MassHousing funds.

He says his time at Heller shaped his professional perspective. “I think the whole aspect of social justice is always weaved in through each course while we are at Heller. I find Heller really valuable in the sense that it helped me understand various stigmas, the problematic issues that happen on the societal level and how you change them.”

Ochilo believes students must take advantage of the many opportunities that Heller provides to build a network. He gained his first internship when he made a connection with Joanne Goldstein, the former Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, who came to give a speech at Heller.

“I wouldn’t be doing my work today if it wasn’t for the opportunities and platforms that Heller provides,” Ochilo says.