From living away from her home in an apartment in Washington, D.C., at the age of 15 to work with Congressman Rush Holt’s foreign policy adviser to interning for Barack Obama while he was a senator, Alberta Yan has been busy for much of her adolescent and early adult life.
The West Windsor native’s passion for helping the underprivileged has now taken a new turn — she is running an organization she founded on her college campus that will bring business skills and passion for change to developing communities around the world.
The Global Business Brigades (GBB) began as a result of an internship Yan, a 2005 graduate of High School North and a senior at Northwestern University, had with Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy and Operations division this past summer. Deloitte is a global audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory firm.
Originally wanting to pursue a career in private consulting, Yan realized afterward that she wanted to use what she had learned to instead help disadvantaged people, and not just the larger corporations and CEOs, she says. The Global Business Brigades was founded by a few partners who had left private consulting firms, and approached her to ask her that she start a group on Northwestern’s campus. Realizing the impact undergraduates could have in the business world, Yan took on the project.
Yan received more than 300 applications for the one case team she was looking to form. She conducted 120 interviews and selected 35 students. Out of the 35, 10 are experienced senior leaders who have previously worked at consulting firms, she explained.
The group is working to help a small, indigenous village in Panama with a population of about 500 people. “Most of the local economy consists of fishing and artisan sales, with some ecotourism and a little bit of farming — most of which are cash crops,” Yan says. “A lot of it has to do with family crops, where they grow just to feed their own families and surrounding neighbors.”
GBB is working with Esperanza, one of the only women’s cooperatives in Panama. Yan says a hierarchy exists between men and women in the country, and by working with the group, Yan and GBB volunteers are hoping to break the stigma. “A lot of women are looked down upon,” she says. “They namely do chores, so they don’t have a steady income.”
There are 30 female members associated with the cooperative, and “we’re trying to give them a self-sustaining business opportunity that they can pursue so they can have a steady income,” she says. “If they’re able to bring in a steady income, our hope is they’re going to rise in status within the community. And if they rise in status, they gain a voice in the community, and that’s really our main goal.”
Yan says the volunteers know the women have the skill sets — “they’re just not being tapped into or utilized because they’re being looked down upon. It’s giving a voice and an opportunity that women are capable of running a successful community group and successful business.”
Yan says the organization is having a hard time with land negotiations but has been working with real estate lawyers and will be going down for a week during spring break to explain it to them. During this time, volunteers will provide training in skills like bargaining and negotiation to help them understand the situation and what they can do, Yan says. “We’re not unrealistic — we understand that it’s going to be a difficult process,” she said. After the assessment trip, the group will work with them again from April to June, and then will submit proposals. “Hopefully, that will be a viable business option on the land that we’re helping them buy,” she said. After that, the plan will be implemented at the end of August, and the group will follow-up.
Yan’s mother is heavily involved in philanthropy, volunteering at the West Windsor senior center, where she teaches Chinese. She is also a member of the Central Jersey Chinese American Association, and also works with the women’s club. She also does a lot of nonprofit work, Yan says. Yan’s father started his own business, Bio Accutech Inc.
Yan moved to West Windsor when she was 7, after having lived in Princeton and Pennsylvania and has been involved with projects like these since her teenage years. At North, she was heavily involved in lacrosse. She also spent the summer after her junior year, when she was only 15, living in an apartment by herself in Washington while working with Holt’s foreign policy advisor. The previous summer, Yan spent the whole summer in Georgetown for another program. As she entered college, Yan worked with politicians in and out of New Jersey, where she developed an interest in foreign policy.
While in college, she also went abroad the following to Beijing, where she studied emergency economy and legal structures. “I gained a lot of knowledge of what it’s like for a developing country to go through the whole process,” Yan said.
During the fall of her junior year, Yan again went abroad to France. Later, she ended up as an intern in one of Barack Obama’s senatorial offices in Chicago. She says she encountered him often, as he came to the office every Friday, and she was involved in the constituent services aspects of the work. “It’s an amazing experience to meet him and to talk to someone like that,” she said.
Yan now has hopes of attending law school, where she wants to study international law with a concentration in the human rights area. “That’s why I think GBB is so close to my heart,” she says. “It’s something I can actually see a change in, and something actually utilizing what I learned in college.”