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Alumni Stories: Tracey Pettengill '93

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World by Lisa Birzen '03


Tracey Pettengill sets no limits. She has far-reaching dreams of "creating a better world," and with work already done to help the people of Nairobi, Sudan and Kenya, she has no plans to curb her philanthropic endeavors any time soon.

She "fell in love with Dartmouth as a kid," attending football games and visiting the campus during the beautiful fall seasons. Dartmouth possessed all the qualities she looked for in a school: an engineering program, a small college town feel, a good reputation and a chance to play lacrosse. Dartmouth "fit the description" and, applying early decision, Pettengill says she was "fortunate enough to be accepted" into the school that "felt like the right place" for her. .

Graduating from Dartmouth in 1993 with a degree in Engineering Sciences and Economics and a passion for helping people, Pettengill "never thought community service would be a career."

Having been actively involved with community service on a local level, Pettengill had a pivotal career experience during Professor Jack Shepherd's Environmental Studies Freshman Seminar called "Politics of Starvation."

"This was the first time I thought about community service in a global context and considered the ability to change the world in international development," Pettengill recalls. This course and the inspirational ideas of Professor Shepherd "set me on a path that defined my career," Pettengill says.

Pettengill's junior year Foreign Study Program took the Connecticut native far from her home in a Hartford suburb and transplanted her into the poverty-stricken reality of Kenya. "The tremendous impact of this trip opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about," Pettengill says.

During her senior year, she worked on a paper on environmental studies under the guidance of Professor Shepherd. Her writing focused on disaster relief and emergency food aid, relating to work done on her FSP.

Concerned with worldly affairs, Pettengill showed no interest in the corporate recruiting process sweeping her class that year. "Neither banking nor consulting nor anything else companies were recruiting for" appealed to Pettengill at the time. In hindsight, Pettengill remarks at how interesting this seems now, "considering how my career developed afterwards."

Putting off any sort of job search until after graduation, Pettengill found a perfect match with the U.S. Committee for Refugees, a nonprofit organization based in Washington DC. Her work brought her back to Africa, this time to Sudan, just ten miles from the civil war raging at that time.

Acting as a liaison to U.S. headquarters and providing footage for journalist Dan Rather's news coverage of the unfolding events, Pettengill had already experienced so much at her young age than many people do in an entire lifetime.

She considers herself extremely lucky in that regard. Knowing that "many people spend their entire lives trying to feel fulfilled," she is extremely happy to have already "found a passion in life to pursue as a career," affording her more time to dedicate to her great causes.

Her trip to East Africa not only opened her eyes about the world around her but also revealed unexpected results about herself that have gone on to shape her professional career. Incorporating these new found capabilities, she has been able to produce great outcomes by applying herself in areas of her greatest strengths.

Considering her dislike of earlier corporate employment options, she surprisingly discovered that she was a "business oriented person." She also found that "attracting free market sources to solve social problems was a more effective strategy than simply contacting philanthropists," choosing to shift her focus to this new direction.

Deciding to "learn about the business world to be a better non-profit leader," Pettengill and the business industry crossed paths again, this time to much more favorable results.

Enrolling in Stanford University's Master of Business Administration program, Pettengill was pleasantly surprised to meet peers with similar social entrepreneurship agendas, some of whom would become her partners in future philanthropic endeavors.

While in graduate school, she and a classmate developed the first incarnation of one such successful venture, a website where classmates could order textbooks and donate a percentage of their purchase to the Special Olympics.

This web-based philanthropic idea eventually emerged as, "an application service provider for the philanthropy sector." aims to "develop products and services to make philanthropy accessible, convenient and efficient," with a searchable database of over 73,000 nonprofit organizations and "one of the first and largest online charity malls with more than 130 stores." distinguishes itself from similar websites because it "does not keep a cut of the donations raised," with all the money exchanged on the site going to benefit organizations around the country.

Pettengill put in four years into this effort, starting out as a volunteer co-founder and eventually taking on the full-time responsibility of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). She jokingly says that "years spent working in a start-up company are like dog years." Thus, her time commitment felt more like twenty-eight years of work, and she enjoyed every minute of it.

Since the site targeted domestic organizations, Pettengill felt her area of international interest neglected and, seeking fulfillment, left in 2002, switching gears and taking her now-enhanced skills to Appropriate Technology (Approtec), a company concentrating its efforts on raising the "poorest of the poor in the world to middle class status."

Until the summer of 2003, Approtec was based in Kenya, aiding rural farmers in the area. Now, San Francisco houses the company's international headquarters and in addition to focusing on the people of Kenya, Approtec aims to expand its aid within Africa as well as possibly combining efforts with micro-lending organizations, such as the Grameen Bank, in Bangladesh and India.

Approtec focuses on "end-user marketing," ensuring that the affordably-manufactured products, such as tractors and irradiation pumps, intended to help the poor are actually received by the target audience.

On average, a farmer in rural Kenya earns $110 a year. However, with the purchase of a $40 irrigation pump supplied by manufacturers affiliated with Approtec, this same farmer can increase his yearly earnings to $1200. Approtec ensures that the "supply chain works" properly between manufacturers intent on "designing products to be sold affordably" and the people who need this help the most.

Armed with an MBA and experience in management consulting and merger and acquisition transactions - from stints working in Mercer Management Consulting and Robertson Stevens Investment Banking, respectively - Pettengill contributes to the companies where she works by elevating them to the next level.

She came aboard full-time to in June 1999 and worked to secure venture capital for the company in order for it to be able to reasonably compete in the Silicon Valley.

Approtec was formed about ten years ago but is currently at its "tipping point," on the verge of global expansion. Pettengill's skills and expertise will now be benefiting this company's "business approach to solving social problems."

"Bringing my business background to developing countries combines all of my interests and is a rare and happy coincidence," Pettengill exclaims.

Pettengill encourages current students to just "got for it" when it comes to choosing classes or activities. The experience outside the classroom "had a far greater impact on who I am and where my career has gone than any course I took," Pettengill says.

She'd like students to give less weight to their parents' expectations or to their major requirements and, if given the opportunity, invest in an area they are "really fired up about" because encounters such as these may unexpectedly "spark a lifetime of passion and career."

She admits that her engineering degree takes her "miles in terms of credibility, problem solving and quantitative analysis," but also asserts, "if a course sparks your interest just go for it because that's what's going to change your life."

Pettengill's professional journey began when she asked herself how she, "as one person, can have an impact on making the world a better place."

Contributing to improve the state of world poverty in more ways than she could have imagined, she encourages others to consider their own strengths and to discover how to best apply themselves in order to achieve the change they wish to see in the world.

Last Updated: 6/21/12