Bouncing around the globe is a must for many executives, but for Jaren Schwartz, it was a lifestyle choice. What started as a regular job with UNICEF shortly after graduating from Boston University turned into an adventure, sending her to Geneva and beyond.
“While working for UNICEF in New York I learned that advancing one’s career in the UN requires at least a certain amount of field work, and so my husband Steve and I volunteered to be part of the Peace Corps,” Schwartz says. Upon acceptance to the program, they learned that they’d be sent to a French-speaking country, but they had no idea which one. Working for the UN, Jaren was familiar with Geneva, which employs over 8,500 people in that city. The couple decided to move there to learn French and prepare for their ultimate destination.
“Only a couple of months before hopping to our Peace Corps mission, we were finally told we were going to be going to Benin, a country in West Africa, about half the size of Washington state.” In Benin, Schwartz was assigned to the health sector and lived in a small village, trying to identify projects where she could add the most value. “Your job is to look for creative solutions to problems facing the people,” she says. “I quickly realized that the village was on a child-trafficking route, and I dedicated my time there to raise awareness to this problem and work with authorities to find ways to improve the situation.”
After several years in Africa, Steve received a job offer from a nonprofit in Seattle, which gave Jaren a chance to do some more groundbreaking work. “While working in Africa, I encountered a local cashew factory which, via providing stable jobs and income to the locals, raised their quality of life significantly,” she says. “I then realized how the private sector can also have a big impact.” This led her to join the Initiative for Global Development, where she created a network of Fortune 500 CEOs and drove those companies to increase their investment in Africa, leading to the creation of more local jobs and economic boosts.
Today, Schwartz, who lives in Ballard with her husband and baby, works for the startup accelerator Techstars. She works with entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and corporate partners to help startup companies with great ideas mature them into real products. “Moving to the for-profit sector wasn’t something I initially planned to do, but it worked out really well,” Schwartz says. “Working in the startup world is really terrific. My work has always been about impacting the community, and at Techstars, I get to help the local community of startups to grow their business.”