Leveraging a passion for agriculture to address sustainability issues across the globe

During her internship last summer, Jess Newman used her experience and enthusiasm for agriculture to help Anheuser Busch InBev support its barley growers.

Jess Newman was initially drawn to MIT Sloan by its humble, nerdy culture and focus on sustainability. “MIT offered faculty, connections, and resources in the sustainability space that other MBA programs didn’t have,” she recalled. Jess is now finishing her final semester in a three-year dual degree program, receiving an MBA from MIT Sloan and a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Before graduate school, Jess worked across sectors on sustainability issues with a particular focus on agriculture. She spent time at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research's Challenge Program on Climate Change and Food Security in Nairobi, the Ecologic Institute in Berlin, PWC Strategy& in Cleveland and New York, and at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. Thanks to these diverse opportunities, Jess now believes we need passionate environmentalists working within the private sector.

 Last summer, Jess continued to widen her breadth of experiences related to agriculture, interning with Anheuser Busch InBev (AB InBev) as part of the SmartBarley program. SmartBarley helps barley growers benchmark and improve their operations. The program also designs and implements a portfolio of agricultural sustainability projects around the world.

During her time at AB InBev, Jess worked on a variety of projects with agronomists and growers in the United States and Mexico. She helped design and evaluate nitrogen and water efficiency projects, and evaluated a pilot program to provide harvest equipment for growers in central Mexico. When she returned to Sloan in the fall, all of her projects were either in the process of being updated or implemented. “The most important thing I learned is that growers and farm conditions are heterogeneous across—and sometimes even within—regions,” Jess says. “Projects must be closely tailored to local circumstances and meet the unique needs of growers."

“Jess brought a valuable perspective to our team with her previous work in development and her passion for agriculture,” says Katie Hoard, Global Manger of Agricultural Development. “She quickly took ownership of her projects, identified key opportunities and was able to drive results in the short time she was here. The teams Jess worked with in the U.S. and Mexico keep asking me when she is coming back.”

Jess acquired her internship after competing in a SmartBarley case competition at MIT during the fall. She learned about the competition through the Sustainability Initiative’s newsletter. Jess and her partner proposed their best ideas on a new strategic direction for the SmartBarley program. Because they won the national case competition, they were able to leapfrog some of the steps in the usual recruiting process.

Back at MIT, Jess is excited to continue exploring her passion for agriculture during her final semester. “Operations work is a core strength of MIT Sloan, and classes like System Dynamics do a great job of connecting that work to global environmental and social problems,” she says.

Jess has been part of MIT’s Food and Agriculture Club for two years. She was a member of the organizing team for the first Rabobank-MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize, an annual startup competition run by the Club. She also recently represented MIT by serving on General Motors’ first Student Sustainability Advisory Council. Together with four other peers from Penn State, Georgia Tech, The University of Michigan, and Stanford, Jess supplied GM with recommendations for sustainability practices in their tiered supply chain.

This May, Jess will graduate from her dual degree program and join AB InBev full time—along with four other Sustainability Certificate grads—as part of the Global MBA program. “More than anything, I am grateful for the Sustainability Certificate community at Sloan. Going forward, I can draw on my peers—especially those as AB InBev—to help me incorporate what we learned into everyday practice,” she said.