Forging the way for others
"I’ve always believed that you have to set your intention."
Although moving from professional services to the nonprofit arena is quite a leap, Kocan had always been interested in that line of work. The interest dates back to her undergrad focus in sociology and Spanish. She followed up her studies with an MBA at Goizueta, where she attended with Michael, now her husband.
After graduation, she joined Deloitte’s human capital consulting practice, while he went on to Accenture. When the time came for Michael to take part in an international program, they both hoped for a destination in South America, but ended up in Dar es Salaam.
“I’ve always believed that you have to set your intention,” Kocan said, “but also be open to taking the steps toward making that intention a reality once the opportunity is presented to you.” This was one of those moments. The move would mean taking a sabbatical from Deloitte and many sacrifices for the family, but they were willing to make it work.
Neither of them had ever visited, let alone worked in, any part of Africa. So drawing on her network, Kocan reached out to her soccer coach on the NYC women's team, who’d worked on the continent. He connected her to a friend of his, who was a founding board member of Kupona. In short order, she’d secured a volunteer consulting role at the foundation.
Kocan was struck by the strength of the Foundation's staff, which sought to improve the healthcare available to the 12 million Tanzanians living in extreme poverty, earning less than $.60 per day. The gravity of challenges they faced left an impression on her. “Healthcare is a fundamental building block,” Kocan said. “Without it, you can’t make progress.” She believed in the work that they were doing, but also believed that there was the opportunity to unlock greater potential.
"I want my legacy to be one of unlocking human potential and not backing away from the hard problems."
Returning to Deloitte after her husband’s assignment came to a close, Kocan stayed involved through Kupona’s advisory board. She worked with their multiyear strategy, facilitating conversations and helping them identify decision points. “I leaned on my classmates’ experience with nonprofits, and really appreciated their advice and perspective,” Kocan said.
It’s that support that helped her make the decision to join Kupona following the exit of their former executive director. “I knew I could rely on them. That helped me take that step and the risk that came with it.”
The role, she said, “wasn’t necessarily on my timeline, but I had this unique opportunity…and I knew it was a risk worth taking.”
Under her leadership, the Kupona team has grown and nearly tripled annual revenue between 2013 and 2017, raising from just under $500,000 per year to over $1.4 million (over $1.5 million, including in-kind donations). That growth is impressive, but Kocan’s focused on doing even more good, aiming for $7 million by 2020.
Working in partnership, Kocan approaches healthcare comprehensively and leverages local expertise to empower people and communities to move beyond their immediate challenges and realize their potential. Throughout the foundation’s significant growth, “the soft skills I learned at Goizueta and honed in consulting have remained vital,” Kocan said.
“Yes, you need analysis, business plans and profitability models," she said. "You need innovation and technology. But you also have to listen, and appreciate cultural norms and differences. It’s a matter of stepping back, seeing macro-level global trends, and then drilling down into what those mean, how they drive both immediate actions and longer-term strategy. It makes your work sustainable. It’s such a buzzword, but sustainability is actually one of the only things that matters.”
Although the question of creating legacy isn’t foremost in Kocan’s mind, she’s clear about it: “I want my legacy to be one of unlocking human potential and not backing away from the hard problems.” She’s certainly building such a legacy through Kupona — one that the world can see. There’s another aspect of her legacy — one that’s closer to home. “My husband and I want to set an example for our 2-year-old son,” she said. “We want our son to see a hard problem, and rather than backing down, to think about what he — along with his network and community — can do to solve that problem.”
There’s little doubt that he’ll do so, creating a better world in the process. Just like his mom.