Leveraged Knowledge and Cyclical Inequality
  Leveraged Knowledge and  Cyclical Inequality
Berhane Azage
Stanford University

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Ever since I was a kid, I had long perceived education as a way up.  In high school, the path was fairly clear: college.  I had my ‘break’ when I attended Stanford – I became the Stanford guy to my colleagues in high school. Later, the next step was less clear. I had another break that looked up when I joined Lehman Brothers and later McKinsey.

Having come from an immigrant family making ends meet, my leverage was educational merit and a support network I derived through it. My chances of setting on such course would have been close to nil had it not been for my focus on education. I would not have gone to Stanford on scholarship without the network of teachers and mentors. My impact looked even stronger as I had increased access to knowledge, research, and a collaborative and talented network of peers.  The same can be said of my professional journey.  In some ways, breaking the barriers looked like it was getting slightly easier.  

In another way, success has become increasingly relationship driven.  I have increasingly noticed that one’s personal success is increasingly driven by not only individual merit but also by one’s leveraged knowledge partners/network, community of talented people who trust and support you genuinely.  The expansiveness and ease of access to building, in my view, is heavily influenced by where one fits in the “haves and have nots” spectrum.

Educational platforms (e.g., high schools through college) offer few of the touching points when so many diverse populations interact almost freely without the threat of losing bread the next day. Without such proper environment though, the individual merit will never shine and we may lose again on rewarding those who can have increasing impact. Thereby lies a key challenge on how we foster a system that stays true to the American dream of a “land of opportunities.” While we celebrate rising above the odds, I wonder what the cyclical inequality curve would look like without fixing the system that fixes the odds.
Berhane Azage earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at Stanford University. He is a senior corporate strategy associate with Flextronics. Bill Tierney told part of Berhane’s story in the introduction to the AERA 2103 Annual Meeting theme.
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