Benjamin D’Innocenzo ’10 first became interested in the Peace Corps while studying abroad in South Africa, where he met volunteers with the organization. “I was inspired by their selfless nature and their hard-earned life skills,” he recalls. “They were taking the time to put themselves in the position to add enormous value to a community that would never receive that kind of attention otherwise.”
Now, four years later, D’Innocenzo will return to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer in the west central nation of Cameroon. (The Peace Corps recently published a profile on D’Innocenzo’s service.)
D’Innocenzo will be hosted by a microfinance firm, working within his village as a community economic development consultant to help the community meet certain needs including obtaining loans to fund public projects – such as purchasing a new water pump – and acting as a makeshift credit union, providing small business loans for entrepreneurs and farmers.
It was also his experience as a Hobart student in South Africa that inspired his interest in business development problems. “I had never traveled to a developing country before,” he recalls. “Experiencing a different way of life solidified how lucky I am to have so many opportunities and it made me realized how blessed I have been – and that I should give back.”
After graduation, D’Innocenzo studied in London and Bangkok earning his MBA from St. Mary’s University College. His work in investment at UBS in London may seem very different from the work in Cameroon, but D’Innocenzo sees similarities in the microfinance and anti-poverty mission of his Peace Corps placement.
“Banks must consider the trickle down effects of their actions, and fully acknowledge the stakeholders in their businesses – the environment, the people they are employing,” says D’Innocenzo. “The needs of a community are the same – whether it is Cameroon or London – the same stakeholders exist, the same connections.”
D’Innocenzo will spend the first three months of his service living with a host family, learning about Cameroonian culture, and getting help with his French language skills.
On a personal level, D’Innocenzo is eager to brush up on his high school French, and to settle into life in the village. “I am very excited to learn a culture intimately,” he explains. “I appreciated that aspect of living in Bangkok, as well interacting with people in my neighborhood, knowing a different way of life and a different way of thinking.”
D’Innocenzo is already looking to the future, and sees his time in the Peace Corps as an important cornerstone in his career. “I want this to be a progressive experience, and I hope to apply to a number of government agencies after my time in Africa,” he says, noting places such as the State Department and the Foreign Service. “I would love to get on the diplomat track and work at embassies overseas. This is a great segue into that field.”
And when D’Innocenzo gets any free time from his busy schedule helping Cameroonians build their communities? “Surf,” laughs D’Innocenzo. “Surfing is my big passion, and I hope to take a trip to Senegal to catch some waves.”
D’Innocenzo graduated from Hobart in 2010 with degrees in art history and studio art. On campus, D’Innocenzo served as Arts Collective co-president.