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Korbel Grad Realizes Dream of International Development Work

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Emma Atkinson

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Korbel alum Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley remembers the exact moment he realized he wanted to work in international development and global aid. He was a grad student, attending an event in what is now the Sié Center at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

Shanley had spent the previous two years working for the Peace Corps in Ukraine, an experience that put him on the path to becoming a human rights officer at the United Nations. But on that day, as he listened to a talk by Kevin Bales, co-founder of the nonprofit Free the Slaves, he says, “my career trajectory changed.  

“[Bales] really helped me understand that what I wanted to do is support long-term development, as opposed to human rights.”.

After seeing Bales speak, Shanley’s path forward was clear and, with the help of DU’s career center, he set forth on a journey of international aid work that has culminated in the founding of two nonprofit groups and a career spent traveling the world.

After receiving his master's degree, Shanley moved to Washington, D.C., and, with the help of a Korbel connection, began working for Chemonics International, an organization that implements USAID funding around the world. There, he designed and managed projects for governments, businesses, and civil society organizations in emerging markets across five continents.

In 2013, Shanley left Chemonics to start his own consulting firm, Konektid International, to help fill the gap he saw between great ideas, especially in emerging markets, and accessibility to USAID funding to implement those ideas.

“Why is that important? It’s more than $20 billion, that USAID gives out every year,” he says. “So, organizations around the world come to us, that are interested in getting that funding. And then we help them to navigate the process of getting federal funding.”

The organizations then use that federal money to fund international development projects that improve living and working conditions in developing countries—like promoting safe sex and providing anti-retroviral drugs in countries where HIV and AIDS cases are high.

Shanley also founded AidKonekt, a spin-off of Konektid International, a software consultancy that helps non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through the digital logistics of winning USAID money.

His work has taken him all over the world, from Brussels to South Korea. He regularly presents to partners in Europe and North America and also does virtual events in locations that are major donor hubs, like Nairobi, Kenya.

And Shanley is interested in helping other Korbel grads find their places in the world of international development. Konektid International offers an internship program which two Korbel graduates have already participated in and gone on to get hired by USAID partners.

“We start with, what are the interview questions your target employer is going to ask you, and we build the internship around that first interview with the employer,” he says. “So, they're going to say, ‘Do you have experience working on USAID projects? Do you have experience reviewing USAID business development?’ So, we build the internship to get someone the very practical experience and getting them to know the language that the USAID partners are going to look for.”

Students interested in the Konektid internship program can reach out to Shanley via his LinkedIn account.