“You should be willing to prioritize those preferences and realize that you do not need to follow the mainstream.”- Ming Khor
Ming Khor is the founder and CEO of Keru, a social impact consulting and service learning education organization that provides transformative project-based educational experiences for high school students and professionals. He graduated from Wharton with an MBA in 2016 and spent his undergraduate years at University of Toronto International Relations. In this interview, he discusses his career decisions after college and how he intertwines business and social impact. His persistence and courage has led to his success in China.
How has being the Program Manager at Teach for China changed you?
“After university I became a Program Manager for Teach for China, because I wanted to absorb the culture as much as possible, due to my Asian roots. I was sent out to rural YuanNan and my job was to visit multiple rural towns. The job was very much outside of my experience—it was very rewarding but extremely tough as well. As a foreigner, I am crossing a socio-economic, geographic, and cultural barrier. Nonetheless, I learned a lot about how things are done in different parts of the world. This motivated me to learn more about issues of international development and equity in terms of opportunity.”
What made you decide to start a business in China after graduating from Wharton’s MBA Program?
“I entered Wharton and debated between making a career transition into professional services and continuing with my former experience with Teach For China. It was a hard decision, but I felt that my core values were telling me to not completely switch directions. My first year internship really confirmed that for me. I had the opportunity to intern for Apple in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) department. It diminished my uncertainty of whether I was good enough to compete in the corporate world. Secondly, it was in their CSR department where I was specifically looking at labor issues in China. It was a perfect fit given my past experience.
However, I felt my job was a small piece in a very big machine. Thus, I decided to decline the return offer, and that is when I set myself off on the path of starting my own company. I had no idea what I was doing; I just had this intuition that people should spend more time outside their comfort zone and transverse those things that divide us, whether they are cultural, socio-economic or geographic. ”
What are some memorable projects at Keru?
“At the MBA level, we had the Wharton Global Consulting Practicum where MBA students would receive a project from a client, and we would spend some time traveling to their site and conduct the project. This is similar to what Keru does, but for the high school level. We consider ourselves a social enterprise with approximately 30 different program partners across China and Southeast Asia. For example, one project partner is working on water safety, while another is working to commercialize agricultural products to help rural farmers out of poverty. Some others are working on education. We organize groups of professionals and high school students to travel to these rural regions to do short consulting projects.
For my first project at Keru, we did a needs analysis for the local communities and surveyed the water quality of three villages. Then, we presented a report to the nonprofit organization on the needs of the local villages and the water quality issues. We also delivered real educational value to the students to teach them how to conduct water safety analysis, how to do interviews with villagers, and other consulting skills. It was a win-win situation: the local village got water filters; the nonprofit got a report; the students learned how to do a professional project; I was able to generate value. From there, we have basically grown at about 50 to 100% every single year. It has been a very rewarding journey, both from the business and the social impact perspective.”
What would be one takeaway from the interview?
“My advice for undergraduates is to really reflect on what your personality and your preferences are. You should be willing to prioritize those preferences and realize that you do not need to follow the mainstream. There is no wrong answer. Thus, I highly encourage people to have the courage to explore who they are, to go through that process of ranking their preferences, and then make their choices based on that. It is a lot easier to do what everyone else says, but if anyone makes a clear-headed decision, I think that this effort will result in dividends. My five years of entrepreneurship have been difficult but it was absolutely the right thing for me to do based on my circumstances and my personality.”