Ex-consultant now helps orphans with AIDS
Most people wouldn’t walk away from a high-paying job. But Kim Ogden did. “It was time,” she says with a gentle laugh.
Ogden, 44, who had risen to partner at Bain & Co., the Boston-based management consulting firm, headed off at the end of 2002, after 14 years there. Her destination: an unpaid position as chief operating officer of Agape International, a nonprofit organization in Sudbury, Mass., that cares for children in India—ages 18 months to 16 years—orphaned as a result of AIDS. In doing so, she traded in her eye-popping partner paycheck, which typically reaches seven figures for top consulting jobs.
Ogden had harbored the altruistic goal of blending challenging work with giving back to society ever since she graduated from Dartmouth College in 1984, armed with a degree in economics. She did interview with nonprofit firms after earning an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1989, but nothing met her salary objectives or offered the learning opportunity and responsibility she desired. “I figured I could pay off my student loans and be more effective later with some training,” she says.
Hitting the wall. The years slid by, and with them came lucrative promotions. Although she struggled with the trade-off, she stayed the course, until 9/11, when a few people she knew lost their lives. “I hit the wall,” she remembers. “I realized I could die tomorrow. I had been feeling I wasn’t really doing what I was supposed to be for a long time. I asked, ‘Am I pleased with what I have accomplished?’ I had good intentions, but I wasn’t doing anything to help those less fortunate.”
In 2002, she took a six-month sabbatical. Ogden and her husband, Frank, also a management consultant, had socked away an ample nest egg. Moreover, her husband’s paycheck bought Ogden some freedom.
She began volunteering with a number of nonprofits, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston. Then a few months into her sabbatical, she heard Lynne Guhman, who would go on to found Agape (the Greek word for unconditional love, pronounced ah-guh-pay), speak at her church about her vision for aids orphanages. “We clicked right away,” she remembers.
Guhman, also in her mid-40s, is another corporate exile. She first visited India in 2000 and helped start an orphanage. While there, Guhman became convinced that she could make a difference for India’s children whose lives have been torn apart by aids. Tens of thousands of them live amid garbage in slums of plastic tents. She quit her investment management job and returned to live in India.
Overwhelmed. In 2003, Ogden helped Guhman launch Agape. Today, Ogden is responsible for running all of Agape’s U.S. operations out of her home office. “Bain taught me how to take scarce resources and figure out how to allocate them,” she says. Her background gave her a network of potential donors to call upon—some 400 have signed on to date, in addition to private foundations. She handles everything from accounting to fundraising and licking stamps for handwritten thank-you notes to donors, while caring for two teenage boys and a 2-year-old daughter.
In Hyderabad, a city in south-central India, a region overwhelmed by aids, Agape runs three orphanages, home to 130 children. Worldwide there are an estimated 15.2 million aids orphans (children who have lost one or both parents to the epidemic), according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Plans call for Agape to open two or three additional orphanages this year, as well as a 20-bed hospice. Currently, one of the existing orphanages is designated for children who are hiv positive—more will be added. “One third of our kids are hiv positive themselves,” says Ogden, who recently returned from her first trip to India.
Ogden was moved by meeting the kids she is helping. “These children just soak up the love,” she says, on the edge of tears. “They just want to be held when they arrive, and before long, they are laughing, going to school, and playing with the other children.”
Ogden admits to sometimes missing the instant respect afforded a partner at Bain. “I’ve had to let it go,” she says. “There’s something so liberating about not caring a