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Between Two Classes: Diana Mongare

“I feel like I live in a duality where I want to preserve the earth for future generations, and at the same time create authentic experiences for people who are on earth right now to connect, enjoy life, and be in community with each other.”

We’re excited to share our third interview of Between Two Classes, an interview series where we explore how members of the HBS community see the world, and why.

Our third interview is with Diana Mongare (MBA ’25). Diana grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and attended UPenn where she was in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business. After school, Diana worked at McKinsey in Washington, D.C. and held numerous investing roles in Nairobi at CrossBoundary, LGT Venture Philanthropy Foundation, Haba Capital, and Future Africa. Much of her investing experience centered on climate action and startups in Africa.

What is your idea of happiness and how has it developed over time?

Mongare: My idea of happiness is rooted in family and community – meaning friends and people you love. I’ve reflected a lot about what happiness means to me, especially after I moved back home to Kenya after undergrad in the US.

Kenya’s economy is not as strong as the US, and the job opportunities are limited, so I was going into a very uncertain environment. And so that was an adjustment, as someone who was coming from an institution where success is very much defined by the place you work, where you live, getting the next promotion, etcetera. I shifted from that mentality to one that was about doing meaningful work that has an impact on an economy that needs it. And additionally, doing things that I love. 

I invested more time in exploring artistic talents, and I shunned the notion that what you do from nine to five is what defines you as a person. My definition of happiness and success have become more holistic. I got more in touch with the fact that humans are communal – we need to share and build in harmony rather than being so individualistic.

What impact did your childhood have on the person you are today?

Mongare: I was an only child for close to 13 years, so I spent a lot of time with my parents and got to know them closely as individuals. My Dad is a professor – he’s Christian, but he teaches Islamic Education. We were very open to different religions and cultures as a result. We had Muslim and Buddhist friends come over, we attended things like Ramadan and celebrated Diwali. I think that’s really influenced my ability to connect and build meaningful friendships with people from different cultures and religions. It’s also pushed me to put myself in environments where I’m different from others and seek how I can learn from them. 

And then my Mom was a teacher turned real estate developer. I learned how to hustle and be entrepreneurial from her. She’s a big reason I got into business. I really admire how she’s pushed to build her career. 

My parents separated when I was young, so that also meant I was often in one parent households. I spent a lot of time in the library reading books about different countries. From an early age I wanted to travel and see the world. That curiosity fueled me to move to the U.S. and seek new experiences.

You are known for being a bit of a “Renaissance Woman” and having many different interests. I am really curious to know: if you had “multiple precious lives” and not just one, what would you be doing in those parallel universes?

Mongare: This question reminds me of the letter we had to write in LEAD about our future self. 

I think in one parallel universe I would want to continue being a climate investor and back technologies targeting industrials and traditional oil and gas businesses. We need to have the companies and countries most responsible for emissions in the world taking a lead in paying to transition the world into a cleaner future. And in particular, I’d be very passionate about building infrastructure in Africa. I think we need to drive industrialization in Africa in a clean and green way.  

And in another parallel universe, I’d be a touring DJ. In the winters I’d be in Brazil and Uruguay, and in the summers I’d be in Berlin and I don’t know, maybe southern France and Asia. I would also own rooftop bars in four different cities: Nairobi, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and Mexico City. I’d also be creating music festivals or other types of hospitality and entertainment experiences. 

All of these parallel universes – climate change, music, entertainment – center around human connection. I feel like I live in a duality where I want to preserve the earth for future generations, and at the same time create authentic experiences for people who are on earth right now to connect, enjoy life, and be in community with each other.

I love that. Let’s have a good time now while also preserving that right for future generations. Last question – if you could have dinner with three people (dead or alive, real or not) who would they be and why?

Mongare: Dinner guest one would be Wangari Maathai, who is an environmentalist and activist from Kenya who passed away a few years ago. She's the first Nobel Peace Prize winner in Kenya. She spent a lot of time fighting for the preservation of the environment. In the 80’s there was a forest in Nairobi that was going to be cut down to build apartments and she led a naked protest in front of the police in a public market that was successful in preventing the development. Largely because of her, Nairobi is such a green city. I can only imagine how much more she would do if she were still alive. We need more of these environmental and political activists who are able to catalyze change. 

The second person would be Angela Merkel. She’s made some of the world's biggest decisions while being so calm and collected. She was at the forefront of fighting for human rights. There can be debate about the effects of immigration on the German economy, but I think she chose humanity first. I think if the EU’s biggest power wasn’t taking this kind of stance on immigration, other European nations would have been even less open to immigrants.

The last one would be Elizabeth Holmes. I just really want to understand what happened. Where did she lose the plot? I think the cost of failure for women is so high because the opportunities presented to you are so few. I imagine she was under that kind of pressure and I wonder if that challenged her ethics. I’d love to better understand if she inherently is a bad person or if she was caught in a bad situation and made the wrong decisions.

Jay Bhandari (MBA ’25) is originally from Houston, Texas. He graduated from Georgetown University in 2018 with a degree in Economics. Prior to the HBS MBA, Jay worked at thredUP in San Francisco and at Blackstone in New York.

Sam Berube (MBA ’25) is originally from Dover, Massachusetts. He graduated from Brown University with an honors degree in International & Comparative Political Science in 2019. Prior to his matriculation at HBS, Sam worked in corporate strategy at the McDonald's Corporation in Chicago, and for BCG in Boston. He is also an avid landscape and wildlife photographer.

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