McDonough School of Business
Evacuees board an Ark Salus charter flight at Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 22, 2021. Photo: Ark Salus.
News Story

MA-IBP Students Use Social Action Project to Help Evacuate Afghan Refugees

As part of their Social Action Project, students in the Master of Arts in International Business and Policy (MA-IBP) program at Georgetown McDonough helped evacuate refugees from Afghanistan in August 2021 during the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. 

Timothy “Tito” Torres (MA-IBP’21), Kristie Cole (MA-IBP’21), and Zach Pyle (MA-IBP’21) conducted their project by studying their work on the evacuations from the perspective of crisis management, stakeholder management, and network collaboration. They demonstrated remarkable initiative, use of networks, and creativity to fund and organize evacuation efforts under dire circumstances. 

Georgetown McDonough spoke with Kristie Cole – one of the students involved in the Afghanistan evacuation project – about the life-saving efforts that were conducted and how the team worked together to evacuate over 1,000 people to safety.

Please describe your Social Action Project. How did you execute the assignment? 

We had originally planned to travel to Ghana in September 2021 to research opportunities regarding blended finance. Our interest and motivations were that Zach has on-the-ground experience in West Africa, Timothy is scheduled to serve as defense attaché to a country in Africa next year, and it is the one continent I didn’t have a lot of experience in. We also shared an interest in public and private opportunities, partnerships, and financing that could be struck to drive progress.

This all changed when Kabul fell. When it happened, we were just returning from a week in Frankfurt with our MA-IBP classmates. Timothy served 11 tours in Afghanistan. During the fall of Kabul, he called me to tell me he was very upset by the events that had transpired. I asked how I could help. We were also in close contact with Zach, a Marine veteran. 

The three of us spent the next two weeks working approximately 20 hours daily on evacuation efforts. We brought in many of our classmates and the broader Georgetown community to help raise over $8 million in one week to evacuate over 1,000 people. We are careful not to quote an exact number as we partnered on so many evacuations and an exact number is difficult to quantify.

After the experience, Dean Joel Hellman and Professor Michael Ryan encouraged us to shift our Social Action Project to continue focusing on the Afghan evacuation efforts, and Professor Ben Connable trained us to conduct academic social science interviews. 

We conducted 50 interviews with people from the private, nonprofit, and volunteer communities that were involved in the efforts. Professor Connable has continued to advise us in our efforts, and Professor Dan Byman has offered us his support throughout the process. 

Timothy and I are currently working with a ghostwriter and several research assistants from Georgetown to write a book on the research – providing an overarching narrative grounded on research on what happened in the volunteer efforts during the Afghan evacuation.

When you reflect on your MA-IBP Social Action Project, what are some of the biggest takeaways and learning experiences? What surprised you the most about some of the project outcomes? 

I feel the purpose of the Social Action Project was to get us out of our comfort zones and drive us to new heights – exploring topics of interest that we didn’t have previous experience in. I think all three of us would agree that we had no idea how meaningful and impactful the experience would be in our lives. It has formatively shaped all three of us.

Zach is currently the CEO of Onyx Industries. After connecting with his business partner during the evacuation efforts, he took on that post. They are deeply innovative and are problem-solving for some of the issues that came up during the evacuation crisis.

I made a major shift to UNICEF – overseeing the gift fundraising for the entire United States. The experience was life-altering, and I knew I wanted to move into the humanitarian space. I also remain deeply engaged in the Afghan evacuation community and have begun supporting veteran’s affairs as it has been really difficult to watch the sharp increase in mental health struggles of our service men and women and veterans since the United States pulled out of Afghanistan. 

Finally, I co-founded a startup with a fellow classmate, Ryan Gillis. The startup, which is called, provides valuable data insights, especially for crisis management.

Timothy has established himself as a leader in the Afghanistan-United States conversation. He held a major conference attended by over 300 people on Georgetown’s campus. At the conference, Dean Hellman, Professor Brad Jensen, and several others provided remarks. Additionally, many members from the special operations and Afghan communities attended the event. I think what surprised us the most was the level of support we received from the Georgetown community. The deans, professors, and alumni all rallied around us. They helped us during the evacuations and then did everything in their power to spread our story and work afterwards. 

We’ve been moved by the community’s support and are deeply grateful for their continued encouragement. I also believe that Timothy and Zach might say that their experience in the program has helped them with their transition and/or pending transitions from military life to veteran/civilian life.

How did you utilize the MA-IBP program to assist with your Afghan evacuation efforts?

I think we’d all say that the best part of our program was our classmates. MA-IBP puts together a phenomenal, world-class cohort. There were so many diverse needs that had to be met in order for our efforts to be successful. Our cohort had such deep expertise in vastly different industries, so we called upon many of our classmates for help, counsel, and to utilize their hands-on work. It honestly nearly became a full-class Social Action project.

Throughout our research, we have often come back to Professor Katherine Donato’s class on displacement and migration and Professor Michael O’Leary’s course on leadership.

How has the MA-IBP Social Action Project influenced your career to date? In what ways does this experience set Georgetown apart from other universities that might offer similar curriculums?

The program has massively shaped our careers, and specifically, the Afghan evacuation efforts. Georgetown put together a phenomenal cohort of people who wanted the business expertise that McDonough provided but have a broader interest in the world and the complexities of how progress is driven forward. 

The Social Action Project challenged us to identify complex problems where the private, public, nonprofit, and non-governmental sectors were all at play in a global space. Furthermore, the faculty and alumni’s caliber and influence in world politics are unmatched.

M.A. in International Business and Policy