Cody Pope took his dual degree in Anthropology-Zoology and Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Sciences, and went to work at Harvard as a primate researcher, eventually becoming a political risk consultant. He’s found an amazing Esc opportunity and is moving to Mozambique this week to help manage a community reserve and report on elephant poaching.

The most inspiring bit? He doesn’t have to quit his day job. He works remotely. His story reminded me that ‘escaping’ is often about balancing what pays, with pursuing passion. It also reminded me that following your intellectual curiosity will lead you down winding and unpredictable, but ultimately fascinating paths – as you’ll see from Cody’s guest post below.

A quick plug: since the 1989 ban, the ivory trade has declined, but as of late the illegal poaching of ivory is once again on the rise. Cody is producing an interactive app through Kickstarter – see here – it closes Friday!  

I’m not a traditional escaper

I didn’t work in corporate for the last 5 years. I wasn’t at Accenture, helping some widget factory save 0.5% on widget production.

I didn’t go to business school, and I never cared much to learn about the effects of subsidies on economic equilibrium (though I did).

But, I’ve always been close to becoming one of those corporates, one of those widgets.

Those cogs that push paper, that make powerpoint decks and make the West run.

All my friends are corporates. They work at hedge funds, banks, consulting firms, and the like. But not me, I’ve always been close, but I’ve also always been just a few beats out of step, always escaping.

My story so far

My journey to my present place in the world is long and winding, mostly centered on a desire to escape as much as possible. I started off in college some eleven years ago as physics engineering student, which is like seeking a degree in the philosophy of management theory. And, after only one semester of honors calculus and C++ programing, I escaped to Australia, finagling my way into a Freshman year study abroad (I got A’s in both classes, by the way).

I still studied physics in Oz, but I quickly became distracted by other subjects. And when I returned to the States a year later, I was an anthropologist with the expressed goal of studying apes in the jungles of Africa. And, so I did. But not before I learned French and spent another semester abroad in Provence, drinking wine and falling in love with the European workweek.

Harvard, Africa, and living like Don Draper…

Upon graduation from the University of Michigan, with a dual degree in Anthropology-Zoology and Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Sciences, I went to work at Harvard as a primate researcher and then left for East Africa where I spent almost a year tracking mountain gorillas and working for the Max-Planck Institute of Germany.

When I returned from Africa with no real plan, but no longer a desire to pursue a PhD, I drifted for a bit. I worked as journalist, writing about international water issues. I was published in such disparate places as the Denver Post and the Malaysia Air inflight magazine, Going Places.

But then, the corporates started calling to me. My friends all had money. They all lived in New York and spent their free time drinking, and partying, and generally acting like Don Draper.

I wanted in.

So, I applied to Columbia University’s School of International Affairs. And, for two years I studied all the subjects I missed as a liberal arts science major: economics, management theory, accounting, and budgeting.

Through a capstone-like project, I went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and studied the copper industry for the UNDP and World Bank. I even spent a week with one of the signers of the DRC’s declaration of independence.

Back in New York, I spent my free time drinking, and partying, and generally acting like Don Draper. And then I graduated.

How I became a political risk analyst

First, I spent a few months in Sri Lanka, working as a consultant and spending time with my girlfriend, and then, I became a political risk analyst, specializing in Central Africa. I got the job through a random Linkedin message I sent to the head of the division I wanted to work for.

My job was/is to inform the corporates of the world about the investment risks of various African nations.

Now, I spend my days reading the news from Africa, and generally trying to understand just what is going on in the jungles of Eastern Congo.

At the same time, my research helps oil companies understand the risk factors involved with drilling for petrol in one of the last refuges of the gorillas that I used to study. But hey, I am partying in NYC, right?

Escaping to Mozambique

So now, I’ve decided to escape again. I’m still a risk analyst, but I’m also going to work part-time at an amazing job I found on Esc.

I’ll be helping to manage a Community Reserve in Mozambique and at the same time reporting on elephant poaching in the reserve!

My real job will still occupy part of my day, but the other half will be spend tracking elephants and welcoming tourists to Mozambique.

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