Millennium Villages Project Program Coordinator, Columbia University
2010 Young Alumni Achievement Award Winner
Majors: Computer Science and Integrated International Studies
Matt Berg, a 2000 Knox College graduate and 2010 Young Alumni Achievement
Award recipient, is expanding technology in developing nations. For his efforts
he has been named one of the 100 "most influential people in the world" by Time magazine in 2010. Read more about the recognition.
After graduating from Knox with a double major in computer science and integrated international studies, Berg received his MBA in international management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. After working several years for Web startups, he served as a volunteer for Geekcorps, a non-profit organization working to expand Internet use in emerging nations. He then became Geekcorps' Mali country director and helped create the Last Mile Initiative, a USAID pilot program to bring basic information and communication technologies services to rural African villages. In addition to his recognition in Time magazine, Berg earned a Tech Museum Laureate Award in 2006, and was featured in CNN's Business 2.0, Make magazine, and in the book WorldChanging.
Berg currently serves as the information and communications technologies coordinator for the Millennium Villages Project at Columbia University, where he oversees the use of technology to help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development goals within Millennium Villages in Sub-Saharan Africa. An emerging leader in the field of mobile health, Berg is helping to pioneer the use of text messages to improve the delivery and monitoring of health services in resource poor settings.
Knox Magazine: Please describe your Knox experience.
Matthew Berg: My experience at Knox was everything I could have hoped for. Academically, I appreciated the direct engagement of our professors and the diverse perspective of my classmates. I was exposed to a lot of new ideas and, as a result, had my identity and ideas challenged in a way I didn't expect. It was at times tough but ultimately a really good thing. I was lucky enough to be able to compete in several sports but fell in love with the tradition that is Knox College Club Lacrosse. I really enjoyed being able to help run the club and enjoyed that we were able to compete with and sometimes even beat some bigger Division I schools. After growing up abroad, I greatly appreciated being back in an environment where diversity was deeply respected. As was the case for most Knox students, I made many friends for life, several of whom are now family. Lastly, I was fortunate to share my college experience with my younger brother, who also went to Knox.
KM: How has that experience affected your life?
MB: Fundamentally. Besides truly getting a world-class education, which I realize more and more every day, Knox empowered and equipped me to pursue my dreams. When I came to Knox and said I wanted to combine my passions of Africa and technology (not exactly a hot topic 10 years ago), Knox responded by saying, "Ok, that's not crazy. Let's help you get there." As a result, I was encouraged to double major in computer science and integrated international studies and turn the research I started during my study abroad program in Zimbabwe into an Honor's project. The Honors Program at Knox is incredible. Not only are you allowed the time to dive into a topic, but you are given real resources including an office and funding for research as well. In bringing in an outside examiner for my Honor's defense, Knox in effect told me that my ideas are important. For an undergraduate student about to begin his career, this was extremely empowering. When your professors and friends from Knox believe in you, it's a lot easier to believe in yourself.
KM: What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
MB: I'm probably the most excited by my recent work using cell phones and text messaging to promote child survival and health. Working with the Millennium Villages Project, we've established a program called ChildCount that enables Community Health Care workers armed with basic cell phones to monitor the health of the children in their communities. Currently, we are using ChildCount in Kenya to register and monitor 10,000 children under five for malnutrition, malaria, and diarrhea. We are also using it to help ensure each child gets its full immunization schedule. While we are still in the early stages of this project, I feel that is has the most potential of anything I've ever done to make a real impact. Getting to direct the Geekcorps' program in Mali was an incredible experience and personal honor as well.
KM: What words of advice would you offer to current Knox students?
MB: First, make Knox work for you. You have a world-class faculty and resources that, due to Knox's size, are uniquely accessible. Be resourceful, be respectful, but be demanding. If there's a class you want to take that's not available, try and make it so. Make sure you make your Knox experience the way you want it to be. Second, define your own path and view of what it means to be a success. Don't let others -- or society -- define this for you. Make your own opportunities and always follow your gut.