02 Apr 2014
Disrupting the Criminal Supply Chain
Kayla Brochu is using business and legal strategies to combat some of the world's worst crimes.by Constantine von HoffmanTopics:
It is often said that two years at HBS prepares its graduates to lead a wide range of organizations and endeavors and to find solutions to a host of business and social challenges. Still, Kanwaljit Bakshi (MBA/JD 1999), known to friends and colleagues as Kayla Brochu, stands out for her work—using her dual law and business degrees to fight some of the world's most disturbing criminals.
Since 2011, Brochu, 42, has been the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's Expert on Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking, a position she came to after nine years at the US Department of Justice prosecuting child abuse and pornography cases. In many ways, she is as surprised with her career path as she was at finding herself at HBS in the first place. In other ways, she says, both make perfect sense.
"I tried lots of different things," Brochu says, noting a tradition in her family of going into science and engineering. But those paths never felt like quite the right fit. "Since high school, I had done volunteer work with homeless kids and vulnerable children and domestic violence victims," she says. "Somehow, that really spoke to me."
When she graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in psychology, "I thought I was going to go to Peace Corps, but for family reasons I wanted to stay in the United States," Brochu says. "So I thought, 'If I'm going to stay in the United States, I'm going to get the most funding I possibly can and go to Harvard.'"
And that's what she did, working for McKinsey and Co. before getting into Harvard. But she enrolled in the law school, not the business school.
While Brochu says she enjoyed HLS intellectually, she didn't feel it was a very good fit for her personality. She found that fit when she took a social enterprise class at HBS.
"When I got to the social enterprise class, the creativity and the grandness of plans and sense of empowerment among the students and in the cases people would study, I found all of that exhilarating," she says. "Culturally, I fit in better in the business school than at the law school. I think that comes from a sense of optimism and the sense that you can do anything.
"At HBS, there is a sense of, 'If not you, then who?' It was so empowering and so exciting. It really made me feel—and has continued to make me feel—like 'I'm in the club of the people who do great things. Now it's up to me to do great things.'"
Even though she was too far along in her studies to do the joint JD/MBA program, Brochu decided to enroll at HBS anyway. One semester she took 10 classes, which, even by HBS standards, shows a lot of drive. "I've no idea how I did it. I didn't sleep much," she laughs.
After graduation, Brochu went to Silicon Valley and worked for a computer security firm. But like the rest of the nation, her worldview shifted on 9/11. She decided to return to Washington, DC, her hometown, and get involved in public service.
She was recruited by the Department of Justice to work on computer crime in national security, but Brochu's knowledge of computer security, plus her earlier experience as a volunteer legal aid for families and children, made her the perfect candidate to prosecute child abuse and exploitation cases. So when she arrived in Washington, "They said, 'We can use you to do this.' It was almost like, now I couldn't resist what I really wanted to do. It was great."
More than her legal experience, however, Brochu sees her business background as really making the difference in her work. "The models of law enforcement and international public policy are not strategic by nature," she explains. "There are no other Harvard MBAs working there. Just having that perspective has been very valuable both to me and hopefully to the outcomes.
"As horrible as it may seem, sex traffickers operate a lot like businesses," she says. "You see these fascinating informal networks of organized criminals sort of collaborating through different aspects of the human trafficking supply chain, so to speak.
"It takes a highly focused effort to think about that, to figure out a way that we're going to respond to this," she adds. "The natural law enforcement approach is to maybe use a teaspoon approach and just go after the people we have evidence on right now. But instead, we're going to think strategically. We're going to dismantle enterprises. We're going to push money laundering laws, because they are very broad and they allow us to take a lot of the value away from the perpetrators."
After nearly a decade with the Department of Justice, in 2010, Brochu had her first child and shortly thereafter decided she could no longer work 70 hours a week and travel 200,000 miles a year. She spent her maternity leave in Austria, where her husband was working and where there was a UN office that was looking for "an expert at the intersection of technology, child exploitation, and trafficking," she says. "It was a job description that I would have written for myself."
Now back in the Washington area, "I do all of the strategy for how the UN promotes or incentivizes countries to work together to develop laws that are consistent and compatible," she says. "This is incredibly important, to cooperate in law enforcement, to create mechanisms for real-time information sharing—strategically helping them focus on what the UN should be doing about child trafficking. Whether creating resources or creating new laws or just being the broker for information sharing, my job is to drive the strategy on this very narrow field."
Photo by Katherine Lambert
Class of MBA 1999, Section J