In this alumni profile, we interview Rachel Buchan, former Head of Capstone’s Outreach team.
Public service is more than a phrase for Rachel Buchan. It’s a commitment, a calling, and a career and the force that drives her daily.
Before joining Capstone in 2017, the Birmingham, AL, native taught in Turkey, worked on Capitol Hill, and earned her master’s degree in Australia. Her 2015‒2016 Fulbright Award to teach English in Karabük, Turkey, was a fateful point in her public service career. “When I look back, I see this as one of the most formative experiences of my life. It was authentic,” she says.
Rachel was deeply inspired by her students, many of whom were refugees during the height of the Syrian civil war, one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history. “I keep a picture of my students on my desk to this day,” she says.
Her students cherished the safe space that Rachel provided and shared their stories of war, hunger, and upheaval with her. They are the “main reason I wanted to work in public service and follow good governance,” she says. She is still in touch with them and in September 2022, Rachel returned to Turkey to attend the wedding of one of her students. “This young man experienced some of the worst things and saw the worst of humanity, but he chose to move forward and find love,” she says.
After moving back to the US, Rachel was fully on board with public service and worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “Jumping into the deep end of public service is an intense experience,” she says. After Clinton lost, “we were pretty crushed.” Rachel was undaunted, however, and was soon offered an internship at the Office of Barack and Michelle Obama. “I learned about the opportunity a couple of hours before the deadline and barely submitted in time,” she says. “So, I was shocked when I got a call for an interview, and even more shocked when I was sitting in a conference room meeting the Obamas as their new intern three weeks later.”
After this internship, Rachel wanted to better understand the interests and perspectives of entities that hold power to shape the world, many of which are in the private sector, like Capstone’s institutional investor clients. “I could sit at the table with decision-makers and listen and learn while working at Capstone,” she says. “By understanding their perspective, I could better advocate for people I care about.” Working with the Outreach team, she learned about policy, impact, and strategy. “I’ve applied so many of the skillsets I learned at Capstone apply to good governance and I’ve utilized them in professional environments I’ve worked and with communities I’ve lived in.”
In 2019, another public service opportunity came knocking. Rachel was nominated for a full scholarship by the Birmingham, AL, Rotary Club. She chose the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, from among the organization’s worldwide peace centers for its emphasis on good governance as a path to peace. She began her master’s program in 2020, arriving just before Brisbane locked down to stop the spread of COVID-19, and earned her master’s degree in peace and conflict studies with a focus on equity, inclusion, and sustainable development. “Good governance is something we create,” she says. “It doesn’t just exist. That’s what my students taught me and what I have continued to learn through my career.”
Rachel follows these good governance principles, and the skillsets she developed at Capstone, as the Manager of Special Projects in Mayor Randall Woodfin’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. Through a project to analyze economic impact, Rachel recently analyzed Mayor Woodfin’s vision for Birmingham, defined measurable goals for each aspect, and implemented a digital system for tracking and reporting progress. She also oversees a $1 million funding program for organizations to support equitable economic development in Birmingham.
Looking ahead, Rachel is still discerning where her professional path will lead, but she does know that it will remain oriented around public service. Serving toward beautiful, equitable, and thriving communities at home and around the world is the passion that Rachel’s students instilled in her and the skill-set that Capstone helped develop, and it is the vision that motivates her life’s work every day.
See more Capstone alumni profiles here.