Antonio Lacayo ’07Managua, Nicaragua
For Antonio Lacayo, a 2007 alumnus of Managua, Nicaragua, public service is a family tradition.
For decades his grandfather led pro-democracy opposition to Nicaragua’s dictatorial government through journalism. His grandmother, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, served as Nicaragua’s president in the 1990s. Both his parents work for nongovernmental organizations there — his father for an entrepreneurship development organization, and his mother carrying on the journalistic work of her parents.
Lacayo is continuing the family tradition. After graduating from Princeton, he went to work for the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Mexico City. Most of his work for McKinsey & Company was for public sector clients, including the Mexican and Panamanian governments. For Mexico, he offered advice on energy strategy and social development policy; for Panama, he consulted on public finance.
After McKinsey, he went home to Nicaragua and created his own nongovernmental organization (NGO) in education. The NGO, Mentores Solidarios, provides scholarship assistance to low-income, high-achieving students to assure their high school completion in a country where two-thirds of all students do not receive a high school diploma. Students in Mentores Solidarios are assigned mentors who cover the costs of the students’ uniforms, textbooks and private school tuition. The program, which operates under the umbrella of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, supports about 250 students.
Lacayo graduated with a master's degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School and a master's degree in public administration and international development at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2013. Since then, he moved back to Nicaragua and has been working with a Central American conglomerate. He is responsible for evaluating and developing new business opportunities in agriculture, industry and energy.
At Princeton, Lacayo was a civil and environmental engineering major. He studied environmental issues as they relate to social justice in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, where he earned a certificate. “I’ve always wanted to work to help Nicaragua,” he says. “Engineering gave me the chance to apply academics to the real world. Studying policy at Princeton taught me that environmental stewardship is a type of social justice for future generations.”
Throughout his years at Princeton, Lacayo also focused on global issues outside the classroom. He raised awareness through the Princeton chapter of Oxfam, the Global Issues Forum and the International Relations Council. He helped the International Service Initiative bring its proposals for service opportunities abroad before the Undergraduate Student Government.
In 2005 he won the International Service Award for organizing a Habitat for Humanity project that built five houses for impoverished families in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. During a summer internship in the same area the next summer, he developed a plan proposing alternative fuel sources for area brick makers whose illegal use of firewood threatened nearby forests.
For his senior thesis, Lacayo developed a plan for Nicaragua to increase sugarcane production for exporting ethanol to the United States. In the short term, ethanol production would benefit Nicaragua’s economy and provide jobs for many. Over time, the United States’ dependence on foreign oil would be reduced and its environmental impact lessened.
Research for the thesis took Lacayo to Brazil, where sugarcane ethanol production is well established. While in South America, he also took time to backpack through five countries, meeting Princeton friends all along the way. “Princeton’s campus is oriented in such a way that people easily make friends,” he says. “I didn’t need to be proactive because between the residential colleges, dining hall, library and my eating club, it just happened. People are passionate, and I always learned something from them.”
“Princeton gave me an attitude of initiative and self-confidence through lots of activities and its focus on undergraduates,” observes Lacayo. “I gained a sense of independence and this has helped me work toward my current goals.”