2019 Tillman Scholar

Adam Swartzbaugh

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Harvard University | MBA | MPA

“Life’s complicated. Having a meaningful impact can be even more complicated. But, what we do in this moment can be simple. A little kindness, now, toward somebody – this matters.”

After dropping out of college to travel the world, Adam found his way to Thailand where he managed a disaster relief project following the 2004 tsunami. It was there he learned about human trafficking and child prostitution. Not knowing how Adam decided he would do something about it. After several months, he encountered a couple of ex-Special Forces officers who were running rescue operations for children enslaved in brothels. Inspired, Adam decided to become a Green Beret, returning to America and joining the military. 

While completing college and Army ROTC, he started an NGO to build schools and create alternatives for vulnerable communities with historically high trafficking rates along the Myanmar-Thailand border. Adam then commissioned into the Infantry as a Reconnaissance and Sniper Platoon Leader in Europe and the Middle East. A few years later, he joined the Special Forces and was stationed in Japan. Adam’s work focusing on terrorist and extremist networks in the Pacific fostered the skills he needed beyond the military to better counter transnational criminal organizations fueling child trafficking and slave labor in the region.

Having recently left active duty, Adam is continuing to develop his NGO which has now built several schools, degraded trafficking networks and rescued children across Southeast Asia. Looking to better address the root causes of transnational crime fueled by regional instability, Adam is pursuing a joint degree program at MIT and Harvard to facilitate collaborative economic development initiatives designed to reduce ethnic conflict and create lasting opportunities for communities in Myanmar.