The Social Network star, who graduated from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2010, was so ""uninspired"" in the classroom, she created her own major and took a course called Writing About Africa, which inspired her to fly to the continent as part of her research.
The 27 year old ended up lending a hand at a local orphanage in Nairobi and Mara admits what she witnessed was life-changing.
She tells Vogue magazine, ""It was very... surreal. I just felt so overwhelmed, hopeless. But it was an incredible experience, and I formed this amazing bond with a lot of the kids there.""
Upon returning, she created the Uweza Aid Foundation, which works to fight the cycle of poverty, and the actress feels glad she can make a difference - if only to a small portion of the population.
She explains, ""I knew I wasn't going to be able to change the way things were there, but at least I could help the few kids that I grew to love and care about... We have a soccer league and a journalism programme, an art programme, and tutoring. It's not reinventing the wheel, it's not changing hundreds of thousands of lives, but it's something. And for those kids that go there and get to go to soccer every week, it means a lot to them.""