Reflections: 20 Years of Sorensen Fellows

Manuel Costescu '99
1998 Sorensen Fellow
Lushoto, Tanzania

Read Manuel's 1998 Sorensen Fellow essay here.

Manuel Costescumanuel fondly remembers his trip to Tanzania during the summer of 1998. Two memories have stayed with him. Working in Tanzania at a young age helped him to develop courage, independence, a taste for African and Maasai customs, and a reverent appreciation for many people’s plight, often accompanied by optimism.

manuel“Nigella, my translator and indispensable helper, once asked me to accompany her toa Maasai encampment in the middle of a sisal field in the Maasai Mara. It was somewhat unusual for a single woman from a Bantu tribe to go visit a Maasai shepherd family. When we arrived, the Maasai came out of their adobe houses, and welcomed her like family. In the evening, around the fire I was told why. Kamari, the 14-year-oldson had fallen very ill as a young child.  His parents carried him to the hospital, many hours away, only to find out that he needed a blood transfusion but that the bank was dry. Nigella, who was a nurse on duty, offered to be a donor, and shortly after forgot about the event. A year later, as she was home preparing dinner, Nigella heard a rap on her door. Opening, she discovered four Maasai in war costume -Maasai are traditionally warriors -calling her ‘sister’. She told them that there must be a misunderstanding and kindly asked them to leave. The Maasai were intractable and explained that her blood was now running though their familyso she is clearly their sister.”

manuel“Most people I interacted with while working in the cloud forests of Lushoto were farmers, plagued by rats that would come at night to eat from their granaries. The way farmers fought against them, was to dig a bucket into the ground, place just a small amount of water in it and some corn around. When the rats approached, they would eat some of the corn and in the hustle and bustle, one would fall in.  Soon, others would follow (out of curiosity, desire to help, -the jury is still out on that). Once inside, however, they would swim frantically and start climbing on their neighbors to get out. While each rat was a good swimmer individually, more and more rats would end up at the bottom of the rat pyramid and drown in the shallow water. By morning, the bucket was brimming with rats. Years later, as I developed somewhat of a trade coaching teams and helping individuals work together, I could not stop thinking about the impact of poor individual choices when collective decision making is required.”

Manuel is currently the Managing Director of Abney Advisory, where his current work involves working closely with an investment team to help operate investment assets in Emerging Markets. Prior to this, Manuel was a Member of the Romanian Parliament representing the circumscription of Romanians abroad, and before was a Deputy Minister reorganizing and running InvestRomania, the country’s Trade and Investment Agency. Before entering politics, Manuel was a banker with J.P. Morganin London and a consultant for McKinsey and Company in NY. Manuel completed a MBA from Sloan -MIT and a Master in International Development from Harvard Kennedy School.