Brandeis International Business School

Tiwonge Ghambi, MBA’11: Using finance skills to promote human rights

Tiwonge Ghambi MBA '11

Why did you change career direction and return to school for an MBA?

After working in accounting for several years, I decided to focus my interest in corporate finance. I wanted to establish a career where my skills in finance could be applied toward a humanitarian cause. I was eager to attend graduate school in a vibrant city like Boston, where I would be academically challenged and introduced to career opportunities and great mentors.

How was your adjustment to living and learning in the U.S.?

It was overwhelming at first. In Malawi, it was hard to find relevant books for my undergraduate courses. I relied mostly on my class notes. In the U.S., there were so many resources to use that I experienced quite a bit of culture shock at the start. The transition to student life was challenging as the American classroom is faster-paced. In the end, that transitional experience was the best life lesson. It taught me how to voice my opinion regardless of my audience and to frame communications to achieve my intended goal.

What was your long-term goal?

I wanted to become empowered to influence the lives of marginalized groups using the latest in resources and tools. From my perspective, success is about being useful and making a difference in people’s lives. I didn’t lose sight of that end goal, and in 2014, I moved to New York to join Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic organization emphasizing human rights.

What does your typical work day look like?

I support the Open Society Foundations’ budgeting matters for our national and regional offices in South Africa, Kenya and Senegal. My work day spans multiple time zones, so I’m often navigating between conference calls from as early as 6 a.m. I play a pivotal role in determining the specific tools and reporting requirements in our annual budget cycle and spend much of my time with finance directors in my portfolio.

What appeals to you about the finance world?

My work positions me at a central point where decisions are made to move funds toward entities and strategies that ultimately make the world a better place. I have always found the industry fascinating since its many moving parts shape how things get done in the global economy. Having a background in finance also allows me to apply my skills to causes that matter outside my job. I serve on the finance committee of the Philanthropy New York board of directors. The time I spend helping them with budgeting and investment decisions allows me to bring best practices back to Open Society Foundations while learning from other industry players.

What advice do you have for students looking to make a difference in their industry?

Don’t underestimate the possibility of making an impact in a completely new environment or country. Identify a mentor who can help you understand your capabilities and open new networking opportunities. Share your aspirations with your family and shape your career goals with the people and passions that matter in your life. Don’t be afraid to ask for connections with people whose interests and goals are similar to yours — it may change your life forever.

Master of Business Administration
Class of 2011

Budget Officer, Open Society Foundations

Previous Experience
Budget and Policy Analyst, UMass Boston; Project Manager, Banja La Mtsogolo; Treasury Manager and Management Accountant, BP Group

Undergraduate Degree
BA (Bachelor of Accounting), University of Malawi

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