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MBA Program Alumni Profile and Spotlight: Sonia Gisenya

An eye-opening, inspirational summer

Alumni Profile of Sonia Gisenya

Sonia Gisenya, MBA '11
Kigali, Rwanda

Sonia Gisenya, MBA '11 and Wilfried Nonguierma, MA '11 had their goals set on improving living conditions and alleviating poverty in Africa.

"It was eye-opening and inspirational to see how these projects and programs change people’s lives." --Sonia Gisenya

Two students from Brandeis International Business School (IBS) won summer internships at the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group several years ago, one of five multilateral banks in the world, and a coveted place to launch a career in economic and social development.

Now alumni, Sonia Gisenya, MBA '11 and Wilfried Nonguierma, MA '11, planned to pursue jobs in the field of economic expansion and poverty alleviation in Africa, their home continent, after graduation.

"My experience at AfDB reinforced my desire to work for an institution that’s doing development work in Africa," says Nonguierma. "It didn’t matter how hard the workload was—people there were so committed."

AfDB's mission is to improve living conditions for Africans, reduce poverty, and raise and allocate funds for Africa's economic and social development. Since its founding in 1964, AfDB has cumulatively approved more than 3,000 loans and grants totaling nearly $82 billion. The in stitution is headquartered in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, but has  temporarily relocated to Tunis, Tunisia due to political instability.

Competition to win an internship with AfDB is stiff. In 2010, the organization, which has 23 field and country bureaus across the continent, as well as offices all over the world, received over 1,000 applications. It awarded only 60 internships.

"I was lucky, and I think the fact that two Brandeis IBS students were chosen speaks to the reputation of the school," said Nonguierma, who is originally from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. "I was fortunate to study there. At that point in my education, I wanted to delve deeper into economic development theory and practices and then apply what I learned back home in Africa."

Nonguierma, who earned a bachelor's degree in mathematical economics from Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio, spent that pivotal summer in the front office of the institute’s vice president. He provided technical help on a paper on social protection and productive employment, and developed an Excel-based tool for the management of AfDB's portfolio. Nonguierma also drafted a policy brief on inclusive growth, which was published later that year.

Gisenya, who is originally from Kigali, Rwanda, spent her summer conducting a research study on Egypt's competitiveness, preparing a grant proposal for Libya, and improving and refining the management of AfDB's information system for its Department for North Africa.

"I saw firsthand how finance can play a very important role in development; it was eye-opening and inspirational to see how these projects and programs change people’s lives," said Gisenya, who did her undergraduate work at Curtin University, Australia, which has a campus in Kigali.

"As an African, it was very exciting to see an African organization making real change. AfDB has about 1,500 employees, with the majority of them being Africans – this is a great source of pride, and a step in the right direction. It was exhilarating to be a part of it, even for the summer."