Ah, Nairobi! I love my home city...every time I return home, I am inspired by how much has changed, and motivated by how much opportunity there still remains for change.
My family has been involved in public service since Kenya gained independence, so I grew up with a public sector heart – questions of development, public policy, and politics have always pulled me.
But having studied economics for my bachelor's, and then working with McKinsey thereafter reaffirmed that I have a private sector mind – questions of leverage, generating capital, and performance management really get me excited!
In my early 20’s, I was really struggling to reconcile my public sector heart and private sector mind: how do ~40% of Kenyans live in poverty despite some of the highest literacy rates on the continent, an increasing cadre of highly skilled workers, an abundance of natural resources, and an openness to technology adoption (e.g., M-KOPA)?
I believe that the private sector will generate the majority of capital for our future growth, but how can it work together with the public sector to ensure that growth generates development?
A desire to deepen my theoretical understanding of these issues, and reconcile them with my early experience in the ‘real’ world led me to Harvard. I am currently pursuing a joint-degree with the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) for a Master in Public Administration with a focus on International Development (MPA-ID).
My HBS Experience
I’ve LOVED the academic experience at HBS thus far. While I was intimidated by being in class with hardcore finance folks for finance and accounting classes, I am amazed at how much I have learned in a year.
While I had to do a fair amount of prep-work before class to benefit most from these case discussions, the level of support available from my own classmates running review sessions, tutoring through Student Services, office hours with professors, et cetera, has been wonderful.
I thrived in classes like The Entrepreneurial Manager, and Business and Government in the International Economy that drew on my prior experiences but also challenged me to add to the learning of my classmates.
Extracurriculars helped round out in-class academics: from starting a revenue generating microbusiness within 12 weeks as part of FIELD3, to being on the Board of the Africa Business Club when we hosted the largest student run conference on Africa in the world (Africa Business Conference 2015), to more social pursuits including weekend getaways, section retreats and happy hours, half-marathons…boredom is not part of the vocabulary around here.
This summer, I am excited to put my business school knowledge to the test! I am working in Nairobi with Botho Ltd, an Africa focused market insight, strategic management and investment advisory firm to identify a more profitable and sustainable growth path for them.
I am certain that after graduation I will return to Africa.
Having spent the past three years working in and exploring over 10 African countries, I have no doubt that this is where I need to be. Also, I have one passport and it says Kenya on it. My exact plans are to be determined – I’m trying to craft a role within the Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development, toying with an initiative I started at Harvard called SecondStoryAfrica, or perhaps going back to McKinsey in their new Nairobi office.
Opportunities abound, and I am grateful to have one more year at Harvard to deepen existing relationships, make new ones, pack in more learning and make plans for my next big adventure…
Unsolicited Advice on Applying
Finally, some unsolicited advice for applying, especially for my fellow international students:
- If you don’t apply, you have a 0% chance of getting in. If you do apply, put your best foot forward, go all in!
- Think of your entire application as a “portfolio” of your experiences – what is your overarching narrative, what are the stories you have to share, and which part of your application will showcase which story in the most compelling light: your resume, essays, test scores/transcript, or letters of recommendation?
- Pick recommenders who know you very well who can quantify your impact. Be directive with them, especially those unfamiliar with writing for a U.S. application committee. I quote one of my recommenders “If I was to write that you are hard-working and diligent, this means you are average in the HBS pool. If I say that your work ethic and ability to take initiative is in the top 5% of analysts I have ever worked with…now that’s what makes you stand out”. I reached out to my recommenders 3-4 months before deadlines, informing them why I wanted them specifically to write my recommendations and provided a one page list of examples of stories I thought they were best placed to speak to. I wanted them to have a clear sense of where they fit in my “portfolio.”
Good luck on your application journey!