In Senegal, Kiné Seck Mercier was one of only ten students awarded a full college scholarship for an education in France. “At this point,” Kiné says, “I took unique opportunities rather than focused on long-term goals. All I knew was that I eventually wanted to work in Africa.” After two years of studying physics and chemistry, she specialized in telecommunications “because it is one the most dynamic, innovative and important industries in Senegal.” After graduation, she worked for France Telecom, where she managed strategy and marketing projects in Africa and the Middle East.
While she enjoyed the work, she felt a need for something more. “There wasn’t much room for growth,” Kiné says. “And the impact I had on the countries I was working in was limited; I wanted to have a more positive influence on local economies.” An MBA, she realized, “would give me time to step back and think about what I wanted to do, how I wanted to contribute. It would also give me access to opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Participating in the positivity
HBS attracted Kiné by virtue of a brand known worldwide: “It gives you legitimacy everywhere.” But it’s the culture that holds the greatest value for her. “I love the way the case study allows us to learn from each other’s experiences,” says Kiné. “It builds off the spontaneity of Americans. In the beginning, I was overwhelmed by it. But now, I enjoy the positivity.”
As the co-president of the Harvard Islamic Society (HIS), Kiné is especially appreciative of the openness encouraged by the school. “HBS is very supportive of all religions,” she says. “Here, people are very curious in a positive way.” Under her leadership, HIS has organized “Islam 101,” a session that allowed students from all sections to gather together “and ask questions. It was a great opportunity to correct misconceptions people might have.”
As part of her plan to leverage her HBS education to explore new directions, Kiné is using her summer internship to work with Education Pioneers, a nonprofit organization “creating a network of education leaders with strong business skills.” After graduation Kiné is keeping her options open, with interests in government, non-profit and international development. Kiné feels certain, however, that her future will be in Senegal. “I want to apply what I’ve learned at HBS – how to bring different perspectives to challenges, how to bring many talents together working toward the same goals. We need to use local resources to develop Africa. Too many of our resources and talents remain hidden; I want to show the world what we can do. Twenty years from now, I want to be able to look back and see that I had a positive impact on Africa with measurable results.”