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Living, Learning, and Leaving a Lasting Mark in the Land of a Thousand Hills: SE Summer Fellow Afroza Damji (MBA 2023)

By: Afroza Damji 12 Jul 2022

The HBS Summer Fellows Program enables students to apply their classroom training as they explore career opportunities in roles or regions where compensation is generally lower than the traditional MBA level. This summer, we are connecting with some of our 61 Social Enterprise Summer Fellows, who are working around the world to develop skills and knowledge while having significant responsibility and high impact.

What are you working on this summer?

I am working at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), in its Strategy and Competitiveness department. RDB is a government institution whose mandate is to accelerate Rwanda’s economic transformation through private sector growth. To that end, my summer has been split between two priorities.

First, I was part of a three-person team that planned and executed programming for the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF), a component of the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Held on June 21-23, CBF brought together 1,600 delegates, including several Heads of State and Government, captains of industry, global thought leaders, and young entrepreneurs, to forge cross-sector collaborations that will address challenges such as: accelerating sustainable growth for island nations, revitalizing global trade, building resilient healthcare systems, and positioning the Commonwealth for the future of work.

Second, I am working on the RDB-led HQ Hub Strategy, which aims to attract regional and global headquarters to domicile in Rwanda. Anchoring in a deep understanding of relocation criteria and Rwanda’s value proposition, I am creating a detailed action plan outlining sector clusters that Rwanda should target to benefit from agglomeration effects.

Why did you choose this internship for the summer?

I wanted to use my summer internship to take risks, by working in a new industry and geography. My aim is to build a career at the intersection of the private and public sectors. Before HBS, I spent three years in management consulting, so this summer I wanted to experience working in the public sector. Most people are familiar with Singapore’s growth story and strategy, which the Government of Rwanda has utilized for the country’s economic development. I chose to work at RDB to understand how public-private partnerships and strategic investments can improve Rwandans’ standard of living. Moreover, I hope to have a global career. Prior to HBS, I had only lived and worked in Canada. With deep familial ties to East Africa, I was excited by the idea of living, working, and contributing to African development.

What are your goals for this summer?

I moved to Rwanda with no pre-existing network, family, or friends. This summer is an opportunity to focus on personal growth. I was both nervous and excited by the challenges of adapting to a new culture and building a community of colleagues and friends. Although my transition had some hiccups, like my luggage getting stuck in Schiphol Airport, living in Rwanda has been absolutely incredible! Now, I speak some basic Kinyarwanda, can use Mobile Money (MoMo) to pay a YegoCab, and have formed lifelong friends. Importantly, I have gained the confidence to start afresh in a new city, and I am ready to go wherever my global career takes me.

In addition, my goal is to leave a lasting mark on Rwanda – both in the short- and long-term. It was an honor to be part of the team that ensured CHOGM 2022 was successful. I am even more excited about the potential to contribute to Rwanda’s development story via the HQ Hub Strategy.

How has your MBA skillset prepared you to be successful in this role?

The course Business Government and the International Economy (BGIE) is extremely relevant to my role as a Strategy and Competitiveness Intern at RDB. In BGIE, I learned how to analyze contributors to GDP, understand key global indices, and read a Balance of Payments statement. BGIE also taught me how to understand a country’s origins, history, and potential, which has been critical in my work on the HQ Hub Strategy for Rwanda.

Another key takeaway across many case discussions is the importance of contextual intelligence when joining a new organization. Prior to flying to Rwanda, I spent time learning business and societal norms from HBS community members who worked in Kigali before school. For example, I learned about how calling senior management by their title is seen as a sign of respect, which is different than North American customs. Embracing these ways of working has enabled a seamless transition to RDB.

How has the summer influenced your thinking on future involvement in social enterprise?

Many enlightening conversations with senior leaders at RDB, other ministries, and external consultants have validated my desire to work at the intersection of the public and private sectors, as well as shown me exemplars of various paths I could follow. In my second year at HBS, as I choose a post-MBA role, I hope to answer the following questions:

  1. How can I fluidly transition between the public, private, and non-profit sectors to become a “tri-sector athlete?”
  2. How can I balance my dual desire for career progression and substantial wide-scale impact?
  3. What is my personal theory of change, and where do I want to focus (e.g. development, healthcare, education)?
  4. Which is more personally fulfilling – having my impact concentrated in North America or spread across international markets?
  5. What skills do I need to amplify my impact, and how do I effectively hone these skills?

How can someone learn more about your organization?

To learn more about RDB, visit the organization’s website: https://rdb.rw/ and follow them on Twitter: @RDBrwanda.