What motivated you to apply for the World Bank Africa Fellowship Program? How did the program align with your career aspirations and interests?
I applied to learn more about the Bank’s operations in private sector development. I am incredibly passionate about private sector development in developing economies because of its potential to empower individuals, increase their aspirations, and transform economies. I started my career working on Africa’s largest entrepreneurship program, the $100 million Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme, so I know firsthand how marginal increases in funding, training, and mentoring can enhance the capabilities of entrepreneurs in resource-constrained economies. Therefore, I was incredibly delighted to have received an offer to join the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is the largest provider of development finance for the private sector across all developing countries.
The fellowship has been incredibly enlightening, allowing me to gain a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of international finance architecture. Working with IFC has reinforced to me the role of the private sector in addressing some of the biggest development challenges of our time including unemployment and climate change. My colleagues at the IFC work tirelessly to develop innovative financial solutions to development problems. Instruments such as green bonds, for instance, help unlock capital for private sector climate-related projects; this makes it easier for firms in countries with unsophisticated capital markets to access critical financing needed to develop innovative products required to address climate change. Working at the IFC fills me with a great sense of purpose as it allows me to contribute my ideas and skills to solving big global problems.
Can you share your experience during the selection process? What were the key factors that you believe contributed to your selection as a fellow?
I believe the application process is straightforward in terms of the requirements – CV, personal statement, research paper/Ph.D. chapter, and an online application form. Like most job applications, these documents must be prepared carefully and thoroughly given the competitive nature of the fellowship. So, it might be helpful to enlist the help of colleagues or peers to review the application materials. Also, endeavor to do some research on the various World Bank Global Practices and IFC departments, identify the ones that are most aligned with your background and ensure you tailor your application to the priorities of those departments. I think that I was able to demonstrate my expertise in private sector development and the value I can contribute to relevant teams. I was approached by two IFC departments during the selection process and ultimately selected the department which I believed was more aligned with my interests.
As a fellow, what were the primary responsibilities and tasks assigned to you during your six-month assignment?
As a fellow, I worked as a Sector Economics Consultant for Manufacturing Agribusiness and Services (MAS) at the IFC. My primary responsibilities were to support the development and refinement of the AIMM (Anticipated Impact Measurement and Monitoring) Framework while using it to conduct an ex-ante analysis of the development impact of IFC's investments in MAS sectors. This entailed analyzing the immediate impact of a project, such as how it may support job creation, value addition, and value chain development. I also analyzed how IFC operations, including investment and advisory services, may support the creation of markets i.e., by making them more competitive, resilient, integrated, and sustainable.
I have worked on IFC’s investments in different industries including steel, fertilizers, hotels, shop, retail, industrial zones, and commercial property across different regions of the world. I have seen how these investments have enabled our clients to purchase new equipment, scale their operations, or innovate new products. Two investments that were particularly fulfilling to me were an investment in a steel plant and an industrial zone. Steel is a foundational industry that is critical for the development of the manufacturing sector, yet firms in many developing countries struggle to produce high-quality steel products leading to a dependence on imports which increases the costs of production. This investment allowed a client to enter the production of a new line of steel products, therefore, supporting the diversification of the downstream sector of the country's steel industry while helping to reduce dependence on imports.
Another project that stands out was an industrial zone project which I was very excited about as it was very related to my Ph.D. research on special economic zones and provided me with the opportunity to consider my research from a different lens. While these zones have become popular in many developing countries, the outcomes have been mixed, necessitating the need for more innovative approaches to making them more effective. IFC’s investment supported a client that had demonstrated a more effective model of industrial zone development to replicate it in other countries.
For prospective candidates, what advice would you offer them to succeed during their fellowship? What valuable lessons did you learn?
I would advise them to view the fellowship as an important platform but ultimately their experience on the program will be left for them to define. They must have a strong sense of ownership of their career at the Bank from day one. The Bank is the largest development finance institution in the world with a vast array of resources, events, and highly motivated staff; fellows will therefore need to decide how best to maximize their stay at the Bank to take advantage of all it offers. My advice for success - it is important to demonstrate a strong interest in the work of your team, work diligently, and provide tangible contributions. Colleagues must recognize the value you bring to the team especially if you want to continue working at the Bank after the fellowship. Network as much as you can. Throughout the fellowship, I always arranged lunch and coffee chats with peers and senior colleagues to learn what other people do, the priorities of the Bank, and potential opportunities. The Bank is very big, and it is easy to be so focused on your work without understanding how it fits into the overall agenda of the institution, so these connections are important in broadening one’s mind. Chances are that your fellowship might be at a location that is not your place of primary residence, so ensure you explore the city and have a good time. If you are in the headquarters, for instance, Washington D.C. is quite a lovely city and there is always something fun to do alone or with other fellows.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a World Bank Africa Fellow?
I think the most challenging aspect was having to move from Oxford, England to Washington, D.C. Making friends and building a community remains an ongoing task. However, I don't have any regrets as it has been an incredibly fulfilling experience both on a professional and personal level. The past six months have truly reignited my passion for private sector development reminding me about why I decided to pursue a career in development. I have been introduced to the complicated yet exciting world of high finance, deepened my sectoral expertise in MAS industries, and led several assessments of IFC’s investments. Being in an environment where new ideas and solutions to development challenges are constantly being explored provides a lot of hope and comfort that the world can indeed be a better place.
Perhaps the best part of the whole experience was receiving strong mentorship from my supervisor and department manager. Both have taken chances on me, taught me painstakingly, and empowered me to push beyond my comfort zone even as I continue my career at the IFC post-fellowship. My fellowship experience would have undoubtedly been different without them – I am very much obliged. Connecting with other fellows has also been a highlight for me. I have left conversations with these young and incredibly talented Africans with great hope for the future of the African continent. I can’t wait to see all they do soon!