Graduation: May 2011
Hometown: Cotonou, Benin Republic (West Africa)
Previous Education: Come District High School, Benin
University of Abomey Calavi, Benin (degree in Agronomic Science)
Brandeis Clubs and Organizations: African Forum, Fitness Club
“I am sure that my experiences at Brandeis have shaped my leadership skills and will undoubtedly help me to achieve my goal: inspiring other young people to work together and lead in the development of Africa.”
What was it like growing up for you?
I grew up in a middle class polygamous family, and was taught to uphold values inculcated by my father. Discipline, hard work and faith in achievement are the values that my dad gave to me. The foremost among the values was his constant claim that nothing is for free in life and there is no easy way that is effective – so he deeply inculcated in us the importance of hard work, perseverance, use of failure as a new energy and the guiding light of prayer. I believe that it is these values ingrained in me since childhood that shapes my life and defines my goals. Hence, all the successes I’ve achieved to date and all aspirations I will meet in the future will be fueled by these core values that I take with me wherever I go.
Why did you decide to attend school in the US?
Subsequent to my bachelors degree I joined a research organization that conducted evaluations and research on macro-economic policies and poverty reduction programs implemented by the Government of Benin. This was a research network branching out all over the continent of Africa, reaching to Latin America, Canada and Asia. Annual conferences are held in different locations and during my tenure I had the opportunity of attending such a conference in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2005. Despite my expertise in research and the knowledge I wanted to share at the conference, an unexpected constraint I faced was my ineptitude of English language. While I had always wanted to pursue graduate studies in a western academic setting, I had looked at countries where French was either the national language or there were dual language policies. However, because of my encounter at the Hanoi conference, I was determined to go to a country where the medium of learning and communicating would be English.
Why did you decide to attend Brandeis?
My decision to select Brandeis was shaped by two individuals that visited The Hunger Project I was working with in 2007. Their visits were at two different points in time, however I had the occasion to work closely with them to design a monitoring and evaluation mechanism for the project. I was impressed and in awe of the knowledge and skills they brought into the discussion and on further inquiry wad told that they’ve followed the Sustainable International Development program at the Heller School of Brandeis University. I was granted admission in 2008, however due to funding requirement I deferred till I received a Fulbright Scholarship in 2009.
Tell me about the President’s Forum with Young African Leaders. Why were you chosen to participate, and what was your experience like?
I was selected for the Forum because of leadership role I have played in my country by creating the African Girls and Women Empowerment Program (AGWEP). The role of the AGWEP is to empower rural women through training and micro-finance and to ensure that girls in rural areas remain in school. The uniqueness of the program is that it uses a social entrepreneurship approach.
Words cannot describe the experience I went through and the overwhelming emotions I felt to be before President Obama. To a majority of Africans like me he is more than the American President: he is a legend in the eyes of Africa. My belief is that if Obama has been elected President of the USA, everything is possible in life. Africa could be developed, but Africans have to be conscious that they are the key actors of this development. I never anticipated that I would have the privilege of meeting political figures and leaders that I’ve only read of in books, magazines and seen on television. The opportunity to see, meet and listen to figures like Hillary Clinton, Johnnie Carson, and President Obama will remain a lifetime experience with me. We met several chiefs of multi-national companies, funders of development in Africa and representatives from IFIs like the World Bank and the IMF. There were 120 participants who represented all 53 countries in the African continent.
What global issues are of the greatest importance/value to you?
Conflict and food security. Since the end of the cold war there has been a rise of internal conflicts within national boundaries which are primarily taking place in developing countries. This factor perpetuates already existing socio-economic setbacks within these societies. Without eradicating the causes of social unrest and economic manipulations that create most of these conflicts it is futile to attempt sustainable change.
Food security is a pertinent issue in all developing countries. Existing economic and market inequalities are primarily contributing factors to this growing issue. In the meantime, present day predictions and discourse on climate change is an imminent contributor to this issue. While the issue of food security in developing countries is complex, it is one that should be given prominent and committed attention by designated stakeholders.
How does your classwork reinforce what you learned at the conference and out in the world?
I have found the SID program to be fantastic. It opens my eyes and increases my understanding of development issues. It reinforces my knowledge and perceptions that development should be community owned and community driven in order to be durable, possible and sustained. Economic growth is important sure, but it is not sufficient. A holistic approach to development should encompass the discovery of personal capabilities and the realization of capabilities of a community as a whole to identify their version/idea of development. Ideally national goals should align with those aspirations of communities within the boundaries of a country. Where national goals reach out to meet a wider global paradigm, the communities of a country gets ignored and lost within the system.
Which one specific memory/moment sticks out in your mind the most (in regards to your global experiences), and why?
There was one incident that I will carry with me throughout life. I had the opportunity of facilitating a training and grant opportunity to a woman from back home in my country. While almost ten thousand received the same training and grant through our program, this particular woman stood out because of her commitment, perseverance and die-hard belief in herself. She succeeded in changing her life, those of her family and her whole community. I realized that this individual represented values that could be found and is evidently present anywhere in the world – what people need are opportunities and a strong sense of confidence in themselves.
What are your plans for the future?
Since the Obama Forum we (the participants) have been maintaining communication and took our inspirations further by establishing a Young African Leaders Association of which I am on the Executive Committee. As part of my commitment to the development of Africa and the development of my own country, I created the Young Beninise Leaders Association. I have been invited by the government of Benin to participate in the design of the next five year strategic plan for the republic in November 2011.
Is there anything else that you would like to mention that we didn’t cover yet?
I would like to state that Brandeis gives me the opportunity and drive to reach my goals. I have learned a lot about international development at Brandeis, but more importantly, I have learned that there is not a one straight answer. There is what the best is for each community and what people really want to do. In this way, change will start from a community and will be durable.
I would like to take this occasion to say a special thank to all those exceptional people I have meet on my path and whose generosity has allowed me to reach my goal and to keep dreaming.