01 Sep 2017
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Futures Made Bright Through Opportunity

A recent MBA graduate and a current second-year student make the most of financial aid

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Helping African Businesses Compete on the Global Stage

Sheila Kyarisiima’s (MBA/MPA 2017) curiosity about building things, especially infrastructure, prompted the Kampala, Uganda, native to come to the United States in 2007 to study engineering. Now, a decade later, having earned graduate degrees in business and public policy thanks to the many generous fellowships she received, Kyarisiima has returned to East Africa, where instead of focusing on infrastructure she is helping to build businesses in the region.

“I’m passionate about sustainable economic development, and I think that can be achieved through both the private and public sectors,” says Kyarisiima. “Enabling African businesses to access global markets and think strategically is where I want to play a role.”

The path she took to pursue this goal has been circuitous. While studying civil engineering at Brown University, Kyarisiima did a summer internship in a research lab where, she discovered, this sometimes solitary environment didn’t fit her personality. “I wanted more interaction with people, which is often lacking in purely science fields,” she explains. A subsequent summer internship with Goldman Sachs better suited Kyarisiima’s analytical skills and gave her the interpersonal connections she valued. After graduating in 2011, she worked at Goldman as an analyst for just over a year, and then set out to understand the public sector by working as an advisor for the Rwanda Development Board in Kigali for a year.

photo by Jean-Marie Wecker

Her interest in learning more about the role she could play in both the private and the public arenas inspired Kyarisiima to pursue joint degrees at HBS and the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). Her three years of study were punctuated by summer internships that, as with previous internships, proved pivotal to her career. As a 2016 HBS Summer Fellow, for instance, Kyarisiima received the critical financial support she needed to focus on a fledging business venture that she had cofounded with two colleagues — NISK Capital. The Nairobi-based financial services firm helps small and medium-sized enterprises raise capital and scale their businesses. In the past year NISK itself has grown, and now its team of eight works with 50 clients.

Kyarisiima acknowledges the life-changing nature of financial aid and how it has enabled her to choose the kind of impact she wants to have. She has been the beneficiary of numerous fellowships from HBS and HKS as well as a loan forgiveness award from HBS.

“The fellowships I’ve received have given me opportunities I could not have explored otherwise. What I hope to do is to help African businesses compete on the global stage and tap into opportunities they never thought they could.”
Sheila Kyarisiima (MBA/MPA 2017)

“The fellowships I’ve received have given me opportunities I could not have explored otherwise. What I hope to do is to help African businesses compete on the global stage and tap into opportunities they never thought they could.”
Sheila Kyarisiima (MBA/MPA 2017)

Affording MBA Students the Luxury of Choice

When Liang Wu (MBA 2018) talks about being interested in entrepreneurship, he draws parallels to his experience as a first-generation naturalized American who came to the United States when he was about two years old. “Growing up in Brooklyn in an immigrant household felt much like what entrepreneurs do every day. You’ve got to learn as you go, and everybody has to pitch in,” says Wu. “That was ingrained in me, and it took me a while to realize that’s what really makes me tick — putting structure to chaos and solving problems from big to small.”

Before discovering what truly excited him, Wu was on a more traditional course. After graduating with an accounting degree from the University of Connecticut in 2012, he consulted for PwC for a little over a year, then for A.T. Kearney for another two. But in the back of his mind was the recollection of an experience he had in 2011, when he participated in HBS’s Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP). The one-week residential program gives rising college seniors from diverse backgrounds, including first-generation college students such as Wu, an introduction to graduate business education.

photo by Gary Laufman

“It showed me the value of the degree and how, when you get to the School, you don’t have to be on any predefined path,” he explains. “Before SVMP, I was on a linear path, whereas at HBS, the idea is to teach you to be a good leader and to equip you with skills, and then you can go do what you really care about.”

SVMP was transformational because it not only prompted Wu to apply to HBS but also provided him with a fellowship that augmented the need-based fellowship he received to help finance his education. “My original goal coming to HBS was to eventually work for a big technology company. The fellowships have enabled me to stretch and pursue my entrepreneurial passions more,” says Wu. “My family comes from a humble background. My parents had thought I’d probably do finance and accounting, but they are happy I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, that I have the luxury of choice. I can’t thank the School enough.”

Wu has participated in HBS’s Rock Center for Entrepreneurship program and this past summer worked for a small VC firm that shares his values, Pear Ventures. He expects to fine-tune his aspirations this year. “I’m fortunate that after HBS, I could start a company and actu ally solve a problem very close to my heart, or join a venture that’s doing something great, but can’t afford to pay an adequate salary,” he says, explaining the freedom of not being burdened by typical levels of debt. “I am motivated to determine what I actually want to do and go do it, because a lot of people don’t have this kind of opportunity, and I don’t want to waste it. I very much see it as a privilege and a responsibility.”

“I am motivated to determine what I actually want to do and go do it, because a lot of people don’t have this kind of opportunity, and I don’t want to waste it.”
Liang Wu (MBA 2018)

“I am motivated to determine what I actually want to do and go do it, because a lot of people don’t have this kind of opportunity, and I don’t want to waste it.”
Liang Wu (MBA 2018)

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2017, Section G

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