ILR major Georges Batoussi ’19, an IAD intern who worked with Bayport Financial Services executive Justin Chola, MBS ’99, last summer in Zambia, is pictured at Victoria Falls in Zambia.

Ithaca roots growing in Africa

Around 7,500 miles from Ithaca, the Hon. Justice Charles Kajimanga, LL.M. ’93 – a Cornell alumnus and judge on the Supreme Court of Zambia – named his farm after the university town where he spent his graduate school years. After more than 20 years, Ithaca still holds a special place in Kajimanga’s heart.

Elizabeth Heffern ’21, right, celebrating Eid al-Fitr with her Gambian host sister, Kumba Sanyang.

This is the kind of relationship that Cornell’s Institute for African Development (IAD), part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, has created through its fellowship program – a lifelong bond based on camaraderie, accomplishment and regular networking.

Launched 30 years ago at the start of the 1988-89 academic year, the IAD fellowship program has a host of distinguished alumni working all across Africa, including Amina Abdalla, MPS ’98, the only Kenyan politician ever nominated for three successive terms as a member of Parliament; Omar Abdi, MPS ’90, the deputy executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and Ragendra Berta de Sousa, M.S. ’01, Mozambique’s minister of industry and commerce.

Today, IAD fellowship alumni are a vital resource for undergraduates seeking work experience and exposure in these countries.

“Cornell alumni in Africa carry on the university land-grant mission in myriad ways that show the remarkable imprint of what it means to be a part of the Cornell global community,” said Jackie Sayegh, IAD’s program manager. “Our alumni network is an invaluable resource to Cornell and to advancing African development.”

Every year, alumni – such as Justin Chola, MBS ’99; Anthony Akunzule, MPS ’99; and Tinenenji Banda, JSD ’14 – work with IAD to find internship placements for Cornell students in fields including microfinance, agriculture and public policy.

A strength of the IAD fellowship is that most alumni return to their home countries, becoming catalysts for development. One of these well-placed alumni is Chola, who runs Bayport Financial Services, a microfinance and credit firm that offers loans to Africans who don’t have access to traditional credit-building institutions.

As CEO of Bayport’s operation in Zambia, Chola takes pride in the company’s efforts to give back to African communities by strengthening local businesses and creating jobs and partnerships. Chola, who was a guest lecturer in an international management and marketing course in 2007, has maintained strong ties with Cornell.

ILR major Georges Batoussi ’19, an IAD intern who worked with Chola last summer, said Chola told him to seize the opportunities Cornell offers.

“There are so many incredible minds on campus, and the same holds for alumni,” Batoussi said. “Bridging that gap for undergraduates who have an idea of what they want to pursue, with people who are doing that kind of work and were in their shoes 10 years ago – I think it’s a perfect fit, and IAD is doing just that.”

Winner of the 2019 World Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Award, Akunzule remains in contact with both IAD and the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Expanding Horizons program.

“Giving student interns placements in Ghana provides them with an international perspective,” Akunzule said. “I was once a Cornell student, and when I see these students come to Ghana, it reminds me of my student days at Cornell, and I feel proud of that.”

Said Elizabeth Heffern ’21, a statistics major and 2018 intern at the Gambian Bureau of Statistics: “This opportunity gave me the chance to become an independent traveler. I was the first and only student IAD sent to Gambia.”

Heffern spent time in both Gambia and Senegal last summer, staying with host families in both countries. “I ended up going back to West Africa on my own over winter break, because of the independence and deep connection to the region I developed during my IAD internship,” Heffern said. “It felt like I was going home.”

The IAD alumni network fuels its internship program, building bridges from Ithaca to Africa. Students’ exposure to real-world conditions is key, as Batoussi learned.

“The obstacles in the developing world and emerging markets aren’t just something you hear about,” he said, “but are tangible obstructions that people have to face every day.”

Priya Pradhan ’22 is a writing intern at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli