Giles Strachan (former WHT Development Manager) connects with Alumni in Asia
One of the great pleasures of being an (honorary) member of
the WHT community is that almost any trip can become an opportunity to catch up
with friends and alumni from the programme. I took advantage of this last month
to meet up with WHT alums in Hong Kong and Delhi, where we have small but
On a layover in Hong Kong I reconnected with Thai Dang (Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann, MPhil Comparative Government, 2015-17) and Leanne Zhang (Louis Dreyfus, MPhil Economics, 2015-17). We undertook a whistle-stop tour of the city, ranging from old temple gardens to the world’s longest escalator. After a delicious dim sun lunch, we finished the trip by taking in the skyline from the 41st floor of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
The following weekend, I made good on a long-held promise to visit India and travelled to Delhi for a long weekend to visit Payaswini Tailor (Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann, MPhil Political Theory, 2015-17). We were joined by Debora Leão (Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening, MPP, 2017-18) and Thai Dang. After an unforgettable weekend taking in as many of the Mughal sites as we could visit, we crowned the trip with a WHT reunion dinner at Oh, Calcutta! Joined by Aditi Chatterjee (Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Saïd, MBA, 2016-17) and Pratik Datta (Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening, Law and Finance, 2017-18), we tucked into some traditional Bengali food and took the chance to catch up together for the first time since we all left Oxford.
The following morning, we breakfasted at Sunder Nursery in the company of two more WHT alums – Rahul Nayar (Louis Dreyfus-Chevening, MPP, 2013-14) and Ina Zharkevich (Weidenfeld-Hoffmann, MPhil Development Studies, 2007-09). It was a great chance to catch up with two alums who I knew only from e-mails. More importantly, it was another chance for alums to discuss their work and share ideas. Listening to everyone exchanging contacts, discussing rural development policy in their respective nations and plotting how to help each other in future, it was a clear sign that our alumni community is going from strength to strength. There is so much to be gained from these meetings, and I strongly encourage you to connect with your fellow alums in the country or city where you live!
For my part, I’m now based in
Dubai along with WHT alums Debora Leão, Ilunga Mpyana and Maheen Iqbal. If
you’re passing through, do get in touch as we’re always keen to meet up with
more members of the WHT family.
traversing Oxford, Brazil and West Africa – by Elie Slama
It was late-2015, in the immediate aftermath of Liberia’s Ebola epidemic, when in an extraordinary coincidence, I ran into Samafilan Ainan (Somalia, MSc Global Health Science, Louis Dreyfus), a fellow Weidenfeld Scholar from my cohort, in a small coffee shop in Monrovia. Sama was there working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), providing medical support to help with the Ebola crisis. This chance encounter held particular meaning for me as it connected the various strands of my life – from being a Weidenfeld Scholar in Oxford, to working in West Africa after graduating from Oxford. Sama and I later helped to plan and organise the Liberia marathon (‘A new beginning’), which was dedicated to the thousands of people whose hard work made it possible to contain, and then eradicate, the dreadful epidemic. Those were tense and painful times in Liberia. The day of the marathon was very emotional for all of us. Hundreds took part in the marathon and ran along Tubman Boulevard, the road that spans all of Monrovia, while spectators jubilantly cheered and sprayed water on the runners to keep them cool – it developed into an improvised street festival across the city. I looked at Sama and told her, “We’re so lucky we’re here to see this”. She smiled. It felt like a real triumph for humanity.
I chose to
open this letter reminiscing about that day because, in a way, meeting Sama in
that coffee shop, working together, and becoming part of something so beautiful
captures the essence of the Weidenfeld Leadership Programme’s vision – it
exemplifies the enduring, border-transcending bond between its scholars, and the
incredible possibilities it entails. I think about those days a lot.
Sama left Liberia shortly after, and I stayed on with my partner. We originally moved to Liberia after graduating from the University of Oxford’s MPhil in Development Studies programme, to get involved in the Development sector there. That decision was motivated by the ethnographic fieldwork I had previously conducted (as part of my studies at Oxford) in a favela (urban slum) in southern Brazil, where I researched the impact of social policies on poverty and crime in marginalized communities. That favela unofficially constituted a no-go zone for outsiders, as a substantial part of the socioeconomic activity there was linked in one manner or other to the illegal, covert and dangerous drug trade.
Gaining research access was immensely challenging. I tackled this challenge in two ways: first, by drawing from my personal life experiences of growing up in the Israeli periphery in a working-class family, which made me intimately familiar with problems that poor communities face, such as debt and early-youth employment. These issues proved universal and enabled me to empathize and connect with the community, despite cultural and lingual barriers. Second, I started volunteering in the community daily. I lived there for four months, studying the most personal and intimate manifestations of urban poverty in a developing country. The favela community welcomed me into their homes, and allowed me a window into the usually opaque social systems that regulate their lives. This was an invaluable learning experience for me – one that helped shape my professional approach later on in my career, and inspired me to get more involved in developing country contexts. I declined an offer to continue with my research in the DPhil Programme and moved to Liberia (which at that time was a focal point for aid activity during Ebola).
In Liberia, I
worked to independently promote entrepreneurial initiatives in the development
sector. In the first year, the going was slow, as my desire to do impactful
work was undercut to some degree with uncertainty on how to proceed. Drawing
from my experience in Brazil, I decided to put to use my personal and
professional networks. I contacted and began mobilizing young Liberian politicians, and in
collaboration with local government, I developed a proposal to rehabilitate and
formalize a commercial zone in Monrovia and build affordable housing for nearby
low-income communities. I negotiated a package of incentives with high-ranking
government officials and drafted the outline for a public-private partnership.
From that point, I worked to engage international donors and investors to
finance the project. I was eventually able to enter into positive
communications with Vital Capital Fund, an impact investment company that implements
large-scale infrastructural projects in Sub-Saharan Africa in collaboration
with local governments.
I was invited to present the project to the
Fund’s Managing Partner during his visit to the neighboring country of Ghana. I
left Liberia for the first time in a year, and headed to Kumasi – the capital
of Ghana’s Ashanti region. I was young and relatively inexperienced – a recent university
graduate – about to meet a well-seasoned business leader, to convince him to
invest US$ 50 million into rehabilitating Liberia’s public housing sector. I
was nervous. Equipped with maps of Monrovia, a business plan, some financial reports,
and cautious optimism, I boarded the flight. This was a rare, high-stakes opportunity,
especially as it was coming at the end of a particularly tumultuous year.
I met him in Accra’s airport and took the flight
to Kumasi together. He has managed large-scale projects in Sub-Saharan Africa
(similar to the one I was proposing) for over 30 years – he’s a real
seen-it-all, cut-to-the-chase type of person. He gave me the 40 minutes between
take-off and landing to make my case for the Liberia project. When we landed,
he shook my hand and said curtly: ‘Liberia is not ready yet’. While that
was, without further explanations, the end of that, we spoke about development
and housing in Sub-Saharan Africa throughout that day. I was growing
increasingly puzzled by our continued conversation, as he had rejected my pitch
quite early on in the day. Eventually I asked, “Then, why did you invite me
here?” It was then that he told me about the Fund’s flagship project in
Two years prior to that day, Vital Capital Fund had
entered a joint partnership with the Ashanti King, His Majesty Otumfuo Nana
Osei Tutu II, to launch Prabon Greenfields, one of the most ambitious
infrastructural development projects in the Ashanti region’s history: building a 500-unit urban housing community in Kumasi. This also included
developing related public and social infrastructure to serve the area, like a
school, medical facilities, modern sewage and water treatment facilities, roads,
and a connection to the national electricity grid. On that day, out of the
blue, I was offered a job with Vital Capital Fund – they wanted me to manage the
Prabon Greenfields project, as well as represent the Fund more broadly in Ghana.
It was an incredible twist of fate – while I wasn’t able to proceed further
with the project I had envisioned in Monrovia, I suddenly had the opportunity
to take the lead on a massive project that would impact many thousands of
people in Ghana. I had to say yes.
During my three years in that job in Ghana, despite numerous
challenges, my team and I finalized the entire neighborhood’s infrastructure
system and the first phase of housing. I was also trusted by the Fund to design
and launch multiple other fascinating and impactful initiatives. Among others,
I facilitated a public-private partnership with the Ghanaian Ministry of
Food and Agriculture to refurbish Ghana’s national agricultural storage
infrastructure, with the purpose of mitigating rampant post-harvest losses,
promoted the establishment of a support fund for Ghanaian SMEs with the Ministry
of Trade and Industry, liaised with a local university to develop an
affordable housing scheme for its staff, and successfully mobilized local businesspersons
to lobby the government to build a public road connecting our community and
approximately 10,000 nearby villagers to the city centre.
In short, my time in West Africa was highly rewarding, and I feel immensely
fortunate for being part of such impactful activities so early in my career. Working
with Vital Capital Fund and learning about the potential of its impact
investment model for improving developing countries and economies, truly opened
my eyes to a world of possibilities. That invaluable experience made me decide
to orient my career towards the productive intersection between private and
public actors in developing countries. I am presently exploring how to adjust and
import the impact investment model that we successfully implemented in West
Africa into the Middle Eastern context, and put it in service of advancing peaceful and productive
socioeconomic relations between Israeli and Palestinian communities. Ultimately
I am hoping to develop a model that could be implemented in conflict zones
With this ambition in mind, I decided to return to the University of Oxford after four years in West Africa. I have enrolled in the Said Business School’s MBA Programme to further develop my entrepreneurial skills, with the ultimate hope that I can bring into fruition that idea.
In January 2019, we were especially excited to host WHT alumni, Sizwe Mpofu Walsh (South Africa, DPhil International Relations, Louis Dreyfus-Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) for the termly WHT Alumni Teach In. The event was hosted at the Jam Factory, just a stone’s throw away from the WHT’s small office in the Saïd Business School.
A musician, author and academic
Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh holds an MPhil with distinction in International Relations from St Anne’s College, Oxford, where he studied 2013-15 as a Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld Scholar. In 2015 he was awarded a second scholarship to continue his research at doctorate level as an Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Rausing/Abraham Scholar.
Sizwe is an outspoken political commentator, scholar and musician. He was president of the University of Cape Town’s Students’ Representative Council in 2010. He holds an MPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford, where he was a prominent member of the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford movement.
His book, Democracy and Delusion, won the City Press Tafelberg Nonfiction Award. The book is accompanied by a rap album of the same name. He is currently pursuing a DPhil in International Relations at Oxford.
South African Elections 2019
Earlier this year, Sizwe launched a first-of-its-kind, Whatsapp news channel, the Sizwe Mpofu Walsh Xpereince which covers the impending South African elections including live Q&A’s, interviews with locals and commentary which intends to make the heavily anticipated national election, more accessible to South Africa’s massive youth electorate.
Host a Teach-In
The Trust will be hosting more Teach-Ins with our Alumni Network and current scholars throughout the year. Scholars and Alumni are encouraged to request a teach-in by nominating themselves or another alumni to host the Forum.
To learn more about the WHT Network or how you can apply for the Scholarship, visit our website at www.whtrust.org where staff, scholars and Alumni are waiting to share their stories. #WHTWishYouWereHere
Questions? Please e-mail the Alumni Programme at Alumni@whtrust.org
The WHT Leadership and Alumni Programme would like to take this opportunity to thank WHT Alumna, MAheen Iqbal (Pakistan, MSc Environmental Change and Management, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) who has generously contributed funds towards programming and activities for current scholars through the Leadership Programme.
Please look out for the Annual Report to learn more about how this generous and heartfelt contribution will be used.
Maheen was the first Alumni to sign up to trial our new online payment software protected by PayPal. Her donation comes on the heels of the launch of the campaign to endow the Leadership Programme and we look forward to listing her among our supporters and contributors!
Regarding her donation, Maheen said,
“The WHT gave me a generous scholarship that allowed me to pursue my ideal MSc in Environmental Change and Management at Oxford and enabled me to spend a full academic year in the city without worrying about finances or loans. It gave me the chance to attend a prestigious institution and meet bright, motivated change makers from around the world who are likely to remain life long friends. This is a huge gift from the Trust and I chose to give back now that I am working so that I can contribute to similar experiences for future scholars. No matter how big or small our donations are, I believe that collectively they can make a difference!
The PayPal tool is very simple and easy to use and I hope other alumni will also be inspired to give back to the Trust that enabled such a life changing experience for us. “
If you are an Alumni who wants to get involved in shaping the future direction of the Trust, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to get a conversation started. #whtwishyouwerehere #MoreThanAScholarship
The Alumni Programme is offering a unique, new opportunity for WHT Alumni from April 2019.
The Annenberg Visiting Fellowship Award is designed to enhance the relationship between WHT Alumni, current scholars and the broader WHT Network of donors and supporters. Successful applicants will be invited to return to Oxford to:
Participate as a facilitator at the annual Robin HAmbro Moral Philosophy Seminar in September
Host an Alumni Teach In with current scholars and invited guests
Participate in WHT events, programming and other opportunities at Oxford and elsewhere in the UK
Access Oxford resources including the Bodleian Libraries and the Saïd Business School to conduct an independent Alumni Leadership Project. The projectcan range in size and scope from a written / independently produced piece of media, to an outreach and engagement project which raises awareness about the Trust, or a community service project directly related to the aims of the Leadership Programme.
Successful applicants will receive return airfare from their country of location to Oxford, accommodation and a generous stipend for meals and expenses. The fellowship is tennable for a period at the discretion of the Trust but will ordinarily not exceed 1 week in Oxford.
To nominate yourself or another alumni for this opportunity please submit the following form.
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Please direct questions and comments to the WHT Alumni Programme at: email@example.com
The WHT Alumni Network now includes nearly 300 alumni from 72 countries, representing an array of personal and professional interests. The Alumni Portal is a new, access controlled space on the WHT website which is reserved for Scholarships and Leadership Programme Alumni.
The password protected portal includes live access to:
Readings: Leadership Programme materials such as the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy Seminar and other material
The ‘Trust List’: a directory of WHT Alumni contacts spanning the Programme’s 12 year history
Job Listings and other opportunities: exclusive updates and informational material on vacancies or career development opportunities including visiting fellowships, alumni-meetups and awards which are available to and tenable by WHT alumni
Feedback: a space for alumni to keep connected with the Trust and each other.
To learn more about the newly launched Alumni Portal, please contact WHT Alumni Programme at: firstname.lastname@example.org