“I believe that individuals who have ideas can change the world, and I have ideas. How do we ensure that our continent emerges and gains the economic and political independence it deserves? This is what my life’s purpose should be about.”
Aida Ndiaye ’09 from Senegal is Public Policy Manager at Facebook, coordinating government relations for the technology giant across 22 countries in French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking Africa. At Quest University, Canada, Aida was the first international student to serve as Student Body President, and at the University of Oxford, where she earned a Master’s degree in Public Policy, she served as Vice President of Oxford Women in Politics. Combining these experiences with a professional background spanning companies like IBM, Google, UNESCO and Dalberg, Aida is uniquely positioned to connect people, governments and technology for development in Africa.
Aida Ndiaye grew up in Dakar, Senegal in a lower-middle class Muslim family. Always top of her class in high school, she set up the school’s first newspaper and continually questioned the absence of Africa-centric content in the curriculum. Recognizing her leadership potential, she was referred by the school’s Director to apply to African Leadership Academy. Like many Francophone students arriving at ALA, Aida spoke and understood very little English but persevered through the difficult times, resisting the urge to return to Senegal in those early days.
Establishing a Legacy
Having overcome the language barrier at ALA, Aida pursued university education at Quest University, Canada, through a scholarship made possible by the Mastercard Foundation. On reflection, she says that ALA provided her with the space to find her identity as a leader and Quest gave her the tools and opportunity to fulfill and enact that vision of herself. She studied Development Economics at Quest, seeking to understand the factors that sustain poverty and the innovations to combat it. But it was outside the classroom that she truly thrived as a leader. After establishing and serving as President of the Quest University African Students Association, Aida became the first international, female, non-white student to be elected as President of the student body at Quest. Drawing inspiration from her time at ALA and understanding how it felt to be an outsider, her administration developed several programs aimed at integrating the student body and connecting with the local community. Today, several years after graduating from Quest University, she is filled with immense pride when she sees that the diversity and inclusion programs that she instituted as the leader of the student government are still being implemented.
Public Policy at Oxford
After graduating from Quest University, Aida learned of an opportunity to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Oxford University through a generous scholarship made available to ALA alumni. At Oxford, she immersed herself in discourse around what constitutes effective governance and the roles that governments play in addressing development challenges globally. Contrasting her world view of leadership in Senegal with her experiences at ALA and Quest, Aida grappled with the effect of government policies on shaping the livelihoods of people. The diversity of the student body at Oxford equally enabled her to have enlightening conversations with her peers, evaluating varying models of leadership across countries. Outside the classroom, she served as Vice President of Oxford Women in Policy and Co-Convener of the Africa Policy Forum. It was during this time that she got connected to her next step – a three-month internship at Facebook.
At Facebook, Aida was tasked with helping the company establish a presence in Francophone (French-speaking) and Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) Africa. This required working with governments to establish digital connectivity programs while working within the company to tailor its offerings to the specific needs of each country. The three-month internship quickly evolved into a full time position, and within three years, Aida was promoted to Public Policy Manager, overseeing 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. She now leads a team working within these markets to promote the deployment of new technologies connecting previously-unreached populations to the internet. Although she values her current work in technology, Aida is conscious that she has a larger role to play in establishing a new era of effective public sector leadership.
Vision for the Future
Aida believes that long lasting change in societies can only be made possible through strong governments. Her journey so far has reinforced her passion for seeing Africa gain political and economic independence, and she sees herself playing a critical role in enabling that future. Through her current role, she finds opportunities to inspire and mentor other women to break boundaries and achieve their full potential. Wherever her journey takes her next, it will surely position her to continue to pursue the greatest possible impact for Africa.