Before her graduation ceremony from Skidmore College was unfortunately curtailed as a fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Naira Abdula ’14 from Mozambique was scheduled to be one of the student speakers at the ceremony. It would have been a fitting conclusion to her momentous journey at the College where she was graduating with seven top awards and a double major in Economics and Business Management.
Coming from Mozambique, Naira’s early ambition was to be an Engineer, but she references the Entrepreneurial Leadership curriculum at African Leadership Academy as her introduction to the world of practical business, with modules on business models, profit making and strategy being particularly influential in her decision on undergraduate study. She applied to Skidmore College in New York because of the opportunity to study Business Management.
At Skidmore, she discovered Economics as a framework for understanding the world, and Microeconomics in particular proved to be useful in simplifying global issues. Through a course on the Economics of Development in her junior year, she learned about efforts taken by developing countries to eradicate poverty and the concept of “natural entrepreneurs”, whose involvement in entrepreneurship is driven primarily by survival. It was this discovery that fuelled her thesis topic and led her to Nobel Prize-winning Economist, Esther Duflo, whose data she utilized in her research, eventually culminating in a meeting between the pair earlier this year.
With her growing passion for Economics, she served as a Teaching Assistant for Microeconomics in her sophomore year, a Peer Mentor for Voting and Game Theory in her sophomore and junior years, and a Student Representative in her senior year. Through her classes in Business Management, she developed a passion for financial institutions and their potential for enabling access to capital for emerging economies.
Outside the classroom, Naira served as co-President of the Investment Council, managing a portfolio of $20,000 and teaching students with no prior background in investment about maximizing profits and creating diversified portfolios. She equally served as co-President of the Senior Gift – an initiative designed to foster community spirit and giving back to Skidmore College by members of each graduating class. As a freshman in 2016, she was a recipient of the Davis Prize for Peace, helping to build a library and learning lab for children in her home city of Beira in Mozambique.
Through the grant from the Prize, she was able to provide 69 children with interactive technologies to learn reading, writing and counting. A further $5000 investment from a business plan competition followed in her sophomore year, and another $1000 from the Frierich Business Plan competition in her senior year was accompanied by a commitment by the competition’s judges to set up a special fund to help rebuild a school in Beira. Her NGO, Edutrer continues to sustain that work in her absence, while she supports with fundraising and donor engagement remotely.
One of the opportunities extended to highly motivated students at Skidmore College is the Periclean Honors Forum – an academic program promoting leadership, citizenship and academic excellence for students who have maintained a minimum GPA of 3.5. Because of the rigorous nature of the program, several students who begin do not complete the requirements, but Naira stayed the course, completed the senior capstone project and recently graduated with a Minor in Honors Forum. Upon graduation, she was named the recipient of the President’s Award for overall contribution to the university, the William E. Weiss Memorial Award as the most outstanding student in Economics, the Linda G. Tanenbaum Memorial Prize as the most outstanding student in Management and Business, and The Heck Award for graduating with the highest GPA in Management and Business. Naira also received the Student Leadership award and Citizenship award among several other accolades.
This summer, Naira will be joining Credit Suisse as an Investment Banking Analyst, covering financial institutions. With a passion for enabling access to capital for entrepreneurs in emerging economies, she is focused on understanding how financial institutions can help to elevate citizens, particularly women, from poverty. When she hopefully returns to Skidmore for a rescheduled graduation ceremony next Spring, she will have the opportunity to deliver the speech that she is currently preparing – she is eagerly looking forward to it.
Do you know any young change-makers in your community like Naira? Encourage them to apply to ALA’s Class of 2021