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Dreams for a better Africa

By - Liz Wafula | December 5th 2012
Rose Osire

ROSIE OSIRE, 26, did not believe in her strengths and it took her mother’s nudging for her to attempt what she thought was impossible. She is now a researcher at Harvard’s Centre for International Development in Cambridge, USA and believes nothing can stop the relentless. She spoke to LIZ WAFULA

Tell me about your background...

I am the youngest of nine siblings. My parents worked in the tea industry and I grew up in Kericho and Nandi Hills.  I went to Kericho Primary School and Nandi Hills Academy. Later, I attended Bahati Girls’ Secondary School and cleared in 2003. My parents were strict and raised us to be hardworking and respectful. My mother once saw a newspaper posting soliciting essays for the Kenya Posta Prize Competition. She bought it and encouraged me to apply.  I was a bit nervous about competing nationally and the prospect of failure and subsequent low self-esteem loomed larger than the possibility of winning. I refused to do it, but she insisted. I finally wrote something and submitted it. I ended up being second in the country.

What happened after high school?

After some persuasion from my mother, I applied for a scholarship to the United World College in Montezuma, New Mexico for a two-year International Baccalaureate Diploma in 2006. Even though I had been listed as one of the top 100 students nationwide in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Exams, I still feared that I wasn’t qualified enough. I ended up being among the six selected applicants and received a full scholarship. After that, I got another scholarship to attend Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA for my undergraduate degree in Economics and French and graduated in 2010. I then joined Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts to pursue a Masters in Public Policy. I graduated this year.

Why do you think college education is important?

With globalisation and open borders, the sky is the limit.  Even if one fails to get an opportunity in Kenya, there are lots of other opportunities worldwide. People focus too much on getting a Green Card or winning the lottery while the reality is that education is the only Green Card that one needs to succeed anywhere in the world. According to the World Development Indicators, 55 per cent of Kenyans are of working age. Imagine if all these people were educated.  Kenya would be a successful country with higher levels of foreign investment, sophisticated exports and a prosperous and peaceful society. 

What are you up to now?

I work as a research fellow at Harvard’s Centre for International Development in Cambridge. My current research is on commercial agriculture in Africa. African agriculture is still dominated by smallholder subsistence farming yet over 60 per cent of the population relies on agriculture for their incomes.  Smallholder farmers have low agricultural productivity due to poor access to inputs, markets and credit.  Business models that remove some of these constraints allow farmers to intensify their use of productivity-enhancing technologies, expand their participation in markets and ultimately raise their output, incomes and living standards. I am, therefore, looking at successful business models in Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana to provide examples to help other farmers commercialise agriculture.

Aside from research, I am also involved in efforts to increase the prominence of Africa-related issues at the Harvard Kennedy School campus. Even though universities such as Harvard make great efforts to provide students with opportunities to learn about Africa, African Studies still have a small presence. I am working to garner support for recruitment of African students and professionals to the school, increase internship opportunities in Africa, invite African speakers to the school and promote more research related to Africa.   

 What do you love about your job?

Working at Harvard University has exposed me to some of the leading academics in the field, top policy makers and highly intelligent students who are passionate about making a difference in the world.  During my time here, I have attended speaker events by Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Lagos State governor Babatunde Fashola and other leaders.  Every day, I meet at least one person who inspires and challenges me or points me to organisations or individuals who can help advance my personal and professional goals. I also enjoy building the school’s Africa programme and I can already see improvements.

What have been the highlights of your personal and professional life?

The most important one was getting admitted to Harvard University.  The admission rate for my class was two per cent of applicants, so I was very lucky to have been among the few.  For the first six months of this year, I worked as a consultant for the World Bank, Washington DC, where I conducted an impact evaluation of the African Agricultural Markets Programme. I was invited to President Obama’s Forum for Young African Leaders in 2010 in recognition of my work as founding member of a non-profit organisation called the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance. I was also a fellow at the Madeleine Albright Institute for Global Affairs in 2010 and I got to meet and talk to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about my proposal for attaining the Millennium Development Goals. 

What are your future plans?

In the near future, I hope to do a PhD in Public Policy. I then hope to work in the Kenyan government to help advance policies that will secure inclusive growth and attainment of Vision 2030 goals. Until then, I hope to work on international development issues with institutions such as the World Bank and others that focus on economic growth and development.

Who is your role model?

I admire Ngozi Iweala, Nigeria’s minister for Finance. She is an accomplished African woman who has convinced me that there are indeed infinite opportunities for relentless leaders who won’t compromise on their goals. So I guess my definition of a successful person is one who breaks the glass ceiling or one who accomplishes the seemingly impossible.

What is your key to success?

Relentlessness and tenacity. I believe that if you hold on to your dream and persist, it will come to pass.  God blesses the work of our hands, which implies that we first have to work hard so he can have something to bless.



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