‘Even though my studies in Sweden are done, my life with SI has not come to an end’

'Even though my studies in Sweden are done, my life with SI has not come to an end'
How can you make the most of your experiences in Sweden - and what will you do after you graduate from NFGL? SI alum Daouda Konipo graduated from Umeå University in June 2016, and now he's heading off to new adventures. Here he shares his story and his advice for current NFGL students.

How did you find out about SI Scholarships in the first place and why did you apply? 

After graduating from my bachelor studies in Ghana on December 2012, I returned to my country, with great hope, to look for a job and contribute in the inclusive development of my nation.

However, finding a job that matches with my profile, was pretty tough, as the country experienced an overthrow of the president at that time, and was later attacked by several terrorist groups. During that period of high political instability, I found it hard to achieve my goal of getting a decent job.

After numerous attempts and a series of job request’s denial, I was lucky to be accepted for a six-month internship at a local commercial bank. When my internship was getting close to the expiration date, I decided to look for a scholarship to finance my master studies abroad. At first, I never thought of Sweden as the destination place for my master studies. I was looking at various scholarship offers in English-speaking countries, including the United States and Canada.

Through my scholarship search, I came across the Swedish Institute scholarship, which I found very interesting. Indeed, I realized that it has many advantages that many of the scholarships I was about to apply to, did not have. For example, it was fully-funded and also provides insurance cover for the scholarship recipients. Thus, I started investigating about studies in Sweden and found out that it is one of the best destination for Master studies in English.

Why did you choose Umeå? 

After getting to know about the SI scholarship and the excellent quality of education at Swedish universities, I decided to look more at the content of the programs offered by those universities.

SI has a list of universities and programs, that every scholarship applicant need to consider. The scholarship applicant has to be admitted to one of the suggested programs, in order to be considered for the scholarship offer.

In my case, I was looking for master programs in Finance, as it will help me get a deeper understanding of how the international financial market works. There were some few options, but I decided to focus more on the Finance master program at Umeå University for two main reasons.

The first reason was that, as a native of one of the hottest country in the world, I wanted to experience a real winter season in a developed country. And Umeå seems to me to be the best place for that. Secondly, being the university with the most satisfied students in Europe also triggered my desire to choose Umeå University as the destination place for my graduate studies.

Where are you now? Did you return home after your studies in Umeå? 

I am currently living in my hometown Bamako, Mali. After graduating on June 2016 from Umeå University, I decided to extend my visa to stay in Sweden for six months, in order to look for an international graduate program to start my professional career.

I believed it would be easier for me to apply for such international position, while living in a European country, as the communication service in my country, including access to internet, is very poor.

In addition to looking for an international graduate position during that six months, I also made time to attend Swedish classes in order to improve my Swedish language skills. Learning another language is always fun and can also be a plus on your CV, when being considered for an international position. 

What do you miss most about Sweden, or Umeå, or your university? 

At the end of my studies at Umeå University, I just realized that it was the best time in my life. I had experienced so many new and interesting things during my stay in Umeå including making new international friends and seeing so much snow, that I have never seen before.

I also miss some of the professors at the university, who inspired me and made me reach my full potential. When I left Sweden to my home country, my nostalgia for Sweden was stronger than ever. I was missing many things including the beautiful nature during the summer time, hanging out with my Swedish friends and having fika.

Last but not least, I was missing winter and the snow a lot. 

Now you have been granted a position in the fellowship programme at Kiva, and you will be training in San Francisco and then working in Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi. How did you find out about programme? Why did it interest you? 

In the course of looking for a job that matches with my professional goal, I subscribed to a microfinance job offer website called, Microfinance Gateway. That website sent me microfinance job offers around the world, through email. It is through the Microfinance Gateway website that I get to know about the Kiva fellowship program.

I have always been interested by the microfinance sector, as it plays an important role in alleviating poverty in developing countries, enabling the most vulnerable component of the population, namely women and the youth, to access to needed resources so as to undertake vital development projects.

Actually, it is my desire to deepen my understanding of the social business concept that has motivated me to go for further studies in the graduate level. And after writing my master thesis on the subject, I acknowledged the relevance of microfinance sector in developing countries.

Since then, I wanted to witness the realities of microfinance firsthand by working directly with microfinance institutions. And Kiva was offering such cross-cultural opportunity through their fellowship program.

How do you think your time with SI NFGL helped to prepare you for this opportunity? 

My time with SI NFGL has helped me a lot in preparing for this opportunity. The numerous material and human resources provided by the SI NFGL have helped me develop many skills that made my application stand-out of the crowd and made it be considered for this fellowship opportunity. Some of these skills includes multi-cultural communication skills, presentation skills, result-oriented and team leading skills.

Furthermore, I attended several events, organized by the Umeå NFGL local network that prepared me for this opportunity. The events were largely focusing on how to design a good CV. I was also present to some workshops that were focusing on interesting and current subjects such as the migration crisis, sustainability issues, gender equality, just to mention a few.

These local events have improved my leadership skills and helped me build a strong network with future global leaders.

What do you look forward to the most about working with Kiva? What do you hope to do after that? 

I am looking forward working with Kiva as a fellow, as it will help me understand how the microfinance sector works in practice across different regions.

I am also eager to travel to California to attend the amazing training provided by Kiva to newly accepted fellows. In addition, through this fellowship, it will be my first experience to travel to the eastern side of Africa and see how it differs from West Africa. After my fellowship at Kiva, I envisage to be equipped with the needed skills and experience, to apply for a permanent position in a company showing a high degree of social and environmental responsibility.

What does it mean to you to be an NFGL alumn? 

Being an NFGL alumn means a lot me. Indeed, it shows me that, even though my studies in Sweden are done, my life and upcoming experience with SI and Sweden have not come to an end.

As a matter of fact, we, the Malian SI scholarship holders and alumni, are planning to establish a local SI alumni network in Mali, in order to promote the benefits of the SI scholarships among young Malian professionals. We also intend to organize local events, whereby we will be sharing our experience in Sweden, with Malians considering to apply for the SI scholarship.

What is your top advice for current SI scholarship holders, both for enjoying their time in Sweden, and for what to do afterwards?

My advice to current SI scholarship holders is to enjoy their student life in Sweden to the fullest, as it would be hard to find again such an amazing opportunity to study in one of the best universities in the world, offering an international environment. They should make new and reliable friends across different countries. And that is going to boost their professional network in the near future.

I also advise them to not wait to graduate before they apply for jobs that suit best with their professional aspirations. They should look for whatever position they are interested to, such as PHD position or Graduate program, before they finish their thesis writing.

Finally, I urge every current SI scholarship holders to consider returning to their home country, after such an amazing experience in Sweden. Because they are going to be welcomed as Kings.