Category: Featured News, Graduate Profiles 2021, News, Students

Title: Jimmy Vulembera (GHD’21) On Building a New Career, and Community, at SFS

Author: Mairead MacRae
Date Published: May 11, 2021

Jimmy Vulembera (GHD’21) arrived on the Hilltop with an impressive range of skills and experiences under his belt. He already spoke five languages — French, Swahili, Kinande, Lingala and English — and had worked in advisory and analyst roles for both Citibank and KPMG in his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

Vulembera had also already completed an M.B.A at Brandeis University, in addition to his Bachelor’s degree in Financial Management and Economics from Université Catholique du Graben. So why did the international student pursue a second graduate degree at SFS’s Global Human Development program (GHD)?

Jimmy Vulembera is pictured facing the camera against a solid cream background.
Jimmy Vulembera came to SFS to build a career at the intersection of development, business and finance.

The answer, Vulembera says, is simple. 

“Georgetown University is one of the greatest universities in the United States, and in the world. This is attractive in and of itself,” he says. “Besides, it is in D.C. where the World Bank, IFC, USAID and its implementing partners have their headquarters.”

“What enticed me even more was the award package that I was offered when I received my admission!” Vulembera jokes, referring to the McGurn Scholarship he received in recognition of his academic and professional achievements.

While the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Vulembera’s time in the GHD program was a little different to what he had expected, he says that his time on the Hilltop has been extremely rewarding, enabling him to find a new career passion and build a community of lifelong friends and mentors.

At a Glance

Hometown: Butembo, DRC

Program: Master’s in Global Human Development

Certificate: Social Innovation and Global Development

Language Proficiency: French, Swahili, Kinande and Lingala

On-Campus Activities: Teaching Assistant, International Economics; Chapter President, Net Impact SFS; Volunteer, Georgetown Africa Business Conference; Prizewinner, Georgetown Social Innovation Challenge

Off-Campus Activities: 2021 African Economic Outlook (AEO) Senior Consultant, African Development Bank Group; Energy Access and M&E Systems Intern, Niger Delta Partnership Initiative Foundation

Finding Career Opportunities and Networks

Vulembera came to campus hoping to build the experience and connections he would need to kick start a career in development economics. One of the main draws of the GHD program was its faculty and their approach to teaching. 

“The Global Human Development program has expert faculty,” he says. “And it fosters collaboration given the small cohort and class sizes.”

Throughout his two years at Georgetown, Vulembera was able to tap into numerous opportunities that gave him real-world experience of key issues in development. As part of his capstone project, he worked with a classmate to create deliverables for a medical technology company that increase treatment access for non-communicable diseases in the Global South.

Jimmy stands in front of the John Carrol statue on Georgetown's campus.
Vulembera has taken advantage of numerous opportunities at Georgetown, even during the pandemic.

Being in Washington, D.C. and having access to the GHD network also paid dividends. In the summer between his first and second year, he worked as an energy access and monitoring and evaluation intern for the Niger Delta Partnership Initiative (NDPI) Foundation, where he helped to create a pilot energy access model for off-grid communities in the Niger Delta.

Vulembera also secured a teaching assistant position in Professor Sharat Ganapati’s graduate International Economics course and, for the last semester, he has been working as a senior consultant for the Chief Economist at the African Development Bank Group. 

While these experiences have been very valuable, Vulembera says his most cherished Georgetown memory was the time he spent volunteering at the Georgetown Africa Business Conference.

Jimmy Vulembera stands in front of MSB's Lohrfink Auditorium to greet guests at the Africa Business Conference
Vulembera’s favorite Georgetown memory is volunteering at the Georgetown Africa Business Conference.

The conference is an annual collaboration between the McDonough School of Business and the African Studies Program at SFS and is student-led. This year’s two-day event explored the future of the continent’s business and economic development in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and featured panel discussions on healthcare, technology, women in business and more. 

“I met influential business and public figures shaping business and policy on the African continent,” Vulembera says of the conference, which took place in March as he was looking to his plans after graduation.

A Consequential Class Experience

One of the primary ways that Vulembera’s Georgetown experience has impacted his life is in helping him to find a passion that will shape his career long into the future. 

When he began his Georgetown studies, he was looking to get into business, he explains, but exposure to new fields and ideas helped him to identify how he could use this interest for social good. 

“Before coming to SFS, I thought I would take the International Business Diplomacy (IBD) certificate,” he says. But a single class changed the trajectory of his studies.

“My favorite class was MSFS 622 Financing Social Impact,” he explains. “It is a ‘hands-on’ class allowing students to apply the material to practical situations.”

Taught each spring semester by Chris Walker, the social innovations director at humanitarian non-profit Mercy Corps, the course explores how business and investing can deliver measurable social and environmental change.

Jimmy is pictured with his Social Innovation Lab teammates holding a large check as they win second prize in the competition.
Vulembera (pictured far right) and his team won second prize at the Georgetown Social Innovation Lab in early 2020.

Vulembera enjoyed the class so much that he has decided to pursue a career in impact investing, which would enable him to leverage capital for positive outcomes. To further this ambition, he pursued a Certificate in Social Innovation and Global Development, which he says aligns with his newfound interests and career goals. 

And, he has already gained practical experience in designing financial solutions for social change. Vulembera was part of the team that took second prize at the Global Social Innovation Lab (GSIL), a two-day intensive design lab where students pitch a solution for enhancing equity, diversity and inclusion in global development.

Vulembera’s team, MoMo for All, designed a tablet-based user interface to facilitate banking transactions for illiterate users in Benin. In consultation with end-users, his team created an app that uses icons recognized by people in the country, instead of the written mobile menus that are traditionally used to navigate services.

Finding His Georgetown Community

Despite spending so much of his time at Georgetown in a virtual learning environment, Vulembera was able to build a strong community of friends and mentors on the Hilltop. This network was crucial as he and his peers navigated the majority of their degree during a global pandemic. 

“It is not easy to study during a pandemic,” he notes. “But perhaps I am more resilient or adaptable since I survived virtual classes!”

One faculty member was especially helpful throughout his time in the program, Vulembera says. “Professor Holly Wise has been my faculty mentor,” he explains. “I learned a lot from her knowledge on the market-oriented approaches to solve development challenges. Also, she activated her network to ensure I obtained the internship I wanted.”

Jimmy and classmates pose for a photograph with GHD Director Steve Radelet in his home.
Vulembera (back row, second from right) and his classmates enjoyed getting together for an event at GHD Director Steven Radelet’s home pre-pandemic.

Vulembera had witnessed the power of community at Georgetown even before the pandemic. He says the thing that surprised him most about his time at the university was that everyone, from program to university leadership, cared about students.

“I stayed in D.C. during Thanksgiving in 2019,” he remembers. “Fortunately, Georgetown’s President hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for students! I attended and I was so happy to celebrate Thanksgiving with the Georgetown University community.”

Jimmy pictured with friends sitting, socially distanced, on Healy Lawn.
Since the pandemic began, Vulembera has been enjoying socially distanced picnics on campus with friends.

For Vulembera, it’s the little things that he’ll miss most after graduation, like hanging out with friends in Adams Morgan or sampling the food at the farmers’ market in Red Square. 

After graduation, he plans to wrap up his current contract with the African Development Bank before taking his next step into impact investing. And, though he’s still figuring out exactly where he’ll be a few years from now, he says one thing is certain: “I’ll be looking back with sentimental longing for my time at SFS!”