In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented global economic downturn resulting in increased unemployment figures. While it continues to be a challenging time to enter the job market, the good news is that current economic predictions are showing signs of recovery and many organizations are hiring.
“Destinations” is an interview series featuring recent CEU graduates who secured jobs during the pandemic. We spoke to Esther Ebimoghan who graduated with an LL.M. in International Business Law from CEU in 2020 and is now working as a consultant at the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD UK). Below is an edited version of our July 5 conversation.
What was your path to CEU?
After completing my law degree in the UK, I attended the Nigerian law school in order to qualify as a lawyer in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. After law school, I interned with IHS Towers, a company providing telecommunications infrastructure. At IHS, I worked as a corporate lawyer on compliance and real estate issues for the company’s legal department. This equipped me with knowledge on regulatory aspects of telecommunications law, real estate and negotiation skills.
I also ran a consulting outfit to strategize the compliance structure of NGOs and small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) for the delivery of services in Nigeria. In the course of my work, I saw that SMEs lacked the structure for longevity and capital to scale their operations. This made me curious about the SME financing gap and the relatively short life span of such companies.
CEU’s International Business Law program aligned with my top interests in legal aspects of corporate finance, bankruptcy law, SME law and secured transactions. I felt this would equip me with knowledge to address policy gaps of SME financing. I wanted to major in the legal aspects of corporate finance with my compliance background and I was also offered a scholarship, which was a very good opportunity.
How did you arrive at your current role at AFFORD UK?
The path to my current role began before I graduated. During the fall of 2019 before the pandemic, I was invited to the African Union Permanent Mission in Brussels for a consultative meeting on diaspora and civil society to advance agenda 2063 in AU – EU Relations post 2020. The convening addressed business and the regulatory environment in Africa and discussed finding adequate solutions to the challenges identified in the “World Bank Doing Business Report 2020”.
The meeting focused on Africa’s tremendous progress in reforming its business environment. However, performance among Sub-saharan African economies presented an opportunity for policy reforms in key areas of business such as getting credit and resolving insolvency. One of the major challenges discussed was SME access to credit. Notably, in my Secured Transactions classes at CEU such policy gaps were addressed. Moreso, my thesis focused on policy recommendations for SME financing. It was at this event that I networked with heads of organizations.
My current line manager, Stella Opoku-Owusu, Deputy Director, AFFORD-UK, delivered a presentation which connected to my interest in addressing gaps in SME financing and protecting the interest of creditors. I approached her and after a conversation, we opened a line of communication and continued to be in contact beyond the convening.
After finishing my thesis and graduating from CEU, I reached out to AFFORD-UK to inquire about open roles and express my interest in working there. I also sent my thesis and pre-recorded presentation to Opoku-Owusu. I was then invited to intern at the organization and following my dedicated work and relationship development with staff, I was promoted to consultant at AFFORD.
What do you do as a consultant at AFFORD UK?
My current role entails leading research and development for a loan product for the AFFORD Diaspora (Blended) Finance program in Benin Republic. I am passionate about SME financing and the solutions that secured transactions provide. At AFFORD, I get to contribute to affordable financing solutions for SMEs by structuring the loan model for innovation enterprises. I also conduct meetings with financial institutions in emerging markets to better understand the challenges of lending to SMEs. I liaise with our legal partners regarding regulatory requirements, taxation and bankruptcy implications in both Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
My most recent project at AFFORD entails working within a team to deploy Diaspora finance for innovative enterprises in the energy, agricultural and WASH sector in the Ashanti and Western region of Ghana. This type of work that not only expands my experiential knowledge, but enables me to create impact through the channel of development finance.
In the course of my work, I have realized that being in practice is so different from theory because there are so many nuances that have to be addressed in order to provide pragmatic solutions.
What advice do you have for new graduates seeking their next career step?
Networking is one thing that is especially valuable through the CEU alumni community. It’s a very supportive network and people I’ve never even met in person were willing to help based on our CEU connection. I used LinkedIn to send customized messages informing alumni in my field that I was completing my studies and seeking a job in finance. I received great advice and people willing to serve as references. Your network is your net worth, and reaching out to people is one way to find your path. A lot of organizations currently use the referral system in their recruitment so it makes sense to connect with those who are already in the organizations.
I remember graduating during the pandemic and attending a coaching session offered through Career Services. It was so helpful for clarifying a direction and led me to also speak to my professors who understand my skill-set and could identify areas in which I should focus. This led me to international development, which really suits me. The conversations with my professors shaped my understanding of how I could create solutions and contribute to the job market in the long run.
The other aspect is interning. I know in some cases people need situations where they get on the job from the start, but interning can get your foot in the door and let you interact with those doing the hiring. When organizations do have the opportunity to bring in someone new, you are top-of-mind as a potential fit for that job. So if you've been applying for a while, perhaps give internships a try. This worked for me and evolved into a consultancy position.
CEU’s Career Services Office serves students and recent graduates through resources and assistance to help them make an impact around the world and chart their next steps. Check out the office’s annual Destinations Reports to learn more about the career outcomes of CEU graduates.