In this alumni feature, AEN’s Secretary-General Winnie Sambu spoke to Erick Mariga, an alumnus of the Master’s programme at the South African German Centre for Development Research (SA-GER CDR), about his career trajectory and life after graduating from his Master’s degree.
Erick Mariga grew up in Nyeri and Nanyuki, peri-urban towns located in Central Kenya. He currently lives with his wife and two-year old son in Harare, Zimbabwe where he works as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Africa Development Bank (AfDB).
As a policy analyst at the AfDB, Erick’s work mainly focuses on transition states, nations which are considered fragile and vulnerable to economic crises, extreme poverty, or humanitarian crisis. These states typically require assistance to transition out of their fragility into what the AfDB considers as normalcy. Currently, there are 21 African countries that fit this classification, and the AfDB supports socio-economic reforms in these states through a donor-funded Transition Support Facility. Erick’s portfolio covers two of these states: Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Some of the objectives that Erick seeks to meet in his job include finding the best ways to strengthen societies and help them transitions out of fragility. It also includes understanding how institutions such as the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) can be strengthened to maximise revenue collection for national benefit and develop strategies to support overall strengthening of public financial management systems in the country. To address these issues, he analyses various reform policies that governments have enacted to assess the country’s progress in implementing those reforms. The data that he and other analysts generate is then used to inform decision making on further funding support from the AfDB to the country in question. The information is also used to strengthen the country’s capacity to implement reforms. Erick also engages in dialogues with government authorities and provides technical assistance in other aspects of AfDB’s work such as providing technical assistance to the auditor-general to strengthen accountability in government spending.
So how did Erick get to this position? As a young boy, Erick strove for excellence in everything he did, including in his schooling. He also developed leadership skills at a young age, first serving as a class prefect during his primary schooling years and as a school captain in high school. Some of his favourite hobbies outside school was working in his family’s kitchen garden and assisting with household chores. After completing high school education in Kenya, he pursued a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the Africa Nazarene University (Kenya), graduating with first class Honours. With his commerce degree, he initially imagined a private sector career in business management or marketing. However, he was also excited to try out new opportunities and his stellar performance in undergraduate studies enabled him to consider postgraduate studies outside Kenya.
““…growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer, then a business management professional, but somewhere down the line, I decided to pursue a career in Policy and Development owing to the numerous challenges communities in the rural counties of Kenya face. I felt that I wanted to be part of change.”
Therefore, Erick decided to apply for scholarships to study for a master’s degree and was awarded full funding for his Master’s degree in Development Studies at the SA-GER CDR through the DAAD’s African Centres of Excellence Programme. Fresh out of a Bachelor’s degree programme, and beaming with excitement and determination to begin a career in international development, he arrived in South Africa in early 2011.
Erick credits his Master’s degree lecturers as a big inspiration for his career choices. The lessons learnt in his lectures challenged him to think about Africa’s development, and role of social policy and social transformation in improving people’s lives on the continent. In his classes, he also learnt about potential career paths available to him after completing his studies. Indeed, one of his lectures, Professor Mulugeta Dinbabo (Institute of Social Development at the University of the Western Cape), inspired him to seriously think about a career in international development in international financial institutions like the AfDB and the World Bank. The theoretical and practical skills that he acquired through his classes would later prove invaluable for his day-to-day job at the AfDB. One of the questions he especially remembers pondering during his classes was the role of development finance in the African continent. This is something he now addresses on a day-to-day basis as a policy analyst with the AfDB.
After graduating with his Master’s degree in March 2013, Erick returned to Kenya anticipating to secure employment and employ his skills in the development sector in his home country. However, finding a job proved difficult, and he remained unemployed for 6 months. Erick believes that his lack of work experience in employment may have been a big contributor to the difficulties he faced in securing a job, and he encourages young professionals to build experience while undertaking postgraduate studies; for example, by seeking out internship opportunities. After many frustrating months he decided to attend the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association conference in September 2013, which proved to be a good networking platform. By engaging with professionals from the development sector across the region, he learnt about an internship programme at the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD). He made a successful application and worked at the agency, initially as an intern but was later promoted to a consultant position. While at AUDA-NEPAD, Erick worked on a number of interesting projects including the African Union’s Agenda 63.
During his time at AUDA-NEPAD, Erick was introduced to the AfDB’s young professional’s programme (YPP), a 3 year programme that trains young graduates to take up a career in international development. The YPP is a competitive programme that attracts applications from all over the continent. Erick is proud to have competed against more than 12,000 applicants and emerged as one of the young people accepted into the 2016 cohort. Erick spent 2 years in the YPP programme before being promoted to the position of senior policy analyst. It was then that he needed to decide in which country he would be based. Out of three possible options, he chose to work in Zimbabwe, a decision which was in a large part influenced by his fond memories of his interactions with former Zimbabwean classmates at the CDR.
Erick now believes that he has found his dream career. He finds his current job intellectually challenging and gives him the opportunity to be involved directly in policy reforms that not only strengthen public institutions but also contribute to improvements in people’s livelihoods.
Erick has some tips for graduates and young people wanting to develop a career in the development space. He discusses these tips in detail in this video, some of which are highlighted here.
- Explore internship opportunities during or after your Master’s degree.
- Apply to young professional programmes (AfDB, UNECA, UNDP, World Bank, NEPAD etc.).
- Seek out opportunities in local and mid-size government bodies or non-governmental organisations.
- Build you experience in the field to be able to compete with other applicants.
- Continuously develop yourself, build capacity and sharpen your thinking through short courses.
- Networking is a great source of opportunities.
- Make use of alumni networks such as the AEN to connect with fellow alumni and current students at the centres of excellence and to share employment and funding opportunities.
What’s next for Erick? Well, he is currently undertaking part-time PhD studies at the University of the Western Cape. His PhD research, which mainly draws on his work at the AfDB, focuses on conflict resolution and resilience building among communities. He also plans to continue contributing to Africa’s development agenda and urges other young professionals of the African Excellence Centres to do the same, either through their jobs or in their personal capacity. In his parting shot, Erick emphasises:
“…there are key economic and social issues that still affect Africa’s development and it is important that the young people contribute towards finding sustainable solutions”.
To learn more about the African Development Bank YPP programme, visit the bank’s website.
*This feature was written by Winnie Sambu (@wsambu)