Ridwan Sorunke recently gained admission into the the Johns Hopkins- Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in the US. In this exclusive interview with TweakMyContent.com, he shares about his journey into international realtions, passion for national development and his hopes for the future of Nigeria and Africa!
Please tell us about yourself- growing up, education, career, etc.
My name is Ridwan Sorunke and I am Nigerian. I had a very mixed story growing up. I had a very fast education, most times always being the youngest among my peers (even till this moment). Amidst this, I learnt a lot growing up from my parents who are civil servants. They wanted the best and demanded the best at all times. They drove the spirit of excellence in me right from childhood.
I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. While there, the need for leadership was instilled in me and I also got some exposure. Barely 17 years of age, I started taking leadership positions. I participated actively in the Students Union, an activity that triggered my passion for governance, public affairs, diplomacy and social welfare. I also launched a career advisory firm- StandOut. This I did with some friends.
Growing up, I had always wanted to work in a big firm and also to make massive impact. I didn’t see myself building a career in the sciences. My friends shared the same sentiments. Even though I loved microbiology, I’ve always known I wouldn’t be a full-time scientist. I ended up graduating as one of the top students in microbiology, interestingly, but I was also interested in the arts, as I was the Chairman of the Quiz and Debate team. My lecturers thought they had found a whiz kid, (laughs). But my passion for public affairs took a stronger turn in my second year in the university.
I study a lot. I recall taking several free courses on leadership, public health, management and governance on the platform – Coursera. Although, I had short internship stint with Seven Up Bottling Company and Sacred Heart Hospital, my first professional experience was with Procter & Gamble Nigeria. I joined the company as a Communication Intern (Brand and Corporate).
Within two months of joining P&G, I won an award of excellence from the company for leading the CSR project which involved the company supporting the government’s efforts during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. Following this success, I had the opportunity to lead P&G Corporate Communications in Nigeria for almost 8 months before I left for Youth Service.
I have since been working with an advisory firm to support multinational companies in navigating the complex investment environment in the country. I have risen from being a business analyst to a Public Affairs Manager. I have also led several projects in the firm. I have led the planning and execution of A US Trade Mission to Nigeria, the US-Africa Business Summit, amongst others. I have also resolved several issues for large corporations as well as driven a mild share of investments into the country.
When not working, what other activities are you involved in?
I volunteer for various organizations in Abuja, mostly during the weekend. I also have a number of people I mentor. I am very interested in youth development and health.
I have also loved consulting for development partners on high level advocacy. I’m currently managing a Family Planning advocacy project with the largest development partner in the world.
When not working officially, I volunteer for some NGOs in the health and youth empowerment space. I also have a network of mentors who guide me along the way.
You recently got accepted into Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS); when did you first decide this was the school you wanted to attend?
I have always thought that Nigeria’s foreign policy is weak. I have always believed that Nigeria has a strong bargaining power in Africa and we should leverage that globally. I feel our government doesn’t understand this. I have been following global politics and international trade for quite a while. I have studied different trade agreements, foreign policy statements of nations and investments movements, and I realize we still have a long way to go. I know we have high unemployment and poverty rates over here.
I have come to realize the impact of foreign policies and trade agreements on jobs and economies of various nations. I became interested in International affairs and how it relates to Africa.
I decided to attend Johns Hopkins- Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) last year February after I had a conversation with a colleague at the Albright Stonebridge Group. She briefed me about SAIS and its reputation in the international affairs space.
That wasn’t the first time I had heard of Johns Hopkins, though. I know Johns Hopkins is a great school with arguably the best school of medicine and public health, but that was the first time I heard of SAIS. I did my assignment and I realized SAIS is actually the best school for International Affairs. I also loved that the location is in Washington DC, which is the home of policies and international affairs. I made up my mind to attend SAIS for this program.
Did you get accepted by other schools? Why did you choose John Hopkins University?
I never applied to any other school. However, during my time at JHU-SAIS, I will be applying to Wharton and INSEAD for a JD (MA-MBA) program. We have that option at the SAIS.
What were your essays about and how did you get about writing them? Can you share any tip on writing an MBA admission essay?
I actually applied for International Affairs and International Economics, with a focus on African Policies. One essay was about my motivation and plans whilst the other was about a major policy issue in my country/region. I wrote about my motivation for my graduate degree and the need for African countries to promote regional integration. I have been following Tony Elumelu’s Africapitalism concept, and I have gained a lot from his concepts. I wrote the essay drafts and eventually got help with review comments and feedback from TweakMyContent.com. I actually rewrote the essays at least five times during the review process with TweakMyContent.
Was getting in an easy procedure for you; were you opportune to get scholarships for your study?
I got partial scholarship; approximately half of the tuition. Studying at such a prestigious institution as the Johns Hopkins- Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) comes with a hefty financial cost and I am still raising the remaining funds.
How excited are you about John Hopkins? Please share some of your expectations with us.
I am very excited about JHU-SAIS. I have heard a lot about the school and how influential the alumni network is. The school organizes symposia for top government officials from various parts of the world and I hope to leverage these to build my network and learn a lot in international affairs and government policies, especially from nations that have been successfully transformed from “developing” to “developed”.
The school is also very diverse. I expect to have a stronger understanding of diversity and intercultural negotiations.
I’m very excited about the faculty. I know Madeleine Albright, Florie Liser of CCA, Wolf Blitzer and top officials of the United States government have taught classes in the school. I am really looking forward to the 2017/2018 faculty.
Lastly, most of SAIS graduates have ended up in major multilateral organizations like the UN and World Bank, where they influence policies and strategies across the world. This is part of my plans before my eventual foray into governance.
What motivates you to dream big? How would you advise Nigerian Youths in this regard?
I have always believed in making impact in my community. It motivates me. I look at Nigeria and I feel there is a need for informed and equipped youths to take active part in governance, impact the society and positively steer the country towards the right course. I believe this can only be possible if we are prepared; if we understand how governance, policies, leadership and the economy are connected. The desire to be equipped and make an impact has been my driving factor.
I believe the youths need to acquire knowledge and be involved in societal development. Try as much as possible to connect your work to societal development. It is very important. I am not an advocate of any career, but I believe every career should have a point where societal development comes in. It is only by developing our nation and society that we can be truly better individuals.
How do you intend to give back to your home country, Nigeria upon graduation?
My plan is to continue working in the private sector; in a multilateral organization or advisory service. I plan to focus on public sector/investment advisory services. Later in my career, I hope to venture into politics and governance. It’s important to be part of the process to make a change. However, I hope to first garner as much experience in the Private sector as I can.
In the mean time, I will continue to advise the government in my capacity as well as volunteer for the local NGOs.
Is there any other thing you’d love to add?
TweakMyContent.com was introduced to me by Michael Adesanya, a former colleague at P&G, who is now a Stanford Alumnus. I told him of my plan to apply for graduate school and he recommended TMC for my essay review. I got in touch with Gbenga of TMC, and I never had any cause to doubt his ability at any point in time. I recall reviewing the essays several times on the last day (Laughs)!. By the way, I submitted my application on the closing day. If you plan to apply for a top graduate school, I would recommend you start early and engage professional help with reviewing your essays. I have tried TweakMyContent.com and I fully recommend them!