Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Burns, a successful finance professional turned startup entrepreneur, and former Alfa Fellow. Scott took his first steps toward his Alfa Fellowship immersion when he joined the US Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. There he managed a local NGO and taught economics at a regional university. Afterwards, he assumed leadership roles in organizations providing infrastructure and financial advisory services in emerging markets. Scott is grateful for the opportunities the Alfa Fellowship offered him.
The Alfa Fellowship Program facilitates work placements for accomplished young professionals from the U.S. and Britain in work assignments at leading organizations in Russia in the fields of business, economics, journalism, law, public policy and related areas. As part of his fellowship Scott arranged a role with Alfa Capital Partners (ACP), a Russian private equity and real estate investment advisory firm. As an investment manager in Moscow, Scott deployed commitments from a $160 million private equity fund and contributed on the boards of several Eastern European logistics providers. More recently he built an emerging markets-focused business line within a major European energy consulting firm (part of the $2bn revenue DNV group).
We asked Scott more about his path to the Alfa Fellowship and how that experience shaped his career.
1. What inspired you to apply to the Alfa Fellowship?
Before applying, I had spent some time in the Former Soviet Union and was fascinated by the region. While in graduate school, a friend shared an Alfa Fellowship Program (AFP) description with me during a phone conversation. I was struck by the way the program aligned with my professional interests. I hoped to build my understanding of Russia and Russian language, while learning more, in particular, about local infrastructure finance. The AFP offered an ideal platform for exploring these themes and directly experiencing Russian life, society, and commerce.
2. How has the experience impacted your career path and interests?
On being selected for the program, I was able to find professional placement in an investment advisory group, AlfaCapital Partners (ACP), managing a fund focused on transport infrastructure in Eastern Europe. I enjoyed my experience there. After the program, I stayed on full-time with ACP for several years. The entire period had a significant impact on my professional development. Through my work, I gained valuable perspective on building and managing companies, transaction structuring and investment analysis. The experience was particularly unique for the immersion it offered in emerging market commercial environments, through which I gained a much clearer understanding of their associated risks and opportunities.
3. What advice would you give to others applying to the Alfa Fellowship?
Prospective fellows should focus on understanding exactly what they would like to get out of the program. The AFP does a great job of facilitating learning opportunities, but participants need to be diligent about taking advantage of these opportunities. If you don’t have a clear idea of the specific field you’d like to explore within the Russian context or lack strong reasons for your specific interests, you may not get the most out of participation.
Also, when exploring potential professional interests prior to application, I would suggest that a prospective fellow try to speak to current or former fellows with similar work experience. They may be able to offer a lot of insight not available through general background research. Their guidance may help the applicant make a better choice regarding the professional fields he/she chooses to explore.
Scott is now based in California, launching a company that uses technology to make sophisticated money management tools accessible for mainstream America. He is a CFA charterholder with a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from Whitman College, and a master’s degree in International Development from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Scott currently serves as Vice President of the Alfa Fellowship Alumni Program.
© Victoria Johnson 2013, all rights reserved.
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- Fellowships For Study Abroad: 3 Questions With ThinkSwiss Scholar Malaika Neri
Malaika Neri has a knack for finding interesting opportunities to study and work abroad on independent projects. Between her sophomore and junior year at New York University’s (NYU) Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she studied Economics and International Development, Malaika was one of 19 people chosen for the Swiss government’s ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship. She spent the summer of 2010 at the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland where she researched and published an academic paper on the Swiss response to the 2008 financial crisis. She subsequently completed a year’s coursework for a Master’s in Public Administration at NYU’s Wagner School and was one of ten students selected for the inaugural class of the NYU Gallatin Fellowship in Global Human Rights. The fellowship provided her a $5,000 grant to spend the summer working for OTIV Alaotra Mangoro, a microfinance organization in Madagascar, and enabled her to study how microfinance can be used to fulfill social and economic rights. Now based in Quito, Ecuador as an international development consultant, Malaika connected with us to tell us more about that first, inspirational research trip to Switzerland.
1. What inspired you to apply for the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship?
I had wanted to study abroad, like many of my friends in college were doing, but wasn’t interested in simply “studying abroad” for the sake of it; neither did I want to go abroad and volunteer, when I could do that in my own community. So I searched online for opportunities to be abroad, doing something academic, such as research. That’s when I found the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship, which was open to any major, and offered the chance to do research at a Swiss university or research institute. It was perfect!
2. What do you think made your application stand out?
One of the primary selection criteria for the scholarship is serving as a student ambassador of a U.S. university in Switzerland. In my application, I wrote about moving to the United States from India with my family, and although my accent and body language often continue to mark me as a foreigner in the U.S., I realized that there was no point in rejecting the opportunity to learn more about what a new culture has to offer. I’m fairly certain that this anecdote swayed the acceptance committee in my favor. I was also very specific in my reasons for choosing the Institute for Economic Research (Irene) at the Economics Department of the Université de Neuchâtel as my host institution, and for selecting a school in the francophone part of the country.
3. What did you accomplish during the fellowship and how has the experience influenced your career goals?
Through the three month fellowship, I was able to research and write an in-depth report on the Swiss government’s reaction to the 2008 financial crisis. Being in Switzerland helped enormously; because the government is so extraordinarily responsive, I was able to pick up the phone and call the Ministry of Finance, and they helped me find all the information I needed. It was an amazing experience. When I came back to the U.S., I found an academic journal that was willing to publish my report, and a few months later, saw it in print!
Conducting research in Switzerland was an extremely formative experience in my decision to pursue a PhD., and to continue the study of political economy. Being part of an academic community, not simply as a student but as a colleague, offered the opportunity to be among brilliant minds who were also supportive peers and inspired me to be a part of that world. All in all, I’m very, very grateful to have had the experience.
The next deadline for the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship is April 30, 2013. Apply now.
Malaika Neri graduated in 2012 with a BA in Development Economics and International Development at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Malaika was a writer for the book “Telecentre Women Digital Literacy Campaign: Empowerment Through Technology, a global initiative of Telecentre.org Foundation and the International Telecommunications Union of the United Nations. She has also developed social impact strategy analysis for a variety of non-profits, philanthropies, and corporate clients. She was a semi-finalist in the 2012 NYU Entrepreneurship Challenge and accepted into NYU Reynold’s Changemaker Challenge, part of the Catherine B. Reynolds program in Social Entrepreneurship.
© Victoria Johnson 2013, all rights reserved.
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While on our ProFellow tour, I talked quite a bit about how much I love traveling and how I have used fellowships to fund my experiences abroad – including Germany, the U.K. and now New Zealand. Lucky for us, a few seminar participants provided leads on some great fellowships in Europe, ones that are going to go on my fellowship “bucket list”.
Tufts doctoral student Cecile Rouleau told me about The Chateaubriand Fellowship offered by the Embassy of France in the U.S. for doctoral students enrolled in American universities to conduct research in France for up to 10 months. The fellowship has two streams – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and Humanities and Social Science. Make sure to look at these fellowships early: application deadlines fall between December - February for research the following academic year.
At our seminar at the Harvard Kennedy School, Dr. Thomas Widrich told me about fellowships at the European University Institute in Italy, which offers fellowships for graduate study as well as the Max Weber Programme, the largest postdoctoral programme for young academics in the social sciences in Europe. The Programmes gives 42 fellowships a year for 1 or 2 years of research in the four disciplines of the EUI: Economics, History and Civilization, Law, and Political and Social Sciences.
Can’t wait to find more fellowships like these!
The German Marshall Fund of the United States has launched the new Asmus Policy Entrepreneurs Fellowship to support two emerging policy entrepreneurs from the U.S. and Europe. The fellowship is in honor of Ronald D. Asmus, GMF Brussels office executive director and director of strategic planning, who dedicated his life to the principles of freedom and passed away on April 30, 2011.
Applicants must be American or European citizens under the age of 40 who propose a project that they believe will address an important foreign or economic policy issue and will advance transatlantic cooperation. Over the course of the year, Asmus Fellows will utilize existing GMF activities and networks to discuss and consider policy questions and frameworks before proposing a solution. Fellows will also have the opportunity to attend three to four key GMF programs, in some cases as speakers. Each fellowship is worth up to $25,000.
For those interesting in applying, consider how your project will advance the goals and ideals of Dr. Asmus’ work. Dr. Amus was a leading thinker, practitioner and policy entrepreneur working on US-European relations for over two decades. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs from 1997-2000 and was also a senior analyst and fellow at Radio Free Europe, RAND and the Council on Foreign Relations. Dr. Amus authored many articles and books, and is primarily remembered as someone with an “unshakable belief in the importance of transatlantic cooperation”, who pushed for NATO’s enlargement toward the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Read here for more information on the fellowship program and application. All applications must be received by February 10th, 2012.
On the theme “Border-to-Border: Mexico-United States-Canada,” $30,000 Comparative Border Studies fellowships will be awarded to post-docs to be in-residence at the School of Transborder Studies on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus for the academic year.
The Comparative Border Studies program at ASU is a unique research initiative designed to bring scholars, artists, and the public together to discuss and debate issues pertaining to geopolitical borders. The heart of Comparative Border Studies will be the events and speaker series that explore a range of topics such as security, immigration, wealth creation and economic development, trade relations, health and environmental management, cultural production, and bicultural/binational education.
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Did you know the Congressional Budget Office offers an Economic Policy Fellowship for PhDs?
The CBO provides Congress with “objective, timely, nonpartisan analyses to assist economic and budgetary decisions.” The fellowship provides an opportunity for experienced economists to work full-time or part-time at the CBO in Washington, DC on complex budgetary issues and contribute to research and publications. Meet some of the Fellows.
Not sure where the timely, nonpartisan analyses have been these past few weeks. Thank goodness Congress has a fellowship for talented economists – now it’s time to tap them!
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Join the crowd
Our step-by-step guide for a competitive fellowship application
1. Create a plan
2. Project proposal ideas
3. Talk to current / former fellows
4. Prepare an effective resumé
5. Find a host institution
6. Write a compelling personal statement
7. Prepare a strong project proposal
8. Get great recommendation letters (P1)
9. Get great recommendation letters (P2)
10. Nail the individual and group interviews