A View from the Class: Theotis Sharpe MPA ’20 and International Dual Degree student

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. In this issue, we feature Theotis Sharpe MPA ’20, who is also an international dual degree student at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

You may recognize Theo from hosting SIPA networking mixers in Accra and Lagos over the summer, or how he navigates SIPA’s events and helped organize the first-ever SIPA Story Slam.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Upon graduation in 2012, I worked as a Mortgage Consultant for Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, and then, as a Senior Treasury Analyst at Wells Fargo, assisting 100+ middle-market companies in creating long-term operations and cash management strategies. In addition to my professional career, I was on the board of the Lost Boys Center for Leadership and Development, a non-profit based in Phoenix, AZ, working with South Sudanese youth in Juba and around the U.S.

Why did you choose SIPA?

When I started my journey to graduate school, I was in search of a program that would allow me to explore the intersection of finance, development economics, and policy. The majority of the schools on my radar offered a focus in one or the other. SIPA stood out from the pack as it gave me an opportunity to explore and combine all of my interests as well as acquire practical skills.

Why did you decide to pursue a dual degree?

Initially, when I enrolled at SIPA, my concentration was international development practice. My goal was to learn and acquire practical skills that would allow me to make an impact as a development finance practitioner. I did get a chance to gain in-depth knowledge of development issues and tap into the knowledge and experiences of my peers and development practitioners to develop prudent skills to make an impact. However, I wanted to expand my focus beyond development to learn how different macroeconomic policies directly affect international development. With this goal in mind, I decided to pursue a dual degree with the Hertie School in Berlin to explore the role of trade and international finance as key instruments for development. With a SIPA-Hertie dual degree, I am privileged to combine the practical skills of international development with a solid knowledge of international trade and finance.

How would you describe your SIPA experience?

My time at SIPA has been very fulfilling. I have had an opportunity to immerse myself in a wide range of activities and experiences. I have been fortunate to travel to three different countries and work on a business development platform that champions the formalization and growth of informal businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa. My team and I were finalists in the SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Challenge and received honorable mention accolades at the Global Public Policy Network Conference in Singapore. I have contributed to the greater SIPA community in service as a member of the SIPA Diversity Committee as well as the President of the SIPA Pan African Network (SPAN).

I also had a rich experience interning in Lagos, Nigeria, as an investment officer with Lidya, a Nigerian start-up addressing the $3 billion global credit gap by providing working capital loans to businesses without the need for guarantors or collateral. During this experience, I assisted in managing Lidya’s finance team and helping source new investors. This opportunity was part of my summer placement as required by the Development Practice program.

How has SIPA affected you?

First and foremost, my SIPA experience has helped me become more focused on the impact I want to make. It has helped me become a better leader, giving me the tools I need to return home to Africa to become a change agent.

Additionally, my SIPA experience would have been incomplete without my awesome classmates. I am fortunate to learn from a highly motivated group of change-makers from all backgrounds. What inspires me most is the willingness of my colleagues to stand up to injustices or any form of systematic discrimination and their commitment to solving some of the world’s most dire problems.

Is there a particular SIPA experience that stands out?

Two events come to mind. First, I organized the first-ever SIPA Story Slam in partnership with the SIPA Diversity Committee and classmate Taylor Light MPA ’20 to bring together different voices of the SIPA community to share our experience around identity, values, and community. During this, we heard stories from Mayor Michael Nutter, Professor Yumi Shimabukoro, and other classmates. Through the diligent work of Dean Samantha Shapses and the SIPA Diversity Committee, the Slam is becoming an annual SIPA event. We must continue to provide a safe space for students to express their experiences and have a platform to be themselves.

Second, I had an opportunity to work with the Columbia Alumni Association and the SIPA admissions office to organize two information sessions for prospective students in Lagos and Accra. It is important to take the value and message of SIPA to students in Ghana and Nigeria. With the collective effort of alumni and SIPA, we can ensure that the SIPA student body continues to include and grow an African perspective.

What are your plans after SIPA?

My goal is to secure employment in private sector development or business development. For many around the world, the private sector and most especially informal business owners and entrepreneurs is the source of long-term sustainable development. Hence, I would like to dedicate my career to developing policies and strategies that enable businesses to operate in a way that is profitable, efficient, and secure.