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Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Davidson (’07)

August 1, 2017 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

Elizabeth Davidson lives in Nairobi, Kenya, but she’s often on the road, as travel is an integral part of her work as a portfolio manager for Kiva, a non-profit crowd-funding platform for providing 0% interest microloans around the world.  Elizabeth manages relationships with organizations to which Kiva provides funding in Francophone Central Africa, a territory that includes Madagascar, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and Rwanda.   She also performs risk and impact analysis and scouts new organizations in need of the kind of funding Kiva can offer.

She didn’t always plan to work in Africa.  At William & Mary, Elizabeth majored in international government and minored in Middle Eastern studies.  She imagined her career would focus on the Middle East, but after working for several years in DC in international development, she found that she’d developed a strong interest in microfinance and financial sector development.  Mobile money is one of the biggest innovations in the international development field, and it has a huge presence in Africa.  She also discovered that she wanted to be out of DC and closer to where things are happening.  She ended up in Tanzania, working for a solar energy company.  After she’d been there for a year and a half, Kiva approached her looking for someone who spoke French and had experience with microfinance, financial inclusion, and social enterprise.  She has worked at Kiva for a little over two years.

While she enjoys living in Nairobi, which she describes as a place with a lot of innovation going on, thanks to the large educated, middle-class population interested in harnessing technology, she has recently come to love working in Rwanda.  “It has become a point of national pride to be an entrepreneur [in Rwanda],” she explains, which creates an exciting atmosphere.  Lately, she has particularly enjoyed working with the African Entrepreneur Collective, an umbrella of different accelerators and business development support for businesses in Rwanda.

What is the best part of her job?  “I get to work with a lot of different organizations approaching problems in different ways.  I get to learn a lot about them, and work closely with them,” Elizabeth says.  The hardest part is having to spread herself thin when she’s deeply interested in her work.  “I never have as much time as I want to devote to any one organization that I work with.  I can only spend so much time there, and not being able to be there all the time drives me a little nuts.”

Elizabeth would advise a college student interested in having a career abroad to take advantage of the many opportunities for students to volunteer or do research abroad, especially if those opportunities are subsidized by the college or university.  At William & Mary, Elizabeth studied abroad for a semester in Lyon, France.  “It was my first experience living somewhere else and being part of a different culture and a different way of thinking,” she recalls.  “It was really important in opening my eyes to the world and making me realize I wanted to explore other places.”  It also helped her perfect her French, which she uses now in her work.  “Learning another language has served me really well,” she explains.  “It got me my current job, and it gives you and advantage when you’re looking.”

What advice would she give a current Maggie Walker student?  “Enjoy it!  It’s really easy to get sucked up in the day-to-day and the pressure of it all, but you’re surrounded by so many smart, dedicated, interesting people.  Don’t take that for granted,” she says.   “Get involved in the things that matter to you, but at the end of the day, appreciate the people you’re surrounded by.”

Speaking of those exact people, Elizabeth has found that it’s an incredibly small world even on a huge continent.  She remembers discovering that the friend of a friend at a dinner in Tanzania was Nisha Ligon (’04), another Governor’s School alumna who works in Dar-es-Salaam.  She also ran into Bailey Thomson (’06) in a coffee shop in Nairobi—a city with a population of over 3 million.

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