2017 09 13 Messan Agbaglah 2

September 8, 2017. Transcript from interview with Dr. Messan Agbaglah.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

My name is Messan Agbaglah. I am Canadian but originally from Togo.  I received my Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Montreal in 2013.  After my schooling in Canada, I worked for three years, from 2012 to 2015,  at the University of Sherbrooke as a professor of Economics.  Subsequently, I was offered a post at the federal government in Canada. From 2015 to 2017, I successively held positions of Researcher, Strategic Planner, and Research Advisor in the Labour Program for the Department of Employment and Social Development.  

My research interests are focused on Theoretical Microeconomics and how it affects financial institutions in developing areas such as through informal insurance and mobile money.

Last August 2016, you presented a paper during a seminar at ASE on informal insurance. Could you tell us more about this paper and presentation? 

It was a great experience. You know, I have been interested in ASE since its creation. In August 2016, I was in Togo for vacation and heard ASE’s President, Professor Wantchekon, was in Benin at the same time. I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to meet, and we had a very productive discussion. You know, Professor Leonard is a very inspiring and motivating person.  I could not refuse his invitation to present one of my papers at the Summer Seminar at ASE. The audience was very receptive and it ended up being a key factor behind my decision to accept a teaching position at ASE.

What is your main challenge and motivation for coming to ASE?

Teaching is a big challenge per se. Each student is unique; each cohort is different, especially in a university like ASE where students originate from various countries and backgrounds. My main motivation resides in the fact that being at ASE, I could contribute to the global initiative of creating a North American standard of education in Africa. ASE is a pioneer in that regard when it comes to economics. That being said, I do not view things as challenges or motivations.  Instead, this is a lifetime opportunity for me. A chance to share my knowledge and experience with my fellow Africans.  I recognize that the opportunity cost for choosing ASE was very high.  It is not easy to choose between Africa which is my mother and Canada I see as my wife (he smiles)Nevertheless, I received a call from my mother and here I am.  My consolation is that I will always have part of Canada within me. Is this not a wonderful experience?

Any expectations from our students? 

In May 2017, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks with our students (they are also mine now). I was quite surprised by their motivation, their solid backgrounds, and more importantly their thirst for knowledge. It is a perfect match for me.

Can you give us a few words on the interaction between you and your audience the last time you were here?

I was very surprised to be granted a standing ovation at the end of my presentation. I am used to it in Canada, but at ASE it was a quite different feeling….like a mission accomplished! I count on these students to make the adventure great!

2017 09 08 ASE Whatsapp 3 years ASE Forum Academic 4 2

September 7, 2017. The African School of Economics (ASE) WhatsApp group titled “ASE Forum” was created September 7, 2014. This idea came from Mr. Simplice Adjisse, a student from the first cohort and a current Pre-Doctoral Fellow at ASE.

The ASE Forum WhatsApp group includes the first cohort and staff of ASE, and it grows every year by adding the incoming students. The group’s goal is to share information among the ASE community about internships, jobs, calls for papers, academic affairs, and so on. Some events, including the celebration of members’ birthdays, have been a fantastic means of making the community closer as a family. But the group surpasses even this by including one-on-one chat sessions with guest researchers of international standing.

2017 09 08 ASE Whatsapp 3 years ASE Forum Academic 5 2

In these one-on-one chat sessions, researchers share their experiences and comment on topics including unresolved research questions and job opportunities. Sessions have taken place with guests such as Professor Santos Sylva, JMC, Head of the Economics School of Surrey University in the U.K.; Tite Yokossi from MIT University; Louphou Coulibaly from the University of Montreal; Abhit Bhandari from Colombia University; and Rachael McClellan from Princeton University. Each session dealt with interesting topics in different field of study.

Due to the tremendous amount of information-sharing, the group was recently split into two separate groups. The first is the “ASE Forum Academic” for sharing academic information, including details on the one-on-one sessions, and the second is the “ASE Forum Job” for all information concerning internships, job offerings, and calls for papers.

These WhatsApp groups are assets for the school community, which is expanding year after year. 

After a year of internship at the African School of Economics, a Pan-African university based in Abomey-Calavi, Princeton-in-Africa fellow Philile Shongwe recounts her experience in Benin.

Tell us briefly about yourself

My name is Philile Shongwe and I was born and raised in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Before joining ASE as a Princeton-in-Africa fellow, I was studying at Yale University where I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Global Affairs and French.

What roles have you played at ASE? And in which departments did you work?

My role at ASE was multi-faceted and I had the opportunity to work with different departments. Mainly, I worked on various research projects led by Professor Markus Olapade, assisted in the Communications department with managing the website, and taught a foundational English class for first-year students.

 What did this internship bring you in terms of skills?

Before joining ASE, I had never been involved in extensive research planning and field preparation, so my experiences doing research here have been very helpful moving forward. I also acquired a lot of skills in Communications, particularly in website management and visual design. My experience teaching English at ASE has deepened my understanding of the challenges associated with teaching, and this will definitely influence my career plans in future.

On a cultural level, what did you learn from this trip?

Culturally, I noticed some similarities between Swaziland and Benin – such as the love for music and dance! But living in Benin for a year also opened my eyes to the rich history and culture that I was unaware of. I found Beninese people to be incredibly grateful and passionate and I especially appreciated Beninese cuisine and learning how to dance salsa! 

If you were given a chance to repeat the ASE experience in the future, would you be ready to do so?

Yes, definitely. And I would learn more Fon. (smile)


2017 09 01 Rachel Claire Okani Abengue 2

Thursday August 17, 2017. ASE had the honor of hosting Dr. Rachel-Claire Okani Abengue, a Cameroonian national who studied private law and received her PhD in France.

Dr. Abengue’s presentation relayed the many challenges she encountered as a French speaking Fulbright scholar. “You can get it if you really want it” she claimed, reflecting back on her experience applying for the Fulbright Scholarship. To begin the process, she requested to meet with the director of the American Cultural Center and after four months of follow ups and processing she was finally selected as a Fulbright fellow in Florida, USA.

Dr. Abengue also gave ASE students advice about building a career and studying abroad. She claimed that opportunities such as the Fulbright give us the chance to prove that being African and Francophone are not obstacles but advantages. She also advised students about mainlining a school-social life balance and emphasized focus on education over romantic relationships. In conclusion, Dr. Abengue asked the students “Does money you earn as car washer smell different than what you would make working in a public office”? She further stressed on the importance of entrepreneurship and the notion that no job (even it seems low level or unimportant) should be neglected. 

Students felt that Dr. Abengue is a strong role model who isn’t afraid to learn. One student claimed, “We don’t need to have a lot of money before we start something. We must have high expectations for ourselves and must not be ashamed to try seemingly small or unimportant jobs”.  

August 30, 2017. ASE welcomes new Princeton-in-Africa fellow Anna Bachan! Anna is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota but has spent the past four years living in New York, Paris and Senegal. Last May, she graduated from New York University with a B.A. in International Development, Politics, and Human Rights.

Anna accepted the fellowship at the African School of Economics for several reasons: “Primarily, I am passionate about expanding and being involved in the research arena for socioeconomic and political development on the continent. I also wanted to work with university students and have the chance to contribute to their academic and professional development. Additionally, I wished to spend more time in Francophone West Africa. My mission at ASE is to have an open mind and learn as much as I can about Benin and about research in development and the political economy.”

2017 09 01 Anna Bachan 2

Anna's first impressions after arriving in Benin and ASE are numerous and she is still getting used to many things. She has had a great time at ASE meeting all of the staff and students. So far, she has organized the new Thematic Reading Groups in addition to starting to work on several grant proposals and research projects. She has also joined ASE's Volleyball team (pictured above). Outside of ASE she says, “I have had the chance to experience Cotonou and travel to Ouidah, Grand Popo and Natitingou. I have tried some Beninese dishes (sauce de legumes and aloco are my favorites) and have even started learning to dance salsa”. In general, Anna is enjoying life at ASE and in Benin and “looks forward to what the next year will bring.”