Student Spotlight: Nadjad Nikabou-Salifou (M.S. in Commerce ’21)
Track: Marketing and Management
Undergrad: Global Development Studies and History (University of Virginia ’20)
What made you want to pursue business, specifically marketing?
In the summer of 2017, I was conducting research in Togo, where I am originally from, to explore the barriers mothers experience when taking care of their neonates. While the research team was working on this project, we found out that we were not actually authorized to complete the project in Togo. Our team spent a part of the summer trying to find a way to get authorization to conduct research, and during that time, one of my team members mentioned they knew a farmer in rural Togo we could visit. We went to visit this farmer, who was actually one of the lead farmers for a coffee company and led many other farmers in raising coffee in Togo. Visiting this farmer made me realize how difficult it was for coffee farmers to earn a sustainable living wage and that farmers in Togo are discouraged from cultivating coffee because they are not getting fair prices. So, that trip inspired me to pursue social entrepreneurship endeavors and create a social venture called Adalci Coffee & Co, a supplier for coffeehouses and individuals who seek ethically sourced coffee and desire to know the exact source and story behind their product. I strive to help Togolese farmers in a responsible and sustainable way for the betterment of Africans and others in the Global South.
Creating this social venture is what really got me interested in business and McIntire, as I am interested in bridging business and sustainability. In fact, I wanted to name my social venture something that could be trademarked as my own, so I gave “Adalci” its name based on the storytelling techniques that I learned through the M.S. in Commerce Program. The name Adalci actually signifies fairness, which is a core component of our mission and purpose. Our goal is to showcase some of the best African coffee, while never neglecting those who put forth so much energy in creating this product.
Did you have any work or internship experiences before starting the M.S. in Commerce Program?
During one of my semesters in undergrad, I was a Business and Human Rights Intern in Geneva, Switzerland, at an NGO. This internship is what actually opened my eyes to how business and human rights can come together to help society move forward in a positive way. This experience also furthered my interest in pursuing business after completing my undergraduate degree.
Also, the year before I started the M.S. in Commerce Program, I was a Legal Assistant in New York City because I was increasingly developing an appetite for pursuing business. I took a year to work before starting the M.S. in Commerce Program because I wanted to see what the day-to-day job looked like in the legal field. Working as a Legal Assistant solidified my desire to pursue a business degree because I want to have some creative freedom in my job that law wasn’t providing. This creative component that I felt was missing from my work life is what pushed me to apply for the Marketing & Management Track in the M.S. in Commerce Program. I think marketing is a career path that will allow me to be creative and analytical, as digital and social media marketing is becoming an increasingly vital component of marketing strategies.
What has it been like to work for the United Nations Association as an Advocacy Fellow while being a student at McIntire? Have you been able to apply what you’ve learned at McIntire to this role?
The Advocacy Fellowship has required about six hours of work per week, so it has been manageable to participate in while being a full-time student in the M.S. in Commerce Program. A lot of what I do as an Advocacy Fellow is centered around writing articles, pitching UN sustainability development goals to local congressmen, and organizing events to promote grassroots efforts. In fact, I wrote an article in February for the fellowship called Social Entrepreneurship Is Transforming Sub-Saharan Africa’s Agricultural Landscape. This article details the ways in which social entrepreneurship is transforming the agricultural sector in Africa and how gender equality has to be at the front line of creating successful agricultural sectors in sub-Saharan Africa. I have found that many of the business concepts I have learned in the M.S. in Commerce Program, especially in the Global Strategy course with Professor Ira Harris, have helped me throughout my advocacy fellowship. When writing my article earlier this year, I used what I’ve learned in the program to help me discuss business concepts and really describe those concepts, like economies of scale, within the context of Africa and the agricultural landscape.
I have also learned many marketing-based skills in the program, both on the creative and analytical sides, that will definitely come in handy in my career and in my social venture. The program allowed me to gain experience in Google Analytics and many other technologies that are crucial to working in marketing roles these days. In addition to marketing knowledge, the program’s focus on global perspectives really defined what I want to do in my career when it comes to working internationally. In the Global Commerce class with Professor Peter Maillet, I got to hear a lot of different perspectives on global business issues from fellow students from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities. I think this class shows that even with prior global experience, there are always different perspectives to learn from and a lot of insight to gain from having access to professors and students focused on seeing the world through a global lens. Overall, I think the program and the fellowship have been very complementary.
Do you plan to work with the United Nations Association after graduating from McIntire?
Currently, my plan is to work part time with the UNA during the summer. I have been nominated to be the Vice Chair of Youth Development for ages 21-40. If I get voted into this position, I will also be working as part of this executive board for the summer. Interestingly enough, I have also received a mentor from UNA Women, which is an affinity group in UNA, where I will be mentored by a Tom Ford Beauty executive. They will be advising me on things like leadership and further developing my professional skills. My mentor is also a 1997 UVA alum, and we actually both lived in the same dorm during our first years at UVA!
In 10 years, where do you see yourself in your career?
I think in 10 years, I see myself scaling Adalci Coffee & Co. because I am a strong proponent of Africans doing well for themselves. We, as a society, talk so much about aid development and aid assistance in the continent of Africa, but there is so much more potential in Africa and so many intelligent people who just need the resources. If I could help the farmers in Africa through projects like Adalci and emulate that same goal through other projects like sustainable fashion, I would love to do that long term. My dream job used to be to work for an international company, but over time and through my experiences, I have realized that a majority of the social impact is done on the ground. This is why, in 10 years, I hope to have scaled Adalci and started to work on other similar projects benefiting the African community.