#ElliottProud: Emana Shunnom

#ElliottProud: Emana Shunnom

Emana Shunnom, Master of International Policy and Practice, 2022, #ElliottProud

Emana Shunnom is a Fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Africa Business Center, where she provides programs ideation and policy initiatives to broaden commercial relationships between the U.S. private sector companies and emerging markets in Africa. Emana joined the Chambers after 8 years at the downstream subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC Retail Ltd, coordinating the community relations and operations of the marine-based fuel stations in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria. In 2016, Emana was selected by the Obama administration as a Mandela Washington Fellow for her leadership contributions to public service in Nigeria, under the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI). She holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science, a Master’s in International Affairs & Strategic Studies and she graduated with her Master’s in International Policy & Practice from the the Elliott School of International Affairs in 2022. As a student at the Elliott School, she served as the Co-President of the Elliott School Graduate Board.

When did you realize you wanted an international career? What led you to choose the Elliott School?

When I was awarded the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellowship in 2016, I was exposed to the functionality of American institutions and saw the value of quality representation of diverse groups in decision-making process. As a young African woman, presence in important decision-making rooms became critical. Beyond presence, being a quality representative was essential. So, I knew I had to invest in capacity building and personal development in my areas of interest if I were to stand a chance in influencing policies that would impact my continent. To equip myself with the knowledge that would allow me to represent that demographic effectively, I looked to a school that provided access to important rooms, and created platforms to hone leadership skills, while also providing a learning environment where I could thrive. Choosing GW, firstly, the university name had a ring to it, Washington represented power, and I really did want to have a firsthand understanding of how the most powerful city in the world operated. An alumni-turned-mentor further recommended both the Masters in International Policy & Practice program and the Elliott School, highlighting the strategic benefits of being in the school for a mid-career professional. The school’s location in proximity to multilateral organizations gave me a further conviction that this was definitely the place to be.

Where do you currently work and how does it fit in with your career goals?

One of my primary goals as an African schooling in the U.S. is to build capacity to be an effective diplomat, with a solid foundation in foreign policy formulation and implementation.  My role as an African Fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s U.S. Africa Business Center was a great platform for meeting this goal. It helped me understand policy framing, advocacy, and most importantly, stakeholder management. I had the chance to apply the knowledge from my learning into useful practice as I was entrusted with structuring program ideation, implementation, logistics, and supporting the coordination of high-level meetings and events, featuring African and U.S. Government officials, including Heads of States, Prime Ministers, several Ambassadors, Ministers, and members of the Diplomatic Corp. As an African, getting the opportunity to champion the launch of the Center’s Digital Competition for African startups was the highlight of my fellowship, as I learned the backend processes involved in creating programs of this nature, which help me appreciate more the impact it was creating on the continent. Ultimately, the opportunity to work with team members who mentor and coach you to excellence, has been an extremely rewarding experience that I am grateful for.

What was your most rewarding academic experience at the Elliott School and why?

Diplomacy and advancing gender inclusivity have always been strong areas of interest of mine, and for students like me who wanted to hear and learn from the experiences of practitioners, I wanted a platform that created opportunity for our graduate student community to have interactions with industry professionals. So, when I became Co-President of the Elliott School Graduate Board, it provided a great platform to convene events of this nature. We were honored to feature, Mozambique’s Ambassador to the U.S., former U.S. Amb. to Kyrgyzstan, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa, NSC’s Senior Director for the White House, Country Representatives of Multilateral Banks, amongst other prominent speakers. Getting the chance to play a small role in bringing together graduate students to networking events and strengthening the graduate student community, was truly gratifying.

Describe the pros and cons of being a full-time student at the Elliott School.

Schooling and working is indeed a herculean task, but it is rewarding if managed well, especially when you are doing what you love. Having to manage these commitments including family responsibilities, while also leading a student organization can be exhausting, but comes with tremendous rewards, as one is able to expand one’s network, develop useful leadership and practical skills/experiences. Learning the balancing act was a process I was glad I had the chance to take on, but of course the stress will take its toll. Despite the stress involved, I am glad I toed this path. The thing that kept me going was knowing what I wanted out of both the classroom and the workplace and always keeping the endgame in sight. It helped me prioritize accordingly. When you are also blessed to be in a healthy workplace where team members understand your many commitments and provide support that allows you have the best of both worlds, it makes it easy to push on. I emphasize the value of having a support system and community where one can lean on, as those got me across the finish line.

What advice do you have for incoming students who are starting to think about internship and work opportunities?

Firstly, I’ll say start you job search early and do your research on the industries, sectors or companies of interest, the players, and reach out. Be strategic with your outreach and use your student access wisely. Do not be afraid to cast a wide net and ask for informational interviews, there are more people willing to chat with you and support your academic journey than you would know. Secondly, leverage the excellent resources from the school to support your job search, use the office time with academic advisors to build strong resumes and cover letters and keep your LinkedIn profile updated. Lastly, expand and build a strong network including classmates, professors, student organization members, and event speakers. Actively develop and cultivate strong networks from these connections as you never know who a potential recommender or connector could be, so don’t look down on any of these sources.

If you could donate unlimited funds to any cause, what would it be and why?

I would donate towards the increased adoption of clean cooking technology especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is one overlooked area of energy deficiency and the detrimental impact on women and girls is immense. Not enough attention and financing is going to this cause, so if I have access to unlimited funding, this is where I would channel it.

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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.