Masters in Management: One student’s journey

HUNDREDS of thousands of Rwandans were killed in the genocide that concluded that country’s civil war in the 1990s. Two million more fled the killing. Among them was Octave Hirwa and his family, who first fled from Kigali to the countryside, then to what was at the time called Zaire. Mr Hirwa (pictured left) was a young child at the time—just six or seven years old—but now, at 28, is about to graduate from the Masters in Management (MiM) programme at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), overseen by the CEMS business-school alliance.

Mr Hirwa’s journey has been difficult, and has spanned the world. He studied for a Bachelor’s degree in business, language and culture that taught him French in Copenhagen; he undertook an exchange year at HEC Montreal in Canada, then completed a Masters degree in Management of Technology at back at CBS. On his MiM programme, Mr Hirwa travelled to Lisbon as part of an exchange and to Tanzania to work with an internet startup for six months in 2014 and 2015, one of the requirements for his degree. He will graduate at a ceremony in Sydney in November.

The MIM programme was a natural step along the academic path, Mr Hirwa says, and will help him in his long-term goal. He plans to work for a large technology consulting firm, where he can gain experience. Then in five to eight years return to Africa to start a sustainable business that will help develop countries on the continent. If the plan seems remarkably thought-out, it is because he has been considering since the start of his academic career how entrepreneurship in the tech sector might quickly improve lives in Africa.

For a long time MiM degrees have been seen as the poorer cousin to the MBA (see article), but attitudes are changing. Last year, a poll of employers conducted by GMAC, a business-school body, found that a third planned to hire candidates holding a MiM. That is still significantly less than the 75% of employers planning to employ newly-minted MBAs, but the figure is growing.

Some worry that MiM students tend to lack business experience. Few could argue that case about Mr Hirwa. Increasingly MiM programmes are as worldly as MBAs, particularly when they take in multiple campuses at business schools across the globe. And certainly Mr Hirwa’s experiences have left him in a position of which few others could conceive, overcoming adversity and showing an admirable determination to succeed. His long-term plans currently don’t include either taking an MBA or returning to his homeland just yet. But both are possible, he says. He may still meet a challenge that requires the academic knowledge an MBA could provide; or perhaps he might feel comfortable returning to the country from which he fled unconscionable violence, in order to help improve Rwanda for the future.

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