In 2010 she made the bold decision to step away from a traditional career trajectory in finance—her employers until then had included both Goldman Sachs and The Vanguard Group—to move to rural Togo to serve as a Small Business Consultant with the United States Peace Corps.
“I wanted to focus on improving the livelihoods of less advantaged people,” she says, explaining why she chose to work as a consultant within the Peace Corps’ Small Enterprise Development Program.
Working with the US Peace Corps
While in Togo, Ashley helped social entrepreneurs grow their businesses. One of her projects linked fashion buyers to a women’s cooperative, helping increase the artisans’ sales by 500 percent. Another educated entrepreneurs about financial management and accounting. Yet another project brought solar power to microfinancing institutions. As is typical of all Peace Corps volunteers, Ashley was living alongside the people she was helping. Her salary was $8 a day.
“From Goldman Sachs to living on $8 a day was a very different life. I learned more about community, what was necessary, and how to build products and services for the underserved. It was one of the best life educations I’ve ever received,” Ashley explains.
Through these experiences Ashley was able to launch an international career in impact investing and impact-driven venture capital. After her experience in Togo she joined LGT Venture Philanthropy and moved to Thailand and Uganda.
Deeply convinced that investing in entrepreneurs who are solving the world’s toughest challenges was meant to be her life’s work, Ashley joined the HEC Paris MBA in 2014. She chose HEC Paris because of the diversity of its students, its certificate programs, the flexibility to do a longer-term internship while in the program, and the wealth of its connections on the African continent.
Ashley is part of a growing trend of HEC Paris MBA graduates who are passionate about Africa, either because they were born there or have worked there, and who have decided to move back after graduating.
Giving back to the continent
After graduating from the MBA program in 2016, Ashley set up her own business, Invest with Impact. The company educates, mentors, and places talent into investment roles within impact investing funds. They also work with funds to help them narrow their hiring processes and find the right candidates.
“When I was making the transition into the impact investing sector there were few resources to help me better understand what my career trajectory would be, what the interview process was like, and how to navigate the transition,” Ashley says. “We’re proud to be the only organization that focuses exclusively on impact investing careers. Since 2016 we have helped hundreds of clients explore the sector and land their dream impact investing job.”
Ashley is an impact investor herself and strongly believes that providing access to capital and education are the best ways to grow a business. Along with Invest with Impact, Ashley also leads the Africa practice for Accion Venture Lab, a seed-stage venture fund for fintech startups that improve financial access for the underserved.
Ashley is based in Lagos, Nigeria, but is able to work across the continent sourcing potential deals, serving on company boards, and representing her group’s work across the region.
She has also set up the HEC Paris alumni chapter in Nigeria, and currently serves as its President. “After graduating from the program, I tapped into the alumni network in France, and I wanted to continue that in Nigeria. We have a small and mighty chapter here—people from banking, oil and gas, consulting, and finance, so it has been a really great community to build,” she says.
“Africa in general, and specifically Nigeria, is a focus country for HEC Paris, so it’s great to see more people from the university come here and spend time with the chapter members and bolster the relationship between both countries.”
Not only did HEC Paris help Ashley launch her business, it also helped her relocate back to the African continent. That’s where she plans to focus her career for the foreseeable future. After a decade of moving across four continents, she’s excited to call Lagos home and work with the best and brightest entrepreneurs in the region to help more underserved people gain access to critical services.
Investment opportunities in Africa
The Financial Times reported in August 2019 that after over a year’s delay, Nigeria signed a continent-wide trade agreement, boosting a pact that could become a mirror of Europe’s single market, across Africa—it aims to remove 90% of tariffs, giving free movement to goods and services.
France has also invested heavily in the African continent since the early 2000s. Angola has received over $10.2 billion in foreign direct investment—Nigeria has received over $10.1 billion—and there has been a growing trend towards renewable energy, digital, and sustainable cities.
Jean-Paul Ntungicimpaye says that the growth perspective of Africa is one of the reasons many Africans studying in Europe or the US are moving back—he’s an HEC Paris MBA graduate from 2018.
He initially studied engineering, but then moved into management consulting in South Africa before the MBA. Now, Jean-Paul is an investment professional for AfricInvest, an investment group with about $1.5 billion under management.
The group manages several funds, from venture capital to mid-cap funds. Mid-cap funds look to invest between $20 million and $50 million in prospective companies. Jean-Paul is solely focused on mid-cap funds, and the group's mid-cap funds are focused on investing in established/mature African companies.
Day-to-day, Jean-Paul screens new opportunities sent in by investment banks, discusses potential investments, visits companies, and carries out due diligence.
How the MBA introduced Jean-Paul to investing
In the first few weeks of his MBA, Jean-Paul attended an Africa Club event. He met the CIO of a French impact fund focused on Africa—a career path yet to cross his mind.
He was impressed by their work and ended up completing his summer internship with the fund after reaching out to the CIO—he spent one month in Paris, then two in Ghana. “That really got me hooked,” he says.
The fund worked closely with AfricInvest, and after mentioning he wanted a career than spanned the African continent, the CIO introduced him to his contacts at AfricInvest. After discussions he landed his current role.
In it, Jean-Paul is helping tackle one of the main issues facing African companies seeking to grow: access to capital.
“Being a part of that element of providing capital for those companies to grow and bringing on board skills, in terms of governance and frameworks, can really help these companies to grow.”
And the future of the African economy?
"I’m optimistic,” he says. “We feel a need to give back to the continent, and if you’ve been privileged enough to get these skills in Europe, a part of us feels the need to come back and contribute.”
I have met the most competent and diverse batch in this school. These people not only thrive on their own but also makes sure that you are doing it with them. The professors will take your had and walk you through all milestones and make sure you are not left behind. I have found their extracurriculars extremely engaging. There was always a room to have social life after academic life. The only hindrance is the location of the school, it is slightly outside city and living in city is expensive.
Internationality and diversity of opportunities
About my programme I would say it is very international and flexible: we have the opportunity to choose exactly the courses we want. But at the same time, the frame of the campus is crucial in students' life and enable us to create friendships.
Great selection of people
While HEC's MBA is highly selective, I really enjoy the type of people HEC's selects to make sure everybody gets the best out of their MBA experience and networking opportunities. Not only it's an incredibly diverse pool of people (~60 nationalities) but most importantly they make sure to let in friendly empathic and curious people.
Best in France for Grande ecole
A prestigious business school. Languages are important. It is better to have a scientific baccalaureate with excellent grades in high school and good assessments. The courses are well designed as per the latest trends and practicality of learning in stressed upon. Overall, a very good experience.
Diversity and quality of fellow students
Very international and interesting place to be and opens a lot of opportunities, however the administration is very french and facilities are subpar (gym, classrooms) meaning the academic affairs is pretty much useless and lastly we are graded on a curve which can create a toxic environment because of the competition. With that being said the pros outweighs the cons by far.
The quality of the teachers, the campus, the clubs
The school is very international indeed, we have courses with international students and share things with them within the extra academic life (in the social clubs especially). We have great career prospects if we prepare ourselves well - however, the global curriculum is still very finance-oriented, which is a pity for other interesting domains of the company world, which does not rely on finance only. The social clubs are good practice for the management and for now, are quite independent.
HEC Paris awaits you
HEC Paris is really a nice place to do a master's in business. Many classes are useful and interesting (corporate finance, financial accounting, contract law…), some are less - but the curriculum is to be reviewed in the year to come. Regarding the student life, it is incredible, with about 130 clubs, lots of great parties with even greater people. The Jouy campus offers a lot of opportunities to do sports, and you can breathe fresh air every day. HEC also helps a great deal to find an internship or a job.
A dream institute
Enrolling in the HEC MBA was by far the best decision I made for myself. The people and faculty are great, with lots of opportunities to meet people and expand your horizons. Very nice campus where I have had some good running sessions. The alumni network is superb and very helpful. It also has a good support system for entrepreneurs. Would definitely recommend it!