After Ayla Ahmed ’15 spent two college summers on Wall Street working 100-hour weeks as an investment banking intern at Morgan Stanley, the financial services giant rewarded her with a job offer. She accepted, and will soon start at the firm’s European headquarters in London. Ahmed plans to make money, but she also plans to make change. The economics major used Praxis internship funding to return to her native Pakistan in summer 2013 and work on a project to bring alternative energy to the rural poor. Here, Ahmed talks about her career strategy and her long-term goal to return to her home country to make a lasting difference there.
I am very philanthropic, but I realize that the world is not a la-la land. I can’t go out there after graduation and say, “I want to change education in Pakistan” or “I want to help develop the rural communities in Pakistan.” I understand that the basis of any sort of development is funding and finance, which is why I wanted to go into economics—because the world runs on money.
When I came to Smith I knew I had an inclination toward economics, and I wanted to do something for developing economies. The global economy is so integrated. When I took an introductory macroeconomics course with Randy Bartlett, who is my favorite professor, I thought, “Yes! The economics department at Smith is amazing.”
The kind of training you get in investment banking is very rigorous. Every day you’re learning something new; the learning curve is steep. Being in an environment with some of the most hardworking people seemed like a great way for me to grow.
Constantly trying to prove myself and be the best among the best was a kind of adrenaline rush. Working 100 hours a week teaches you such a beautiful work ethic that now, if I have to meet deadlines, I never freak out. It helped me build my self-confidence and learn how to manage expectations, manage people and be organized.
After doing an internship in investment banking I wanted to know what it’s like to work back home in finance at a microfinance bank, which is a bank for the poor. It was a great experience for me to see two very different perspectives—the rich and the poor, the developed and the developing world.
Our plan was to develop solar-power kits, biogas plants and improved cookstoves for homes in rural villages. One of the main hurdles we faced was attracting investment, because nobody wants to pay for a social enterprise. It helped me realize that I need to develop my skills—be the best, attract the resources, develop a network. Only then will I be in a position to make a difference.
I want to work for a while in banking, and then I want to move back to Pakistan. I feel like I could change more lives in a place where there’s so much potential, so much untapped talent and resources. If I don’t take advantage of what I’m learning and help out my community, it’s a waste of an investment. For my parents, for Smith, I owe it to be a good social citizen.
SAQ, Summer 2015