Alumni profile: Sibongani Kayola

Sibongani Kayola Profile Pic SmilingSibongani Kayola (MSc Evidence Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation, 2016) is the Sudan Country Director for Mercy Corps, an international humanitarian organisation that aims to help people build secure, productive, and just communities. Mercy Corps operates in some of the world’s toughest places, providing emergency relief and long-term development assistance in areas affected by conflict, natural disasters, economic instability, and other crises.

Why did you choose Green Templeton?

I completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology at the University of Zambia and became fascinated with Child and Adolescent development and the impact of the early years on our trajectory into adulthood. I knew very early on in my studies that I wanted to pursue a postgraduate course focused on the study of development across the lifespan. Oxford was always my first choice, one of my professors had studied here and I admired him and his work immensely.

Somewhere along my journey my resolve started to waver and I began to think I didn’t have ‘the right stuff’ to gain entry to Oxford. I decided to apply anyway and gained admission but wasn’t able to secure funding to take up my place. I didn’t give up on my dream but decided to pursue an MSc in Child and Adolescent Mental Health at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria through the generous support of the Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and the MacArthur Foundation.

I reapplied to Oxford a year later and with funding from the Commonwealth Scholarship I took up my place at GTC. I chose EBSIPE MSc because of its interdisciplinary approach, as it integrates insights from sociology, psychology, economics, public policy, and statistics. I felt that the course would give me a broad set of skills and perspectives which were relevant to my desire to design and deliver interventions to support optimal development and functioning for children and adolescents.

I chose GTC because I wanted a college that had a relatively small student body, as I was looking for a close-knit and supportive environment where I could form lasting connections with peers.

What is your most enduring memory of your time at Oxford?

80% of my classmates were at GTC and the college ended up becoming a ‘home’ of sorts to the other students on the course. We would take any excuse to be out on the college grounds when the weather was lovely.

Our entire class went to a GTC formal dinner together and we must have surprised the staff with all our noise and laughter! We also took over the GTC gym a few times a week and had class workout days which featured the most laughable pop music we could find and served as a way for us to unwind from the stress of our classes.

GTC played a pivotal role in shaping my career trajectory, I had a very narrow view of how my career could develop coming in and GTC exposed me to a wider array of options for someone with my background and skill set.

The seminar series and events I attended while at college and the alumni lecture series after graduation gave me the space I needed to interact with people working in a diverse array of places which expanded my horizons.

Can you give an overview of your current role?

In my role I lead Mercy Corps efforts to address the needs of communities in Sudan, providing leadership, developing and implementing strategic plans in alignment with Mercy Corps’ strategy, mission, and objectives. I also lead the establishment and maintenance of partnerships with local organisations, donors, and other stakeholders to leverage resources, coordinate activities, and maximise impact.

I am also responsible for managing the budget, financial resources, and assets of Mercy Corps’ operations in the country ensuring compliance with financial regulations, donor agreements, and organisational policies. Following the start of the conflict in Sudan in April 2023, I led the redesign and repositioning of our strategy and portfolio to ensure that we could continue to provide support to communities while also ensuring that our staff are safe and have the resources they need to care for themselves and their families in these difficult times.

I also serve as chair of the Sudan INGO Forum, an independent coordinating body for collaboration, information sharing, and advocacy among international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) operating in Sudan.

Sibongani Kayola Speaking At Lectern At Al Salam Hotel, Khartoum

You have other interests too?

I serve on the board of Directors of Plan International, Inc. (PII) a global non-profit organisation that works in more than 75 countries to advance children’s rights and equality for girls, with a focus on promoting sustainable development. I chair the People and Culture sub-committee which provides assurance to the International Board that PII has the necessary people and culture policies, structures and processes in place to deliver the Global Strategy within a safe, supportive and equitable working environment.

What advice would you give to prospective students?

I would advise any student considering Green Templeton College to choose it for its vibrant interdisciplinary community, which fosters both academic excellence and personal growth, and for the unparalleled opportunities for networking and mentorship that will undoubtedly shape their future endeavours.