I am Leaving Oxford and…On to the Next One


Note: ‘On to the Next One’ is a pretty cool song by Jay-Z

After six years living in the United Kingdom, I am today moving to the United States to start a new phase in life. This is a momentous personal and professional transition. It will be accompanied by immense changes across numerous spheres, but importantly in how I use this blog and in my other public engagements. Of course I wouldn’t be a true blogger if I didn’t write about it to explain why I’m actually blogging about it.

The last time I made such a big move was moving to Oxford to start my doctorate in International Development in October 2012. I remember writing this excessively enthusiastic piece, thrilled to be at the University of Oxford, bursting with excitement at the prospects and opportunities, for being at one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious institutions. Of course, when I reflect on the mélange of great, the frustrating, the uplifting, disappointing and the intellectually stimulating experiences so far, I cringe a bit at my naivety back then. Nevertheless, it has been a great intellectual journey that I would not trade for anything, doing work and research on subjects I am passionate about, engaging with some of the world’s most brilliant minds.

I have finished writing my doctoral thesis, it is currently under review and I will be submitting it in the next few weeks. At some point before the year ends, I will mdo my final viva (oral exam) and close this chapter of life for good. For so many reasons, completing the doctorate is taking a couple of months longer than I expected but it is hardly a linear process to begin with. Overall, I am exactly where I want to be, and I have an unparalleled opportunity to pursue a career in global development in exactly the organisation that I had always hoped to be part of.

A new and exciting chapter is about to begin. I am moving to the United States to join the World Bank headquarters as a Young Professional, starting 12 September, for the next several years. I am not only looking forward to it, but I am trying so hard to contain my excitement, from oozing out of all orifices. Working in global development at the world’s largest multilateral development institution, the World Bank, with its deep knowledge base, vast experience and convening power is what I have always wanted to do. It is even more humbling that I got accepted into the Young Professionals Programme (YPP), the most prestigious and competitive programme for a fast track career at the Bank. Some notable African YPP alumni include Tidjane Thiam, the CEO of Credit Suisse and Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria’s former Finance Minister.

I envisioned this as my ideal career path right from the first year of my DPhil. Since then, I tried to ensure that most of what I did professionally – work experience, part time jobs, the projects I managed etc were meant to prepare me for this role. I guess this strategy worked, although at the expense of finishing my PhD several months later than I would have ideally wanted. I miraculously made it through the extremely rigorous one-year long recruitment process for the YPP. For those interested in applying for this programme, my one tip would be to plan and prepare yourself several years in advance – do your background research, talk to people, get the work experience, build your skills base etc.

On 12 September I transition into a new phase of life, in exactly the way I had hoped and planned all these years. I feel blessed, I am humbled and incredibly lucky to be doing exactly what I have dreamt to doing for so many years. Most critically, I am absolutely elated to have the opportunity to play my part in making the world a better place, on a much bigger scale.

This transition will be accompanied by several changes, some of which I started to implement months ago. This perhaps is the main reason why I am writing this blog post. Principally, I will scale back on public and media commentary on politics, development and policy issues. This is something I already started months ago, reducing media appearances, interviews, opinion articles and other forms of commentary. This extends to social media commentary as well. Although the main reason why I wasn’t writing as much as I used to, why I abandoned my newspaper columns in Nigeria, and suspended a lot of other public engagements was to concentrate on finishing up my thesis. Now this hiatus will be more encompassing and permanent.

I will miss these forms of public engagements though. They have been one way of attempting to make a difference with the extremely limited resources at my disposal, my keyboard and microscopic voice. I started blogging and writing because I had so much to say about many things in the world I wasn’t happy about. So I created my own space to say it. Somewhere along the line, very important people started taking me seriously, and it has been a whirlwind so far. It has been such an honour to be consulted by global media, top think tanks, senior academics, NGOs and other organisations for my ‘expert’ views on development issues, to recommend contacts, to advise on policy etc. It got to a point within the past one year when I had to go into some virtual hiding, avoiding the bombardment of calls and emails from organisations, journalists etc 🙂

Despite how much I have learnt and grown, and the huge scope to make even bigger impacts – I was recently listed as one of the most influential voices on international development on Twitter by the BBC Media Action – it is now time to move on to another phase of life. This is a rare opportunity to do what I have always aspired in global development on an even bigger scale. The way I see it, personal and professional growth often involves compromises of smaller fulfilments from the things we love, for bigger, more sustainable and more meaningful goals. I hope to build on and consolidate so much at the World Bank, but importantly, I hope to contribute to make the world a better place for millions of others.

So my blog will go into a hiatus, a process that started gradually last year. This means that there will be no more opinion pieces, ‘expert’ commentary or TV appearances – these were really fun while they lasted. However, I will occasionally post brief reviews and links to books, research articles, public reports and continue posting job and development opportunities on the blog and across my other social media platforms. I also intend to continue writing elsewhere, by producing longer academic publications out of my thesis, and publishing a book out of it. There are also several projects back home, close to my heart, which I will continue to participate or volunteer in privately.

Lastly, I have to say that I am immensely grateful to all those who supported me through this intellectual journey. My family and my friends, my mentors and my colleagues who trusted my abilities, provided unflinching support, advice and guidance. I am amazed at the kindness and generosity from unexpected places, often from people I have never met. People come across my blogs or articles, they send me emails, messages, kind words of support and encouragement, books (I have lots of such books) etc. Sometimes I don’t even know if I deserve this goodness and I have no idea how to give back. Believe it or not, these individuals in so many ways have seen me through the darkest, soul-fraying moments of my doctorate – and trust me, there were many many of such moments.

37 thoughts on “I am Leaving Oxford and…On to the Next One

    1. Hi Zainab!
      You are an inspiration! Congrats on your position at the World Bank. My dad is from Yola and my mom is American. I grew up in the U.S. But I visit Nigeria annually. Currently I live in D.C. and I’m working for the U.S. Government. Please let me know if you need suggestions on where to live upon arrival and if you plan to move soon.

  1. I wish you Allah guide and protection in your new job and advise to continue to be a good ambassador to the Nigerian women and north in particular , Amin.

  2. Masha – Allah! This is very beautiful and so wonderful! I wish you the very best as you continue blazing the trail!

  3. Congratulations Zainabu! May almighty Allah be with you wherever you are. Happy to see young woman like you working towards achieving her dreams despite orthodox cultural belief in the ‘core North’. Allah yayi jagora

  4. Let me also use this platform to thank you. You shared a link to Mandela Washington Fellowship application and my wife apply….. to cut a long story short she is now a fellow and exchange alumni. You are role model to her. We are extremely happy for that and wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

  5. Congrats on this. Your blog has been very educative and informative. Believe me, it has encouraged and touched the lives of far more people than you would ever imagine. Wish you the best and keep the good job.

  6. That’s actually awesome. I am so excited and happy for you; for you have tremendously contributed in helping the youth most especially in pursuit of their academic career. We hope in this your new chapter, you will continue impacting positively in the lives of the youth. Wishing you all the very best in all your career ramifications

  7. If Oscars were given for a job well done, I’d nominate you. Congratulations for your fantastic achievement.
    More power to your elbow!

  8. Congratulations to u and your family members. May u always aim@surpassing whatever you’ve achieved in the past Zainab.

  9. Congratulations, Zainab.
    Just like yesterday, I first came to know about you when you wrote about your acceptance into Oxford PhD program “Back to School”. And today we’re celebrating your completion. I’m very happy for you. Allah Yayi Albarka.

  10. Wow,Zainab Usman Congratulations is in order,just want to wish you all the best and Allah ‘s guidance all through your professional endeavour.

  11. Thank you so much for telling us where you are going and what you hope to accomplish. Congratulations on being accepted into the YP program and on completing your thesis. Look forward to welcoming you virtually to the U.S.

  12. Salam, I am amazed and very proud of your feat so far. No regret following you, I educate myself a lot. Wishing you the best and hope you will continue to be good ambassador as Nigerian and female Muslim from Northern Nigeria. GOD bless.

  13. Hi Zainab,

    Congratulations. I was wondering why I hadn’t gotten emails, now I know why. I most confess I didn’t agree with most of your tweets (lol) but when I see something cool/great i subscribe to it such as your write-ups, they are quite insightful.

    Congratulations, wish you all the best and please keep writing 😏.

    Best regards,


    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  14. You have been a motivation to many, and a role model too. I wish to see a book or so, that tells your admirers about your source of motivation and strength. Keep it up. Congratulations!

  15. A big congrats to my sister from another mother. I don’t know which one is more wonderful, completing PhD at Oxford or a job at World Bank. I remember applying for YPP program 5 years ago but never made it past the first stage. I guess I was naive in the first place to have applied because I did not have half your qualifications and experience then. Go there and do us proud, sister.

  16. Zainab, you have really shattered the proverbial glass ceiling, made nonsense of a stereotype and achieved a feat by no means small in Nigeria. Please use your education, experience and connections to identify, support and guide many more Zainabs towards this path of academic and professional pursuit. To me, achievement is really about how many people you have influenced positively. I am especially happy to hear that you are not going to stop that aspect. Please notch it up some more.

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  18. Hmmm……………..when one Door Closes…………….Another Always Opens So Good luck on your travels and New Adventures:-)))

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  19. I am an avid reader of your blog and I’m glad to tell you that I have learnt a lot from your lucid analysis of apposite issues over the years. I will keep abreast with your write-up.

    Accept my warm wishes, prayer for success, Allah’s guidance and protection on your new assignment.

  20. wishing you success and the best things in life as you clinb further on the ladder of intelectual progress. be a very good ambassador for you to have a best place in history.

  21. Salam. Congratulations zainab just saw d piece on ur blog. So so proud of u. Allah ya kara baki sa’a. I wish u the best life has got to offer out there. Never forget who u are and where u come from and most importantly alway put Allah SWA b4 anything else and seek to succeed in d hereafter even more than u hv on earth.

  22. Even though all the deserving comments have already said by many people, Indeed you a role model to many. Nevertheless, please receive my heartfelt of happiness to your new appointment as YPP, wish you more success and long life.

  23. Belated congratulations on this career move. I see you as our own Dambisa Moyo! I am looking forward with avid anticipation your publications.

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