Brazilian-American Sophia Campello Beckwith has worked all over the world – from management consulting at Ernst & Young in Chicago (USA) to strategic planning and restructuring non-profit microfinance banks across sub-Saharan Africa. But, searching for the next step in her career and a way to make a greater impact across her work, she chose to enrol on the UCT GSB’s MBA programme.
“If you are interested in social innovation and social impact, South Africa is a great place to be,” says Sophia, who is co-head of operations at WaFunda. Founded by fellow MBA classmate Leana de Beer, WaFunda is a social enterprise focused on designing, delivering, and connecting models and technologies that enable access to educational opportunities for young people. At WaFunda, Sophia leads the Income Share Agreement (ISA) project, the first of its kind in South Africa. The ISA is a fair and ethical education financing tool where repayments are based on a student’s future earnings. With the hopes of offering more pathways to gainful employment, the ISA focuses on young people studying for jobs aligned with the future of work in South Africa.
“South Africa reminds me a lot of Brazil. People are realising we don’t need to aspire to be, or copy-paste innovations from places like the US and Europe. Rather we have all the insights and learnings needed right here to create solutions that work for South Africa, that work for the region. And there are talented and motivated people with the drive and intention to make it happen. I just hope they are able and willing to stay.”
Born in Thailand, Sophia is a true citizen of the world, travelling extensively and moving often due to her father’s career. Living in multiple countries and cultures, she gained a deep love and appreciation for the shared humanity that links people. “I think for me, it boils down to a real respect for people and the commitment they have with their communities, no matter how or where they live. I have seen that empathy is really the only way to truly meet others. That means always striving to live outside of judgement.”
She carries this same spirit into her work and is not afraid to navigate conflict. She comes from an international and activist family, with grandparents who fled their home in Argentina due to political and religious persecution, and a Brazilian family that sat squarely on opposite sides of the dictatorships that ruled the country until the mid-1980’s. Never one to shy away from uncomfortable conversations, Sophia also became involved in the #FeesMustFall movement, which swept through South Africa in 2016.
“I was one of a handful of students at the UCT GSB who, during #FeesMustFall, drafted a letter requesting that the business school take a stand on the issue.” WaFunda’s parent organisation, Feenix, was born directly from the #FeesMustFall movement, it is a crowdfunding platform with a mission to make tertiary education more accessible to South Africans regardless of their financial situation. “I chose to do my MBA at the UCT GSB because of its focus on social innovation and its affiliation with the Bertha Centre. The GSB prompts us to find creative ways to cohesively, and perhaps more importantly, intentionally marry for-profit and social impact in a way that is sustainable, non-exploitative and transparent,” says Sophia. She notes that many of her classmates went on to work in this blended impact and profit ecosystem.
Looking ahead, Sophia is cautiously optimistic. “There are so many people and organisations in this country and region that are trying to not only address the wrongs of the past, but to build an inclusive and just future. I know it will not come without sacrifice and challenges, but I look forward to that future, and am grateful to be a small part of the journey.”