Beyond Vassar

One Year Out: Financial Analyst Olivia Iloetonma ’14

By Julia Van Develder

When new graduates leave college, they usually have an idea of what they want to be doing, say, five years on, and they’re thankful to get any job that is remotely connected to the career they envision for themselves. Olivia Iloetonma, who just graduated in May with a double concentration in international studies and Latino/a American studies, is one of the lucky few that has landed exactly where she wants to be.

Olivia Iloetonma '14
Olivia Iloetonma '14

She’s working as a financial analyst for D. Capital Partners, one of the companies that comprise the Dalberg Group. Founded in 2001, Dalberg has worked on over 1,000 projects in 90 developing countries all over the world that aim to raise the standard of living in those countries and address global problems.

For the first six months, Iloetonma worked on two projects in Washington, DC: advising a global health organization on the use of innovative financing instruments and advising a family foundation on impact investments—investments that have both a solid financial and social return in the renewable energy market. She has since moved to the London office, where she will be through 2015.

“We are looking to develop completely new financial products that can be used to invest in developing countries,” Iloetonma explains. “We are creating development impact bonds, for example. These bonds bring together donors, private sector investors, and NGOs into one financial structure.”

She learned the ins and outs of the bond market in Associate Professor of Economics Sarah Pearlman’s class on financial markets, but Iloetonma says, “I want to think about bonds differently. I want to think about a bond for malaria—what would that look like? A bond for HIV and AIDS—how would I design it? So these are bonds that you could buy on Wall Street, bonds that make money, but that also make a difference in how people in developing countries experience aid money. How does someone who is living in my hometown, Aba, in Nigeria, experience your good intentions in New York? That’s what I want to work on.”

Iloetonma came to Vassar from the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. She was in the very first class in the academy, a pan-African finishing school that aims to develop a cadre of out-of-the-box thinkers to become the next generation of leaders on the continent. The first class was made up of 100 students recruited from 42 different countries. Iloetonma was the only student selected from her school.

“It was fun!” she says. “I was at a place in my life where I was looking for something different, and I was excited to be in the first class at this school. I think it takes a combination of curiosity and naïve exuberance that you only achieve in your teen years to jump into something like that, but I’m glad I did. That’s really where I developed a curiosity about other people and other perspectives.”

She met J. C. Tesone, director of admission at Vassar, at a college fair hosted by the Academy and became interested in the college. “I didn’t visit Vassar, but I looked it up on the Internet, and it looked beautiful,” she says. Vassar turned out to be as gorgeous in person as it looked online. “It’s a place where you can sit down outside surrounded by the beauty of the campus and reflect on what you’re doing so far away from home,” she says.

Iloetonma says she learned two important lessons at Vassar. “The first is to know what you know and to know what you don’t know. By that I don’t mean ‘know your limits,’ but know what else you need to learn in order to form an opinion. And the second is to figure out the difference between what you are passionate about and what you’re skilled at. You can be passionate about so many things—issues about race, about gender, about sexuality, about class—but what can you actually do? You don’t want to be in the position where you stand for everything, but you don’t know what to do about anything. So I can be passionate about those issues, but what I can translate into my day-to-day life is how development happens.”

Her five-year plan? “Right now, I want to learn as much as possible because this is really the foundation for my entire career. Impact investment is it for me. I plan to do a JD/MBA program, but I don’t see it as a step to doing something else. Everything that I do from now on is only going to make me a better, more efficient, more successful impact investor. In five years, I want to most likely move back to the continent. It doesn’t have to be Nigeria. It really can be anywhere. But being back on the continent will make me feel a lot closer to home. I have a huge family—two brothers and three sisters, and my parents are luckily still alive. We are very close, so being closer to home and able to visit more than once a year will make me very happy.”