The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students. Stephanie Ma is a first-year Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Development Practice candidate.

What were you doing before attending SIPA?

On completion of my economics degree from the University of Delhi, India, I returned to my home country of Nepal to pursue my interest in women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation. As microfinance was gaining recognition as an effective tool in alleviating poverty, this interest led me to my first internship with a microfinance institution in Nepal that later developed into a professional career.

In Nepal, as most men seek job opportunities in cities and abroad, women run a majority of households in rural and semi-urban areas. Working in the microfinance sector, I witnessed firsthand the meaningful changes it brought about in the lives of its women members, paving the path for financial and social inclusion in the country. These very women, who twenty years ago could never have imagined their significant role in society, have risen above all adversity and are breaking cultural, social, and financial glass ceilings with the support of microfinance and its credit plus activities. Their life journeys have strengthened my belief in the spirit of human resilience, trustworthiness, and entrepreneurship.

My ten years of experience in the microfinance and development sector have been shaped by field visits, interactions with target groups, and dialogues with policymakers. I have volunteered with various NGOs in India and Nepal, working with marginalized at-risk women and children. I also had the opportunity to take up an active role in supporting the disaster response team during the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

Why did you choose SIPA?

SIPA appealed to me as a melting pot of ideas and experiences led by accomplished, committed faculty, educating and guiding students to explore and scale up their skills to become future vision leaders and to make the world a better place. With a large international student and faculty community, I believe it will provide an enriching education and the depth of knowledge from a diverse fraternity allowing me to learn from the best practices in my field of study.

How did your pre-SIPA experiences prepare you to attend SIPA?

As one who really enjoys field visits and interactions with the community at the grassroots level, I realized the importance of good listening skills to understand the needs of the people. In class, being a good listener and understanding different points of view from across the aisle is as essential as contributing to conversations.

Why did you choose to study Development Practice?

The MPA in Development Practice (DP) program provides a perfect blend of policy and practice that I find invaluable for individuals who plan to work as development practitioners. For me, the course structure is the most suitable fit for my envisioned goals. The program’s summer placement is one that will allow me to participate in developing strategies and to see how policymakers implement policy changes in their organizations and countries as they unfold and the consequent impact in real time.

I may seem biased saying this, but in the DP program, we are more of a family than just a cohort per se. From my first day at SIPA this past fall, there has been a sense of belonging and welcome that runs right through from the faculty to our second-years. I hope my class can be the same for the incoming classes. I can definitely say that I have made the right program choice!

What has been your experience participating in the Global Public Policy Network (GPPN) Fellows Program?

It has been a great experience working with like-minded individuals to collaborate on finding innovative solutions and recommendations to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated existing inequalities and vulnerabilities across the globe, which brings to light the need for policies that take into consideration the often overlooked and marginalized populations. The GPPN Fellows Program provides the platform to discuss, explore, and devise ideas to formulate policies in line with the UN SDGs. Our team is working to provide a holistic and sustainable approach to achieving food security in developing countries during the pandemic.

What are you looking forward to studying or doing during your remaining time at SIPA?

As an international student attending classes virtually and juggling the odd 10 hours 45 minutes time difference, there have been so many interesting elective courses I wanted to take up, but could not due to the odd hours. Notwithstanding this, I believe I have made the best use of my semesters so far. I am looking forward to my summer placement, taking additional courses in financial and social inclusion, gender, and public policy, and exploring courses on the humanitarian aid sector during my second-year.

How has SIPA affected you?

I have learned that you sometimes just need to ask. As someone who thinks twice before reaching out for help or support, I find that SIPA nudges you to connect and network with people whom I normally would have been hesitant to contact. I have also been fortunate that my friends, classmates, faculty, administrators, and others have been very helpful in guiding me along the way.

What are your plans after SIPA?

I look forward to continuing to work in the development sector and to contributing towards creating a more equitable and sustainable world.