Anya Thomas, MBA’12, Public & Nonprofit

in Graduate Student Profiles, PNP Graduate Profiles, Student Profiles
October 29th, 2011

Learning to empower others

Anya_ThomasAbout 10 years ago, Anya Thomas wanted to be a player in the movie industry. Majoring in film production at the University of Southern California, Thomas began to have second thoughts during her senior year when she came to a realization that the profession wasn’t as much of a useful outlet for her outgoing personality as she originally thought.

“I did a lot of film editing, sitting in front of a computer” she said. “I’m people oriented and I wanted to try something that had interactions with lots of different kinds of people.”

So Thomas struck off in a new direction, taking a job with Christian Challenge, a faith-based nonprofit that organizes conferences for college students to help them experience spiritual growth.

While there, Thomas took students on service trips during the summer. Three years in a row they went to teach English in Ethiopia. What happened there made her reassess her life’s path for a second time.

During the trips she encountered several Ethiopian university students who, despite having an advanced degree, couldn’t find work due to their country’s poor economic situation.

“Ethiopia’s economy is in a state where there aren’t any jobs for people; it doesn’t matter how qualified you are,” she said.

These dire circumstances are forcing well-educated Ethiopians to emigrate from their homes to look for work in the United States or Europe, stripping the country of its most brilliant minds and preventing them from improving Ethiopia’s communities.

At this moment, Thomas, like the rest of the world, doesn’t have a proven way of digging large groups of people out of impoverished living situations. But she’s absorbing and filtering as much information on different helping strategies as possible.

“I don’t know what exactly it will look like, and I don’t know how long it will take,” she said. “But I’m really passionate about giving people access to education and opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s why I’m getting this degree. It’s more of an entrepreneurship in giving people a livelihood.”

Having spent the last 12 years of her life in California, Thomas wasn’t sure traveling across the country to BU was the right fit, but the turning point was when she came out for Open House on campus.

“It’s such a supportive environment,” she said. “I really felt welcomed by the community.”

Recently, Thomas was named an MBA All-Star by the Boston Business Journal, based on a recommendation for the School of Management.

After graduating from BU, Thomas would like to put her knowledge to use back in Africa.

“I want to work with organizations that take a more holistic look at international development, but at the end of the day I’m going to look at more income-generating activities,” Thomas said. “I would really like to help Ethiopians—especially women—develop small businesses that would not only provide for them, but really help revitalize their communities.”