“Education is key for success.”
That’s the response Ali Sekou, a 2019 graduate of the Master in Community Development program at the Carsey School of Public Policy, gave when interviewed earlier this year by the New Hampshire Union Leader after being named to the newspaper’s annual 40 Under Forty list.
When Sekou, 38, describes what he means with that answer, he says that education opens the door to opportunity and helps people understand, accept and have an open mind. Both a formal and informal education can help individuals to cultivate the importance of belonging and adopt a “servant’s heart,” as described by activist and evangelist Christine Caine, as well as a servant leadership style.
“As an immigrant new to American cultures, not only did I have to learn English, but I had to learn from and emerge with new cultures,” says Sekou, who moved to the United States from Niger in 2012. “One thing I did was to adopt Caine’s ‘Servant Heart’ philosophy as a leader. I learned to step back and learn from those around me, to show care in how I communicated and engaged with others.”
And one way he achieves that is through multilingualism. Sekou can speak five different languages – a skill that truly allows him to communicate with other people and show that he cares about and understands them.
"Carsey contributed to my successes by preparing and giving me the tools and formal training I needed to better serve my community. The curriculum in the MCD program is truly meant to prepare students to serve in a better and larger capacity."
Shortly after immigrating to New Hampshire, Sekou began taking English as a Second Language courses at Laconia’s Adult Education Center. He went on to earn his Associate’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from New Hampshire Technical Institute and his Bachelor’s degree in Tourism Management and Political Science from Plymouth State University. In 2017, he enrolled in the master’s degree program at the Carsey School of Public Policy (UNH). His capstone project, titled Sustainable Tourism Development Model in Tillaberi Region, Niger, West Africa, focused on challenges and opportunities for the Tillaberi Region in implementing a sustainable tourism operation.
“Carsey contributed to my successes by preparing and giving me the tools and formal training I needed to better serve my community,” Sekou says. “The curriculum in the MCD program is truly meant to prepare students to serve in a better and larger capacity.”
Sekou's professors at Carsey praise his work ethic and his devotion to collaboration and teamwork.
“Ali is the kind of student every professor and university wants,” describes Michael Swack, Director of the MCD program. “He’s intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working and encouraging of his fellow students. I’m really happy to see him get this recognition.”
"What impressed me most about [Ali] was his bond to his culture, roots and his desire to serve his community," says Sanjeev Sharma, Academic Affairs Coordinator at the Carsey School and an MCD capstone project advisor. "This was evident when he chose to do his capstone project on sustainable tourism in his country of origin, Niger. He was determined in pursuing this as a continuation of his work before he came to the United States, fully knowing that there would be challenges in trying to complete this from thousands of miles away. However, he showed great responsibility and invested his own money to travel to Niger so he could design and implement parts of the project."
Sekou attributes some of his success to graduating with zero student debt – an achievement made partially possible by scholarships he recieved from the Carsey School.
"I am very grateful and thankful for the support, guidance, and scholarship I have received from Carsey," he says.
"It’s a great honor to live and work in a community that really pushes you to become better, gives you the opportunity to strive. For me, it’s truly about saying ‘Thank you’ to the community that has helped me, supported and trusted me, empowered and inspired me."
Today, as an Assistant Store Manager at Hannaford in Concord and an active member of many different community organizations – including serving on the boards of the Concord Library’s Trustees, Concord Public Library Foundation (CPLF), the Islamic Society of Greater Concord, and the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success (ORIS)– Sekou applies lessons learned from his master’s program on a frequent basis. Just two examples of this are the importance of building a formal project management structure and the value of understanding and interpreting policy at a foundational level.
When asked what advice he has for people considering the MCD program at Carsey, Sekou states “go in with an open mind, be humble, and have the desire and the dedication to learn…Be willing to dive in and ask a lot of questions.”
And when asked what this recognition from the New Hampshire Union Leader means to him, he adds: “It’s a great honor to live and work in a community that really pushes you to become better, gives you the opportunity to strive. For me, it’s truly about saying ‘Thank you’ to the community that has helped me, supported and trusted me, empowered and inspired me. I love living here.”
Spoken like a true servant leader.