When Civil War broke out in Côte d'Ivoire in 2002, 11-year-old Tinan Estelle Aurelie Goli (MBA2022) fled her village for a refugee camp. Two years later, she founded a club to improve the lives of underprivileged children in the country’s capital. Today, Laidlaw scholar Tinan explains how the MBA programme has enabled her to continue helping underrepresented groups in Côte d'Ivoire.
I was born in Bongouanou, a small village in Côte d'Ivoire, and was raised by my grandmother and father, who was a crop farmer. We moved when I was five, but I still remember the people who lived there. There was a great sense of solidarity and collaboration. Everyone helped each other out, which is something that stuck with me from a young age.
I started reading when I was about three years old, which was rare for a child living in a small village. My father always encouraged me to study and reminded me that if I was going to be someone in the future, education was the way to get there.
We moved from Assié-Koumassi because we were struggling to grow enough crops to feed our family. I was only a kid, but I remember being heartbroken. The new village was over 100 miles away, and we travelled there on the back of trucks as there was no public transport. We didn’t know what to expect when we got to Amanikro, but the people were so welcoming. They gave my dad land to plant his crops and taught us the values and culture of their community.
When Civil War broke out in 2002, rebel groups invaded our village and my father and grandmother were killed. Aged just 11, I fled the village and in doing so found a two-year-old boy who I took with me to the refugee camp.
It took us three days on foot to reach the refugee camp in Yamoussoukro, the capital of Côte d'Ivoire. The camp was in a converted primary school building, with 20 people sleeping in each classroom.
I noticed that children often sat around with nothing to do, so I took the books that UNICEF had donated and started a reading club. What began with five kids grew to 15 in the space of five months. Due to the nature of the environment, many children would get into trouble and go out to steal; the reading club helped them see that they didn’t have to turn to crime.
My motivation to help others came from my grandmother and father, as well as the small village communities I grew up in where collaboration and solidarity meant something. In these villages, one person’s problem would be everyone’s problem. My dad used to say: ‘If you see someone doing bad and you know a way to make them do good, just try to bring them up to your level.’ That’s something that’s always stayed with me, and was why I couldn’t leave my now-brother when I fled the village.
When I was 11, my brother and I were adopted and moved to Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire’s economic capital. We moved to an area near a slum where there was a lot of poverty and gang violence. Coming from the refugee camp and seeing the positive impact of my reading classes, I was inspired to try and to do something similar.
My adopted parents were initially resistant to me helping kids from the neighbouring slum; they wanted me to focus on my studies. But they eventually agreed to let me do it – on one condition: that I came top of my class at school. I was given one term to prove myself.
With the blessing of my new parents – and good grades at school – I started helping kids from the neighbouring slums with reading and homework assignments. I also educated them on human values, showing them how to help others and change the negative perception others had of their neighbourhoods.
What started with 10 kids grew to 80, and after several weeks, crime rates had fallen – not just in the slums but in my neighbourhood too. Local people were so delighted that they decided to partner with us, contributing to new school uniforms or books for the kids each year. My 19-year-old brother still runs the club today along with some of the children who joined our first sessions.
I was the first person in my secondary school to go to Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny – the best university in Côte d'Ivoire. I was lucky enough to be awarded a government scholarship to study commerce and business management. After coming top of my class, I was offered another scholarship to study engineering at the same university.
I came to terms with my sexuality when I started university, and decided to create an LGBTQ+ support group. Coming to the realisation that I was gay was very difficult; I worried about how people would react and how it would impact my future. Eventually, when I made a few friends, I had a safe space in which to express myself. I thought that there must be others like me so created an LGBTQ+ university network where people could talk openly and alleviate the pressure of coming to terms with their sexuality.
After graduating in 2012, I landed a consulting role at PwC in their Abidjan office. Starting my career at such a globally renowned company was amazing, but I soon felt that something was missing. There were a few people there with similar backgrounds to myself, but I couldn’t help but think that I should be doing something bigger.
Having decided that I wanted a career in investment banking or financial analysis, I moved to the UK to do a master’s in finance at Coventry University. I’d already visited the UK as part of a two-month exchange with my university and I instantly knew it was where I wanted to be. I loved how free people were in terms of their sexuality and how racially diverse it was.
During my master’s degree, I discovered fintech, which seemed like a sector better aligned to my goals of challenging myself and making a bigger impact. It was much more disruptive and cutting-edge than the traditional routes of banking or financial analysis, so I started reading up on data analysis, data science, software development and application development in my spare time.
My master’s in finance, combined with my newly-acquired fintech knowledge, helped me secure my role as a senior lead consultant at ARUM and Kyriba. This allowed me to learn more about payments and credit management while also working on product development. I used automation, visualisation and business intelligence tools to help clients with financial problems like writing off debts within an organisation. And it was during this time that I started to wonder how I could use my knowledge to make a positive social impact.
I wanted to do an MBA to learn how to transform my ideas into a viable business. Working in fintech made me think about how a dynamic financial environment and financial inclusion could benefit my home country – and how I could work towards building a financial institution to make this happen. It’s all well and good having an idea, but actually making it happen is something quite different. I believe the MBA will help me do that – it will help me learn how to manage in a time of rapid demographic and socio-economic change, and build a network of people who are passionate about improving the world and fighting for equality.
London is one of my favourite cities, so LBS was an obvious choice. As well as its energy, beautiful architecture and culture, I love the attitude of the people who live and work here. It’s open-minded, extremely multicultural and very collaborative. Being in London also gives you a great opportunity to expand your network, because lots of LBS students and alumni also live here and many businesses are based here, so it’s easy to organise coffee chats and share ideas and opportunities.
Being awarded a Laidlaw Scholarship helped me immensely from a financial point of view by alleviating the programme fees. I’ve never studied somewhere with such a global reputation in the business community and I’m really grateful to be given the opportunity to experience a world-class education.
Looking to the future, I’d like to use my position as a Laidlaw scholar to help underrepresented communities back in Côte d'Ivoire. The scholarship proves that people do care about minorities and breaking the glass ceiling that so many women face at work. It has also reinforced my intention to continue to help underprivileged children and the LGBTQ+ community, and hopefully help create a more equal world where lack of opportunity is both recognised and rectified.
Learn more about the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund.