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Revolutionizing South Sudan

Majok MA ’12 developed South Sudan’s new financial system

By Tali Smookler
On September 6, 2011

  • Crowds of people come together for a speech following the announcement of South Sudan’s independence from the Republic of Sudan. Photo courtesy of Chiengkuach Majok

The country of South Sudan is filled with celebration. Jubilant Sudanese people crowd the streets, waving flags of red, green and black. Women dance in animal-print garb, while the young and elderly celebrate the victory they fought for for years. Swarms of people rejoice in their newfound independence. The festivities are loud and visible, and the country's triumph is palpable.

Returning to South Sudan in the midst of a historical revolution, Chiengkuach Majok MA '12 arrived home just 11 days before his country became an independent nation this summer. In his first year as a graduate student at the Brandeis International Business School studying International Economics and Finance with a focus on macro policy and central banking, Majok searched for a summer internship that would give him hands-on experience that would be useful in his field.

Majok worked with the International Business School's career center to network with alumni and find a suitable summer internship. He ultimately applied to the United States Agency for International Development, a government agency providing "U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide," according to its website.

A South Sudan native who moved to America in 2003 when he was 21 years old because his country was in the midst of a war, Majok attended the University of Vermont to study Economics as an undergraduate.

Hoping for a chance to return to his family and parents who still live there, Majok requested that the USAID place him in his homeland—to which he feels a strong native connection—for the summer.

"I thought I would go to South Sudan and help in any way I could, given the time limit," Majok said of his choice to work so far away over the summer.

USAID chose Majok, with his strong finance background and specialization in central banking, to develop a financial system for the newly independent South Sudan, which split from the Republic of Sudan in July after a lengthy peace agreement process.

Traveling 6,000 miles to work as an economic government specialist, Majok's goal was to help form a central bank for the country and assist in the transition to a new currency system.

He worked  as a representative for USAID with Deloitte, a large U.S.-based consulting firm, and split his day between meetings with USAID and experts from Deloitte, discussing issues regarding exchange rates, the nation's new currency and the financial system as a whole.

"There's no way you can just take the model we have in the U.S., … but you need to start from somewhere," Majok said of beginning the development of nation's the financial system. "And to start from somewhere, you need experts who have been in these situations. So I was working with those who have been in Iraq, those who worked in Bosnia and Afghanistan," Majok said, who worked alongside some of the world's leading financial experts.

And despite his student status, Majok found no trouble fitting in with his colleagues given his strong educational background in finance.

"The courses I took at IBS in Financial Theory, International macroeconomics and Corporate Finance helped me a big deal," Majok said.

"There was nothing I didn't know or [hadn't] heard about while working for the USAID at the Central Bank of South Sudan. It was a true reflection of how great our [master's] program is," he said of IBS.

Known to his colleagues as the "little guy with big answers," Majok earned their respect due to his financial expertise and innovative ideas.

"I was the youngest by age among our banking experts at the Central Bank, and I think my superiors wanted to refer to me being junior by age and not in terms of what I know," he said.

And while the summer was busy, filled with meetings and intensive work to get a large job done in a short amount of time, Majok witnessed the first days of independence in South Sudan and the spirit that engulfed the country throughout the summer.

"Being there and seeing it independent was a really great thing. Seeing all the emotions pouring out of people who have suffered, … that stood out the most," he said of watching the long-sought-after victory of South Sudan.  

Although Majok is back in Waltham to complete his master's this year, his plan is to return to South Sudan soon after graduation to continue the work he started this summer.

 "Even though I am a U.S. citizen, I feel that is where I can make impacts, and that the U.S. would want me to contribute in that way. … I can help South Sudan come up with solutions. I think it is in the interest of the U.S. to see South Sudan succeed, given how much work they have done," he said.

"It was what I wanted," Majok explained of the summer which was enriching both for his field of work and in strengthening his South Sudan national ties.  

"You could see, going to work today, it might not be easy. But at the end of the day, you feel like you have done what you are supposed to."

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