African Student Finds Unique People, Boundless Learning Opportunities at Penn

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Media Contact:Julie S. McWilliams | | 215-898-1422April 17, 2013

It’s a long way from Swaziland in southern Africa to the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, both geographically and culturally, but Wharton senior Makhosonkhe “Makho” Nsibandze makes the leap seem easy.

“There are so many people here, such a large amount of people from all over the world, and they are not differentiated by culture,” he explains. “I take a Pokémon approach to meeting new people; I have got to catch them all. People here are all unique, each adding something different to the experience.”

Nsibandze believes the integrated intellectual experience and diversity of the people are what is most unique about Penn. 

He says his homeland is very traditional.

“I come from a tiny village with a chief.  It’s charming in a different way.”

Swaziland, he continues, is a polygamous kingdom where the king rules by decree. Nsibandze, his mother and three siblings live on one side of the country, his father, other wives and half siblings, on the other.

“In the 1990s, it was a wonderful time there when you could live off the land,” he says. “Now, with drought and recession and an ailing health system -– the HIV rate is 26 percent  across the entire population –- there’s more turmoil and conflict.”

A Penn World Scholar, Nsibandze is the first-ever undergraduate to attend Penn from Swaziland, where he was among the few who had an opportunity to attend a preparatory school. 

Penn gave Nsibandze leadership-building opportunities and the chance to design his own individualized major.

“Studying donor cultivation at Wharton helps me better understand how different nonprofits can generate more money from donations,” he notes. “It’s fascinating. I have an operations and information management concentration besides donor cultivation.”

His minor is in fine arts, where he focuses on painting and animation.

To gain even more experience with non-profits and donors, Nsibandze is a work-study student in Penn’s Development and Alumni Relations scholarship office. 

He says the Urban Studies course “Philanthropy and the City” married his love of the arts to his interest in nonprofits. His class solicited grant proposals from Philadelphia nonprofit arts groups, made site visits and awarded real money to the three winners using a foundation grant of $100,000.  

“They included an African-American visual-arts group, an Asian community arts center, instruments for a high school music program and a traveling van that offered art lessons to children in their neighborhoods,” he says.

Even his involvement in extracurricular activities matches his interest in nonprofits.

 “My favorite club,” Nsibandze said, “is the Social Impact Consulting Group. It’s students from Wharton and other schools who form teams to help nonprofits solve problems all over the city.”  

Nsibandze serves as SIC treasurer, is a board member and past president of the Wharton Alliance and also works as a resident advisor in Harnwell House.

Grateful for his Penn education, Nsibandze competed for and won the opportunity to say so publicly.  He will deliver an address at the April scholarship celebration for Penn donors and recipients that is held each spring in New York. In his remarks, he plans to thank his donors on behalf of his parents for providing him the opportunity to come to Penn.

“My family was very supportive of my coming here,” he said.

After graduation, Nsibandze said he hopes to stay in the United States to gain more experience in foundation or university work before heading back to Swaziland where he hopes to put his skills to work in management.