Huntsman Program Senior Wins Rhodes Scholarship

Winning the most prestigious academic scholarship in the English-speaking world is a pretty heady accomplishment for a 21-year-old, but Joyce Meng has a resume that hardly contains room for the honor.  She is a dual-degree student in Wharton and the College of Arts and Sciences, whose jointly run Huntsman Program in International Studies & Business led her to choose Penn over Harvard as an incoming student.  Before being named the 19th Rhodes Scholar in Penn’s history in November, Meng had been a summer analyst for Credit Suisse in Hong Kong, worked on microfinance initiatives for the Nantik Lum foundation in Madrid, and held down another summer analyst spot in New York for Goldman Sachs’ natural-resources leveraged finance group. 

She also co-founded an innovative bank and business incubator for street youth in Lagos, Nigeria.  “There’s pretty much no governmental services available for these young people, and a lot of NGOs have excluded them because they’re not the typical microcredit clients,” she says.  “So this comes from a desire on my part to find a different social model to extend the benefits of microcredit.” 

Part of YouthBank’s strategy is to deliver loans in the form of assets and on-the-job training rather than cash—scissors and retail space for a barber shop, for instance, instead of a pile of money that the whims of youth might blow away.  Ideally, this will allow the bank to manage its credit risk better while spurring young men and women to build business and the skills to run them.

With the Rhodes, Meng intends to pursue two master’s degrees at the University of Oxford: one in financial economics and another in the economics of development.  Her ultimate goal is to work for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, which finances and provides advice for private-sector ventures. 

“Being in the field and understanding the priorities of the people who need help the most, I think that’s really important,” she says.  “A lot of the criticism of the IMF and the World Bank in the past—in the ’80s and ’70s—was that even though they were giving out a lot of these project-based loans, there was a feeling that the bureaucrats didn’t understand the local context enough, that there wasn’t enough understanding of the priorities of the people they were trying to help.”—T.P.

Correction Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Joyce Meng as a Wharton senior.  She is in fact enrolled in the Huntsman Program in International Studies & Business, an integrated curriculum that awards its graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from the School of Arts and Sciences and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School.

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