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Class of 2009 Profile: John Kidenda, BBA

John KidendaSince coming to The University of Texas at Austin from his home country of Kenya, John Kidenda, BBA ’09, has tried to take advantage of every learning opportunity he could, while also serving as a sort of unofficial ambassador for Africa.

Last year, when protest and violence erupted in his home country after a dispute over the presidential elections, Kidenda became serious about student activism.

"I saw the very real possibility of my country becoming another failed state and falling into chaos," Kidenda says. "I saw people back home rallying against that, and it became a lot more personal to me and I began speaking out about atrocities in other places."

Through his work with various student organizations on campus, Kidenda has tried to raise awareness about genocide in Sudan—a neighbor to his home country of Kenya.

“After the genocide in Rwanda 15 years ago, people there said, ‘Never again will we let this happen,’” Kidenda says. “But it’s happening again right now, every day. You don’t see anything about it. People choose to forget.”

In his roles as Web-chair of the African Students Association and director of the International Student Affairs Agency of the university’s Student Government, Kidenda has sought to unify the large international student body at UT. Through Texas Blazers, a University of Texas service organization, Kidenda mentors a young Austin student from Sierra Leon.

“I can relate to him, having come from Africa as well, and trying to make it in a new environment,” Kidenda says. “It’s been very eye-opening, and it’s taught me a lot about the relationship that I have with my own mentor, whom I got from Texas Exes and who has probably been one of the most important people in terms of enabling me both from a material and emotional standpoint to even come close to graduating from the university.”

Kidenda’s interest in technology and inclination to think from an analytical and mathematical point of view led him to study electrical engineering his first two and a half years at UT. He was a representative for the Roden Leadership Program, working on innovative real-world engineering solutions, while at the same time strengthening the engineering program.

Kidenda completed three summer internships at Merrill Lynch in New York in both technology and finance roles. Those experiences influenced him to transfer to McCombs and enroll in the Engineering Route to Business Program before his junior year. The ability to study across multiple disciplines on one campus was a large part of what brought Kidenda to Texas in the first place.

“It’s been a very transformative experience,” Kidenda says of his time in college. “I’ve traveled to a lot of other universities in the U.S. since I’ve been here, and one thing that really stands out to me about UT is that there’s just so much in terms of opportunities; there’s facilities here to pursue almost any set of interests that you have.”

In the classroom, Kidenda says his business education has made him hopeful about the opportunity to one day work to alleviate poverty around the world and achieve other social goals through a microfinance perspective.

“I’ve been really interested in seeing the African continent reach its full potential,” Kidenda says. “It is such a rich and powerful continent that is really going through the growing pains of any society that is developed today.”

Kidenda says an indication of the strength and diversity of the curriculum at McCombs is Marketing Professor Vijay Mahajan’s recent book, “Africa Rising,” which examines entrepreneurship and the often overlooked market opportunities on the African continent.

“I read Mahajan’s book and could see he was putting down in words and with references stuff that I’d seen growing up in Kenya. So few people are documenting it,” Kidenda says.

His interest in social entrepreneurship will likely lead him to pursue an advanced degree in economics, he says.

“Economics does a lot to explain how and why things happen in the world,” he says. “At the end of the day, most things that happen come down to an economic decision. If it makes somebody money, it’s probably going to get done.”

Kidenda’s career aim is to one day own his firm and “hopefully one that generates a lot of revenue while doing good things in the world,” he says.

By Behnaz Abolmaali

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