Alumna of the month: Francine Mbanza Jensen
Thanks to the support of her student advisor at UiB, Francine successfully completed her education after moving to Norway from Burundi. Now she supports immigrants to start their own businesses with an incubator for entrepreneurs.
Francine moved to Norway from Burundi when she was 19 years old and enrolled almost immediately into the Bachelor programme in Human Geography at UiB.
I was lucky to start with human geography at UIB where I could focus on economic geography, entrepreneurship and regional development which have been the key subjects of my career so far, tells us Francine while sitting in her home-office in Bergen.
Entrepreneurship is an important drive for regional economic growth and development as it creates new jobs. Economic geography from UIB has been a good foundation and inspiration for my further studies as I focused on entrepreneurship for people with a multicultural background in my master thesis.
- What part of your studies has contributed the most to the professional you are today?
- My work at NAV today is to help immigrants to become part of the workforce and I believe that private entrepreneurship can play an important role in the process. I also co-founded an incubator named Cre8 Grunderhus with the aim of promoting immigrant entrepreneurship, empower, motivate and facilitate immigrant entrepreneurs to help each other and expand their network.
All my studies have contributed to my professional life today. Human geography from UiB has introduced me to, among others, entrepreneurship.
- What are your best memories from your time as a student at UiB?
- As part of the curricula we did a lot of fieldwork and all the field courses were incredibly interesting. Putting theory into practice was very educational. It was also a great way to get know other students.
My best memories are related to the field work I did in North Cape as part of my bachelor thesis . My colleagues and I had a great experience being close to the nature filling several days with inspiration and good vibes. My bachelor thesis analyzed the correlation between the local economy and development of North cape and the flourishing of tourist guide entreprises driven by immigrants . As part of my research work I interviewed several entrepreneurs which had started their own businesses. During these interviews I discovered, among others, that immigrants contribute with new knowledge, ideas, impulses and competence, which had a positive impact on the local economy.
It was during the field work in North Cape I decided that I wanted to persue a career as entrepreneur and start my own business.
- You have dedicated your career to support the inclusion of people with an immigrant background in the society. In 2020, what are the key elements that still represent an obstacle to this process?
- Many people come to Norway with so many resources, but many of these resources remain unexploited by the society. We need to focus on the strenghts and skills of those who come to Norway rahter then on what they "lack". We need to shift the narrative from victims to resources and empower them with what they need in order to become successfull.
- We read an article on Bergens Tidende in which you present enterprise start-ups as a potential key factor for immigrants to take the best out of this corona crisis. What measures should the government take to promote and facilitate this process?
- The number of self-employed immigrants is increasing. This is a positive trend. However, immigrant entrepreneurs face many challenges and they often fail and have to close their businesses. I believe that access to financial support, business network are important challenges for immigrants. They also face challenges related to the bureaucracy. The government should support those who try to create jobs for themselves and others.
The municipalities and the national government should actively support and encourage those actors that are working to support immigrant entrepreneurs.
- In your experience, has UiB the right support for immigrants to allow them to perform at the best of their capacities?
- I was extremley lucky while studening at UIB as I met a fantastic student advisor which guided me through the three years curricula. She was so empowering, and she believed in me from day one. Her name is Sissel Marit Jensen.
I can say that without the support of my student advisor at UiB, I might have never completed my Bachelor Degree: she nourshied my inner strenghts and gave me the motivation I needed to keep up with my studies.
I had just moved to Norway and I didn't master the language yet, if it wasn't for Sissel and UiB I can't say that I would not be where I am today. But the student advisors where just one of the elements supporting immigrant students through the studies, we also had a very dedicated and competent academic staff which supported myself and my colleagues.
- What UiB and other universities should do to better facilitate students with an immigrant background?
- I believe that the university should have a good representation of workers at the administrative level with immigrant backgrounds.
Furthermore universities should encourage students to join or form student organizations so that they can expand their networks beyond their (usually) immigrant friends. The acedemic staff could make a system of partnership with students with different social background so that they can collaborate when doing tasks, exchange ideas and experience. This could potentially lead to improving their learning.
In general universities should always promote diversity. Unfortunately many students with a immigrant background often end up being very lonely and this affects their studies.
- You are clearly driven by your passion in everything you do, but in this fast-changing economy what should students do to set themselves up for a career of success?
- Students should start expanding professional network as early as possible. They can do it by using LinkedIn or participating at conferences and other important places for networking. Finding mentors can also have a significant impact for a career of success. Alumni at UiB offers a mentoring programme, that is a possibility I wish I had when I was a student.
Volunteering in non-profit organizations is also very good to have on the CV for new graduates. Students need more than an A on the diploma and experience from Rema 1000.
- If you were given the possibility to choose just one book to bring with you on a desert highland, which one would you bring along?
- "Becoming" by Michelle Obama. She is huge inspiration for me.