Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Celiwe Kawa, Wharton School

Celiwe Kawa

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Global explorer with a passion for Africa.”

Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have been to over 50 countries and lived on four continents

Undergraduate School and Major: Law, London School of Economics and Political Science

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Kwanele Enuff Foundation, COO

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Every Wharton classmate I have interacted with thus far has been incredibly passionate. Passion is one of the most infectious things and I love being surrounded by people who are truly passionate about what they want to pursue. I am so excited to see what my classmates do after Wharton!

What club or activity excites you most at this school?  I am most excited about being a part of the Wharton Africa Student Association. African students, especially people from the SADC region, tend to be an underrepresented group at business school and I want to work with the club to increase recruitment in southern Africa.

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Wharton? What makes you most nervous about starting business school? I am most excited about being around such interesting and driven people for two years.  I am the most nervous about the courses that are most quantitative heavy because that is a stretch area for me.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Co-founding the Kwanele-Enuf Foundation with my mother has been the most meaningful experience of my life. Two years before the organization was founded, my mother was brutally attacked and raped on a beach in South Africa. Kwanele-Enuf was founded as a vehicle to help my family heal but also as a means to play a small part in fighting the tide of gender-based violence in South Africa. According to the South African Police Service, 41,583 people were raped in 2018/19 translating to approximately 114 rapes per day (actual figures are higher as these are only the cases reported to the police). Since its inception Kwanele has been active in raising awareness around gender based violence.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Working in non-profit, I have seen the challenges related to donor funding and the earmarking of those funds. I wanted to use the MBA as a stepping stone to eventually having my own for-profit organization that works in the social impact sphere.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Cambridge Judge, HEC Paris, NYU Stern and Columbia Business School

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Being part of an international community was very important to me – I prioritized the percentage of international students on campus. I also wanted to create a broad network of other African students because I eventually want to work on the continent. Developing my leadership skills was a top priority and I wanted programs that had experiential learning opportunities for that. One of the biggest draws to Wharton was their McNulty leadership programmes.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school?  My defining moment happened when I was hiking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. Simply deciding to do the trek and planning for it was a stretch experience for me. Once I was trekking, it is one of the hardest things I have ever done as I suffered from mild altitude sickness symptoms almost the whole way. At some points, I would challenge myself to simply take ten more stops then ten more steps after that. It taught me that I should push myself out of my comfort zone more and the value of breaking up a big task into smaller steps.

What have you been doing since you were accepted to prepare for business school? Surviving the pandemic and trying to adjust my sleep schedule to be on Eastern Time.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? Fenty Beauty. I think it is such a major disruptor in the beauty industry. It really speaks to how serving a wide customer base, many of whom were ignored by other companies in the beauty space, and embracing diversity can be massively profitable.


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