Born and raised in Sierra Leone and then in Kenya, Yeniva Massaquoi ’15 LL.M. designed an interdisciplinary program of study with a focus on Africa during her time at Columbia Law School. In addition to her law courses, she took a class on entrepreneurship in Africa at the Business School, and one on anticorruption in the extractive sector at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), both of which culminated in practical field experiences consulting with clients in South Africa and in Tanzania.
“I took advantage of the many practical opportunities available at Columbia,” says Massaquoi, “while also branching out to make sure I studied under faculty at other schools within the University.”
Massaquoi, who trained at Baker & McKenzie in Toronto after earning an LL.B. and a B.C.L. from McGill University Faculty of Law, explored her interest in Africa further as part of the organizing committee for Columbia University’s 2015 African Economic Forum. The annual event brings together world leaders to discuss the driving forces of economic growth on the continent. This year’s theme was Build Africa: Beyond Potential.
“It’s so important to have positive themes like this one,” says Massaquoi, who served as the forum's Content Manager, “that inspire thought and drive discussion about practicable solutions.”
Massaquoi’s focus on Africa, and Sierra Leone in particular, runs not only through her professional endeavors, but also through her personal life. In 2013, after the death of her father—a beloved academic who served as a regional director for science and technology at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—she, her mother, and her siblings set up the Massaquoi Foundation for Science Education, which provides scholarships for students in Sierra Leone.
“A lot of young people who are really good at science stall at a particular level because they can’t afford to continue their education,” she says. “We’re addressing that gap.”
Massaquoi’s other interests center on sustainable development and women’s rights. At a U.N. conference held at Yale in September, before a gathering of 100 policy experts and scholars, she presented her paper on “Gender Equality, Human Rights and Environmental Integrity in the New Climate Agreement and Post-2015 Development Agenda,” as a fellow and delegate of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization—a global advocacy group. Earlier in her career, Massaquoi served as an intern at the Special Court of Sierra Leone and as a clerk for Judge Daniel Tingley of the Quebec Superior Court.
Massaquoi’s next stop is London, where she will work as an associate at Latham & Watkins, focusing on capital markets. In the long-term, she says she can see herself working on African development issues from a private sector perspective.