Olabanji Samuel Ogunjobi, a 2020 MPP graduate, is a household name among many KDI School students.
He has been a poster child for KDI School. During his time at KDI School in Korea, his presence registered virtually everywhere; he served other students as a dormitory assistant, starred in the school’s PR videos, provided regular updates of the school’s activities through his featured articles, edited academic papers, and completed a GDI case study on public finance transparency in Nigeria, among others.
Olabanji has been steadfastly passionate about world trade, and this drive landed him a WTO Young Professional temporary post at the World Trade Organization immediately upon graduation. In our conversation, Mr. Ogunjobi talks about his post-KDIS experience, the dynamics of his new role, the challenges posed by the pandemic, his most pressing trade concern, recommendations to address this concern, and his future plans.
Q) Please introduce yourself briefly.
I am Olabanji Samuel Ogunjobi from Belize — my friends at KDI School would usually call me “Sam.” I graduated from the KDI School’s MPP program in December 2020. I am an international trade professional, currently working with the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a young professional. Prior to coming to KDI School, I was a trade economist with the Government of Belize, where one of my most significant tasks was coordinating Belize’s third trade policy review by the WTO. When I am not thinking about international trade policy issues, you will find me enjoying good banter with friends over a meal. Of course, with the pandemic, there is little opportunity for a good-old social meetup; so, these days, I find myself cooking quite a bit. I like to think I make a pretty “wicked” chicken sandwich.
Q) What has changed about you post-KDIS?
Well first off, I no longer have to monitor rule-breakers at the KDI School Dormitory — since I used to be a Dormitory Assistant (DA). On a more serious note, quite a bit has indeed changed about me post KDIS. First and foremost, I have become more aware of the relevance of the knowledge I gained at KDIS. Often times, as students, we are unable to directly link what we are taught in the classroom to real world happenings. However, now I see the relevance — from observing concepts from my game theory class play out in negotiations at the WTO to understanding the practicality of my trade law and policy class. I feel as if every day at my current role is like sitting in my current trade issues class at KDI School.
In addition, post-KDIS, I feel more confident in my knowledge of public policy issues — being able to take policy positions and justifying such positions is a change that is hard to miss. I would not say that I am surprised by the above fact because professors at KDI school constantly push you out of your comfort zone to build your capacity and help you achieve a solutions-oriented mindset that is ever-relevant in today’s world.
Q) Upon graduation, you joined the WTO as a young professional. Please tell us what the experience has been for you?
Anyone who is particularly close to me would know being a WTO Young Professional has been one of my dream starter-jobs, and having the opportunity do so has been incredibly fulfilling. I feel very privileged to have been selected as one of the fourteen people in my cohort from over 2400 applicants in 2020. I can still remember the day I found out I had been selected — I was super excited. The experience could be described as having a front row seat to history, having witnessed the appointment of the first woman and African Director-General of the WTO and having the opportunity to be present at the forthcoming 12th Ministerial Conference later this year.
Being in Geneva itself is absolutely surreal, as much of the rules about most things that govern the functionality of the world as it is today are written in Geneva.
Source: WTO’s Official YouTube Channel
Q) What does your job at the WTO entail?
At the WTO, I am assigned to Development Division — in particular, the Development Policy Unit — where my work primarily centers on the trade-related aspect of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In this role, I have been able to contribute some of the WTO’s input to several United Nations reports. I also assist in servicing the meetings of the Informal Group of Developing Countries, which as the name suggests, is a forum where these countries meet to discuss issues of relative importance.
Q) How is your work affected by the ongoing global health crisis?
A lot — the pandemic has severely affected my sense of normalcy — I mostly work from home, except for important meetings. As you might imagine, the lack of interaction has limited opportunities for networking, which is desirable as a young professional. Nonetheless, there are enough social activities among the cohorts that make up for the limited interaction. I definitely long for the time when I do not have to work from home anymore.
Q) I know you are passionate about trade. What specific trade policy issue are you most passionate about?
Surely. My interest in trade is crosscutting as it relates to the developmental aspects of trade agreements. For trade to work, it must be inclusive across various levels of developments — policymakers must continually strive to integrate least developing countries into the multilateral trading system by increasing their share of exports and balancing obligations in ways that support the economic growth of these vulnerable economies. Of course, these days, new issues are emerging that have trade dimensions such as the environment, ecommerce, health, and gender — these issues must be incorporated into the WTO rulebooks for the continued relevance of the multilateral trade system.
Q) What are your long-term goals?
My long-term goals for my career revolve around continuing to develop capacity in international trade, working my way up to an advisory level in the not too distant future.