A Q&A with Pay it Forward MBA (scholarships) founder, Gbenoba Idah.

Helping MBAs pay for school.


1. Pay it Forward MBA is a non-profit organisation, founded by you, Gbenoba Idah, as a way to help incoming MBAs across the globe finance their MBA. Where did you get the inspiration?


My inspiration came from my classmates, faculty, leadership, career, and student affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business. McCombs has a fantastic culture and community, and I am incredibly lucky to have spent two years as an MBA student with everyone at UT. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't thank the ESADE MBA program where I was on exchange at the onset of the pandemic. They truly exemplified their motto, "Do Good, Do Better." The students, staff, and faculty helped me find my way home to the US as the borders began to close and allowed us to finish classes virtually from the U.S.



2. Given the hefty price-tag, funding MBAs is not a small order. How did you get started? and what challenges have you faced?

I got started by asking friends, mentors, and alumni for help, as I realized that it was a difficult lift for everyone to contribute given the COVID-19 pandemic. It was hard to find corporate donors because we weren't yet a federally recognized non-profit organization, 501(c)(3), which allows donations to be tax-deductible, so we were incredibly lucky to receive the support of Andrew Mitchell, Wes Gottesman, and the Team at Brand Foundry Ventures.

3. How do you find your donors?

I leveraged LinkedIn and Instagram to solicit donations and tried to develop as much content as I could in thirty days to rollout the scholarship framework, website, and social media to the general public.

4. On your website you showcase a scholarship committee of 6, how do you and your team select scholars? The committee consists of some of my closest friends in life. I'm incredibly lucky to have them support me in developing the framework for, and implementing, the scholarship fund. All amazing and down-to-earth people who were willing to help when there was so much uncertainty in the world in March 2020. 5. You have 13 scholarship winners for the class of 2022, what made them stand out?

The scholarship winners are all rockstars. We received over 160 applications and everyone who applied was qualified and talented. The 13 scholars went above and beyond in their application materials and interviews with the scholarship volunteers and committee. I am proud to have them as the inaugural scholarship class.


More about 2 of the 13 scholarship winners is below.



6. You also have a Brand Foundry Ventures scholarship. Brand Foundry Ventures is dedicated to accelerating the growth of emerging, innovative consumer-focused brands. Can you tell us more?

I couldn't be more proud to partner with Brand Foundry Ventures. They are a leading consumer-focused VC firm with offices in New York City, NY, and Austin, Texas. Brand Foundry was looking for ways to contribute directly to a meaningful cause given the challenges that students face from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds, and they chose to help our scholarship by aiming their scholarship towards diverse (ethnic or gender) candidates, it is surreal to have their support and leadership through action.

7. If individuals or organisations would like to get involved and donate, how do they get in touch?

We have started to raise money for the incoming class of 2023, so anyone can visit https://donorbox.org/pay-it-forward-mba or www.payitforwardmba.org.

Also, if there are any questions, they can email: info@payitforwardmba.org.

8. For the class of 2023, how can someone apply for a scholarship? And how does the application process work if they are not from the USA?

The scholarship is open to applicants from around the world. There are no restrictions by location of their MBA program. Prospective applicants can visit www.payitforwardmba.org in June 2021 to access the application and can email: info@payitforwardmba.org if they have any questions.

9. Where do you go from here? What is your vision for Pay it Forward MBA's future?

I am currently working on building out a mentorship program whereby each scholarship winner is paired with one or two mentors in their targeted career field. In addition, I am launching a speaker series for the scholarship winners to connect with industry leaders from Fortune 100 companies to have conversations about their journey to the top of their respective fields. My vision for the future of the scholarship is to continuing helping students during this difficult time with the hope to inspire others to make a positive change in the world.


Pay It Forward MBA 2020/2021 Scholarship Winners



Justin Rufen-Blanchette


Can you share with us a little bit about yourself?


My name is Justin Rufen-Blanchette, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I graduated from Kennesaw State University where I studied Sports Management and would eventually start my career as their director of business operations for their women's basketball program.


For the last four years prior to business school, I was leading business development for a digital media startup for Inform which was later acquired and renamed MediaHouse. Now I’m attending the University of Michigan, Ross School of Business focusing on digital strategy. Along with my on-campus responsibilities, I am interning with Republic, a non-traditional venture capital firm, and Overtime, a transcendent sports media company. Furthermore, this summer I will be interning with Nike Strategy within their Global Operations and Technology arm.


Something unique that most people don't know?

I left New York on my own at the age of 14 and went to a boarding school in north Georgia called Darlington School. The program showed me that the sky is not the limit, it’s just the view.


How did you find out about Pay it Forward?

My good friend Gbenoba Idah is the founder of Pay It Forward and shared with me his initial plans to launch the platform. I am extremely grateful to be a scholarship recipient, however, what I am most excited about is the ability to create a pipeline to facilitate more resources towards underrepresented minorities in MBA programs across the country.

What are your future plans?

I want to be a leader in digital strategy at the crossroads of sports, entertainment, and technology. Interning with the Nike Strategy team this summer within their Global Operations and Technology arm puts me in a great position to do so. Long term, I want to be in venture capital focusing on investments within that intersection either at a leading corporate venture capital firm or starting my own. My hope is that I will be in a position to fund and provide substantial resources to underrepresented minorities within the space.

Shivam Kashiwala

Can you share with us a little bit about yourself?


I was born and raised in Iselin, New Jersey. I pursued a Bachelor of Science degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona while simultaneously being enrolled in Air Force ROTC. Upon receiving my B.S. in Global Security & Intelligence Studies in 2015, I was commissioned into the Air Force as a Nuclear and Missile Operations Officer. From 2015 to 2020, I was responsible for overseeing maintenance, security and if need be, execution of 150 nuclear missiles. Upon completion of my contract in 2020, I started his MBA at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, and is also an active U.S. Air Force Reservist at The Pentagon currently.

Something unique that most people don't know?

I film music videos and aftermovies for A-List Music Artists in my free time.


How did you find out about Pay it Forward?


I found out through being involved with the JumpStart Advisory Group (JSAG), they specialize in identifying and developing highly skilled diverse professionals who possess the expertise, experience and academic credentials for today’s competitive market.


What are your future plans?


Plan on pursuing a career in Consulting and Strategy and currently still recruiting for internships.

Get in touch with Pay it Forward MBA and founder Gnenoba Idah.

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