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Thunderbird at ASU grad shares inspirational journey from Haiti to global changemaker

Figaro with Thunderbird Professor Kannan Ramaswamy.

Jean Kensle Figaro (left) with Thunderbird Professor Kannan Ramaswamy. Figaro is graduating with his Master of Global Management this May.

April 26, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Jean Kensle Figaro, a native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is set to graduate from Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University this May with a Master of Global Management. His passion for creating sustainable change in his home country of Haiti and the wider Caribbean region led him to enroll at Thunderbird. 

“My decision to attend Thunderbird was influenced by the alignment of Thunderbird’s vision with my own: ‘a world with sustainable and equitable prosperity.’ During the American Express Leadership Academy in 2019, I experienced the Thunderbird environment firsthand and met inspiring faculty members. Given the pressing need for global-minded and tech-savvy changemakers in my country, the Caribbean region and the world, Thunderbird’s program, global mindset, experiences and network were the perfect fit,” he said. 

Reflecting on his time as a T-bird, Figaro expressed immense pride in the institution.

“The Thunderbird community and alumni network foster empathy and appreciation, regardless of where we come from," he said. "I take pride in the achievements of our alumni and aspire to contribute even more." 

During his studies, Figaro learned valuable lessons that went beyond business. He credited Professor Kannan Ramaswamy for his impactful teaching style and ability to challenge perspectives.

“Professor Ramaswamy left an indelible mark on my intellectual and professional development. Both his competitive strategy and global strategy classes are like no others. His global strategy classes challenged my perspectives, and his teaching style forced me to read between the lines, look beyond numbers and think critically,” he said. 

Looking ahead, Figaro is committed to addressing access to education and has a dream of a stabilized and thriving Haiti, where education, security and opportunities abound, keeps him motivated. He wants to contribute to sustainable change and make the world a better place one step at a time. 

"Education can uplift entire communities," he said.

For incoming Thunderbird students, Figaro's advice is simple yet profound: "Engage, be involved and get to know your classmates and professors." He emphasized the unique global environment Thunderbird offers, which fosters lifelong friendships and cultural understanding and added, “Because of Thunderbird, I now have very close friends coming from 10 countries and four continents. You will get that nowhere else. I have met people from all over the world and got to experience different cultures and perspectives. A two-year immersion in a truly global environment.”

Question: What’s something you learned while at Thunderbird that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: It only takes one "yes." Despite visa denials for our Global Challenge Lab project, our faculty mentor, Professor Hunsaker’s encouragement taught me that life hinges on that one chance, that one "yes." All it will take is for someone to believe in us, give us just one chance. Also, there is no such thing as opportunity without insurance. In my Valuation of Private Firms class, I learned that due diligence, risk hedging and recognizing value opportunities, creating that safety net, are essential principles applicable beyond business.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Access to education: Having experienced the transformative power of education, I would focus on ensuring universal access to quality education. Education knows no bounds and can uplift entire communities. I am from a very humble family. The first to finish high school, earn a bachelor’s degree and now completing my master’s. I can see the impact of my education on my family and my community. It sends a strong message of what one can do when they have access to education.

Q: What motivates or inspires you?

A: “To whom much is given, much is also required” — this is my motto. I believe that I received a lot; a scholarship from HELPR to study economics at Université Quisqueya, one of the most prestigious universities in my country; SHARE Fellowship to pursue my master’s in global management at the No. 1 university in the U.S. for innovation and No. 1 in the world for international trade. Without those scholarships, I would not be able to afford any of them; therefore, a lot is required from me. I need to give back and give back better. 

Q: For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

A: I'm grateful for so much in my life! My mom and sisters have been incredibly supportive, especially my mom who made huge sacrifices to ensure I had access to the best education she could afford. Thanks to the generosity of the SHARE committee at Thunderbird and HELPR, I received full scholarships for both my bachelor's and master's degrees. Their belief in me opened doors I never thought possible. I am grateful for God. He has always been a source of strength, and I know he will continue to guide me as I strive to create positive change.

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