Noëlle Alice Demole was born in Switzerland and graduated with a BA in International Relations from EU Business School in 2017. Since then, she has completed a Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, set up an NGO, found a banking job she loves and was recently selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 DACH list!
We found out how EU Business School has helped Noëlle make her dreams a reality.
You Finished Your Studies With EU in 2017, Could You Tell Us About Your Career Journey Since Then?
At that point I wasn’t sure what field I wanted to work in. I come from a banking family, so people around me told me to try that. I worked in the asset management team at EFG Private Bank for a few months. It was very interesting, but not for me. One day, someone mentioned the anti-money laundering and compliance department and said I could try it. There are a lot of women in that department, as opposed to trading and asset management where usually you are the only female. I loved the job and decided to specialize in white collar crime and money laundering within private Swiss banks, so I continued working at EFG on the compliance team for just under a year. For me, it’s an ethical job, we’re really helping banks to become more compliant with the law. I’m doing that now at Julius Baer and I really love it!
After my traineeship, I was accepted at Columbia University in New York. I had always wanted to try to apply to one of the big schools but didn’t think I’d get in. Some EU professors, such as Dr. Suddha Chakravartti, helped me to write a cover letter and gave me references. Then, I was off to the U.S. by myself! At Columbia, I trained in negotiation and conflict resolution.
After Columbia, I moved into my apartment in Geneva and then COVID-19 happened. I was looking for a job so, with my spare time, I further developed Shere Khan Youth Protection, my humanitarian NGO in India. This is a very personal project I started in India when I was 18 years old. That was when I had my first big culture shock.
At the time, I had a contact who gave me a place to stay. For a month, I taught English and helped out at an orphanage. It was an eye-opening experience for me. That time, I left India in tears when I had to say goodbye to all the kids. I promised myself then that I would “one day come back and do something”. But my philosophy was that you cannot help others unless you are stable yourself. After I got my master’s degree, I called the people I had met in India. I decided to help the children leaving the orphanages by funding degrees or professional training programs until they are qualified and have found a job.
Does Shere Khan Youth Protection offer anything in addition to education?
Yes. I say education because that’s our main goal, but they might also need somewhere to sleep. These universities are like boarding schools so we’re paying for the dorms. We also pay for the transportation fees, uniforms, meals, healthcare, safety in general, clothes and the degree course. The level of support needed is determined on a case-by-case basis; we have a tailor-made program for everyone because they have different goals, needs and challenges.
Is humanitarian work something you always wanted to go into, even before volunteering with Friends of India?
No, to be honest I had never thought about it. I was just a kid in school trying to finish my maturité when my late grandfather said, “why don’t you do something to get out of your comfort zone?” My grandfather was a great inspiration for me in general, he gave a lot of his money to charities and sponsored Genève-Servette, the hockey team. Through his work he did a lot of charitable work. He was the one saying: “Okay, Noëlle, you don’t really know what to do with your life. Go to India, help and go see the world”.
What personality traits or developed skills are most important when undertaking humanitarian work?
I think firstly, you cannot show people that you’re shocked by what’s happening. That was really something that I had an issue with. You have to show that you’re strong for them, hide your sadness and face people with a smile, making their day better. I had to learn that, as a real humanitarian, you have to be professional, you can’t just arrive and start crying.
Another skill, I would say, is that you have to be able to adapt to people, force yourself to learn and immerse yourself in their culture to show them that you’re embracing all these differences and that you understand their stories. You have to stay neutral, but not lose your heart and still show positivity.
It is a huge responsibility. I have to make sure I’m raising enough funds every year to not let people down. Humanitarian work doesn’t happen if you don’t have money, so I had to learn how to raise funds, which is also not easy.
What did being selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 list mean to you?
It’s recognition of my work, but I also feel that I’m nominated on behalf of all the students that I help. I’m doing this in their honor, to let them know that I’m really trying to make Shere Khan Youth Protection known, to be able to help them more and better. I never, ever thought I would be on the list to be honest so, for me, it’s huge. It also raises awareness. People who I don’t know called and wrote to me and I got some more donations. It’s amazing!
How Did Your Experience at EU Business School Support You on This Path?
I think EU gave me more confidence in myself. Having to stand up and present things in front of the class and doing a lot of group work – all those exercises brought me more confidence for when I go to India and I have to talk in front of people, catch up with my team or check the accounts.
I was so bad at accounting and had to work hard to understand the class and be able to pass it. Then, I went to India and I had to check the accounts. At first I was like, “oh my God, I don’t know how to do this,” but then I realized that I could do it because I learned accounting at EU and I could understand what they were talking about. So, the actual classes brought me the skills to be able to go to India and not feel like I was totally lost when they showed me the accounts.
I felt that I could do this NGO because I was trained; I can talk in front of people in public without being too shy. Even my English got better because of EU. I told my dad that one of the main reasons I wanted to go to EU was because everything was in English. So, I think this is also something EU brought me, and it brought me friendships with some professors too. They helped me with applications, for Columbia and now I’m applying for a PhD to research the issues of human trafficking and modern slavery. I went back to some of my professors at EU and, without asking for anything in return, they helped me and gave me recommendations. This is five years later, and Dr. Chakravartti even helped me redo my entire resumé!
How Do You Think EU Prepared You for Columbia University?
It really prepared me both for a school like Columbia and a master’s degree. Columbia was exactly like EU Business School. The professors were kind and caring, you have this friendly relationship with them. There are a lot of group projects also, which allows you to make more friends and forces the shy people, like me, to have to get up in front of a class and deliver. It felt like I was just going to a second EU Business School. Even how the thesis was conducted was the same. EU Business School is a wonderful school, I really think it was an amazing path for me.
What Advice Would You Give Students Who Are Interested in Getting Involved in Humanitarian Work?
You shouldn’t do it just for the good image or for your resumé. You should really care about the project. You also have to be able to make the time for it because it takes time. I finish work at six and then I know I have some emails to answer for Shere Khan Youth Protection, I have to check new applications and update the website.
Finally, make sure it really does do more good than harm. A lot of humanitarian interventions in conflict zones can do more harm than good because they’re not doing it the right way. You have to listen, understand and then think of how you can help.
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