Case study

Researcher, Africa — Portia Clapham

Portia explains how the experience of a Masters degree, combined with having regional knowledge, has led to an exciting career assessing risk in sub-Saharan Africa

How did you get your job?

I had long been seeking a role at Control Risks due to its respected industry reputation. During the final months of my Masters, I applied for an internship position with the Control Risks Africa Compliance Forensic and Investigations team. After three months with the company, I was promoted to my current role of researcher.

How has your degree helped you?

My Masters in international relations gave me a solid foundation of knowledge about the region and has instilled a critical overview of the global geopolitical, economic and security landscape.

What's a typical working day like?

My typical working day involves conducting reputational risk assessments in sub-Saharan Africa. The exact work I do each day depends on the particular type of project that I'm working on. Projects vary widely between sectors, though typically combine integrity, security and political risks analysis. My recent projects have included carrying out in-depth pre-investment intelligence investigations in complex and opaque jurisdictions such as Somalia, Angola, DRC, Mozambique, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, and Ghana.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

At Control Risks, you're exposed to a huge variety of work and are regularly given the option to enroll in courses that interest you. Getting involved and pursuing the things you're most interested in, both internally and within client work, is encouraged. There's plenty of opportunity for progression and I'm looking forward to gaining more responsibility within the team as I progress in my role.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the opportunity to explore and work on a variety of complex and intellectually stimulating projects in diverse and interesting parts of the world. It also allows me to build on the knowledge I gained in my Masters degree and to continually expand my expertise in the areas that I'm passionate about.

Also, it's a pleasure to work with talented and like-minded yet diverse individuals who all bring unique experiences and knowledge to the team.

What are the most challenging aspects?

Although I came to the role with an academic understanding of the economic, political and security issues that exist in sub-Saharan Africa, the role has taught me just how complex and varied jurisdictions across Africa can be.

Learning about the nuances and idiosyncratic patterns of a region and finding ways to adapt my methods of gathering intelligence to suit, have been key challenges in this role - but ones that have added to the exciting nature of the work.

What tips would you give someone considering a Masters degree?

Take time to understand what it is that you want from a Masters and in what ways completing one will benefit you and your career goals. If possible, attend open days to get a tangible feel for the course, speak to potential lecturers and engage with current students.

Also, assess the financial side of it, to be sure it's feasible.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into political risk?

Focus on building regional knowledge, and if possible gain experience in the regions, areas or jurisdictions that interest you.

In the security industry, it's almost impossible to be a generalist, and (in my organisation at least) regional knowledge, experience and languages go a long way.

Employers value intelligence, knowledge and a hard-working approach, so it's good to demonstrate these qualities in your application and interview.

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