MGA/MBA graduate brings essential skills to faith-based organizations

Arthur Ssembajja graduated from Notre Dame in May 2022 with a dual degree: a master of global affairs (MGA) from the Keough School of Global Affairs and a master of business administration (MBA) from the Mendoza College of Business. 

A Catholic priest of the diocese of Kasese, Uganda, Arthur now serves as parochial administrator at St. Anthony de Padua Catholic Church in South Bend and as a consultant to Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne – South Bend, where he works closely with CEO Don Florin. 

As a graduate student, Arthur worked with the South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program, offering consulting support to five new local ventures. He also worked as a graduate assistant to Keough School professor Michael Morris and interned at Notre Dame’s IDEA Center as a de-risking analyst and team lead. 

Arthur recently spoke to the Keough School about his decision to pursue the MGA/MBA dual degree, a key insight he gained from his field experience in Malawi, and the one piece of advice he wants to share with incoming students.

“I come from a country where there have been international development initiatives, but not as much focus on the whole person.”

Q: How did you find out about Notre Dame and the Keough School?
A: My friend and mentor Emmanuel Katongole recommended Notre Dame to me when I first started looking for a business school. The bishop in my home diocese had asked me to pursue a degree in business so I could help advise him on investments and also join a Catholic-led bank in Uganda. 

Once I started business courses at Notre Dame, my academic advisor told me about the new dual MGA/MBA program offered in collaboration with the Keough School. I liked the international development focus and the emphasis on policy, but most important was the umbrella of integral human development, which prioritizes human dignity above all else. I come from a country where there have been international development initiatives, but not as much focus on the whole person—on leaving no one behind. 

Q: What made you decide to pursue the MGA/MBA?
A: I knew I wanted a business degree, and I also liked the Keough School’s emphasis on academic rigor coupled with impactful practice. The Integration Lab (i-Lab) in particular ties those two things together beautifully with its emphasis on experiential learning. For our i-Lab project, I was part of a team that conducted an impact evaluation of a USAID-funded program that was administered by Catholic Relief Services—the program was designed to ensure food security and alleviate the effects of climate change, or climate shocks, in Malawi.

Q: What did you learn from your field experience in Malawi?
A: I learned about the importance of institutional memory and local community knowledge. For example, we visited one site where the community told us there had been a spring years ago. When we talked about building a site for planting and irrigating vegetables, the community members knew exactly where to place the dams. I also learned the importance of collaboration and bottom-up solutions, rather than complex theoretical ideas.

a man wearing a mask stands next to an irrigation ditch
Arthur Ssembajja, stands next to an irrigation canal in Natama, Chiradzulu, southern Malawi during a July 2021 tour of the community’s watershed treatment structures.

Q: What was your role in the South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program?
A: I got involved while working as a graduate assistant to professor Michael Morris, and I led the marketing of the very first program. I also provided consulting services and mentored entrepreneurs who were starting a catering business, an events company, a cleaning company, a coffee importation company, and a beauty salon. 

Q: How did you land in your current professional roles?
A: I was first offered a position in a consulting firm, but I didn’t accept the offer because I knew I wanted to be in a pastoral role. I was then offered position in the administration and finance department with Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend. But before I accepted the position, I received a call from the local bishop, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, who asked me to serve as administrator and pastor for St. Anthony de Padua, a South Bend parish with 1,200 households and a Catholic school. I accepted his invitation to lead the parish and now work with Catholic Charities in a more limited consulting role. 

Along with that, I continue to do impactful work back home in Uganda. I serve on the board of the Bethany Land Institute, which provides Uganda’s rural poor with an integrated education program in sustainable land use, economic entrepreneurship, and spiritual formation. The institute was founded by Keough School professor Emmanuel Katongole, who also is from Uganda. I also work with Mendoza professor Wendy Angst, serving as a technical advisor for St. Bakhita’s Vocational Training School in Kalongo, Uganda. St. Bahkita’s trains young women to drive social and economic innovation. I also serve on the investment committee for the Diocese of Kasese, my home diocese.

A man in a black graduation cap gown speaks into a microphone and addresses the audience.
Arthur Sembajja, an MGA/MBA graduate, was selected by his classmates to speak at the Keough School’s commencement-weekend recognition ceremony on May 14, 2022.

Q: What was the best part of the Master of Global Affairs Program for you?
A: The mentoring I received from my professors—they mentored us inside and outside of class. I appreciated the depth of knowledge they delivered and how effectively they delivered it. At the same time, I learned a great deal from my classmates. The MGA program does not simply admit students from one walk of life—my classmates had worked in economics, medicine, engineering, the arts, performance, and business. There were so many brilliant brains and so much talent in the classroom and the collaboration among us was amazing. They challenged and made me doubt my previous ways of thinking. As philosopher René Descartes said, we advance knowledge through doubt. I now appreciate the role of business, entrepreneurship, and sound policies in alleviating poverty and also how the Catholic Church can be a part of this effort.

Q: What advice do you have for incoming master of global affairs students?
A: Be very open-minded and learn as much as you can during your time in the program. Begin your career preparation as early as the first semester on campus—networking is key. 

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your MGA experience?
A: It was the best thing ever to have happened to me at this point in my life. The things I learned were complementary, solid, and impactful. All this was made possible by the support of the Riberas Family Fellowship, for which I’m eternally grateful. Notre Dame is a home for anyone who wants to serve  as a force for good—it’s not just a tagline; it’s lived out by the people you meet.


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