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Marjorie Mpundu, LL.M. '05, Senior Counsel at World Bank, Works to Defeat Poverty

Something happened to deflect Marjorie Mpundu, LL.M. ’05’s progress toward a J.S.D. degree from Cornell. Something big: the World Bank.

Mpundu found her way to Cornell through a friend doing social work studies there. On a visit, she had a look at the Law School and met with Professor Muna Ndulo and others, eventually applying and gaining admission to the LL.M. program. Arriving with her LL.B. from the University of Zambia, an LL.M. from the University of Manchester in England, and successful navigation of the New York bar exam already under her belt, Mpundu expected to carry on to her Cornell doctorate. Then, in December 2004, she attended a job fair for international students held at New York University. “There were hundreds of firms,” she says, as well as the World Bank interviewing students from developing countries. Mpundu put in her application and subsequently was invited to what she recalls as “a five-minute interview. The guy said, ‘There’s a thousand of you, you know, and we can only take ten,’” and recommended she try the African Development Bank.

Nevertheless, Mpundu soon found that she’d made it to the next—and longer—interview and, a week later, into the World Bank’s relatively new Legal Associates Program. She signed on for one year, with the possibility of a second, completing her LL.M. from Cornell, but taking a leave from her doctoral track.

That was almost seven years ago, and now Mpundu is senior counsel for the World Bank’s Africa practice group. “I love what I do,” Mpundu says. “I’ve always had a passion to work in development.” Negotiating the terms of project financing for numerous countries—Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Burundi, Zimbabwe, and her native Zambia, among others—Mpundu feels she is able to contribute to the defeat of poverty. Her concern with giving back in the course of her work is a recurring principle in her career, something Ndulo confirms. “Marjorie was an exciting student. I found her diligent, cheerful, hardworking, and always eager to help others. It shows in her accomplishments and in the work she has done since graduating from Cornell.”

“The beauty of it all is that I am being a lawyer,” Mpundu says, “but not in an adversarial way.” Always representing the interests of the World Bank, she feels that, at the same time, she is “wearing two hats,” because the bank policies are established by a board, on which Mpundu says all member countries are represented, and thus to a certain extent, representing the member country. “It’s as good as being a representative of the country.”

Based in the Washington, D.C. area, Mpundu lives with her husband, Mirfin, a pharmacist, and has two daughters, Chi, aged 15, and Tasheni, aged 6. Coming from a warm part of the world, Mpundu has followed her academic path into measurably harsher climates. On scholarship for her LL.M. in Manchester, Mpundu says, “I didn’t like it at all! The weather was miserable, gray and rainy . . . I told my sponsors I was quitting,” she laughs. For the first time, too, she was on her own, cut off from her family support system in Zambia: “I had no babysitter.” But her younger brother came to help, and “it got better.” The first place she lived in the United States was Michigan, where she stayed home with her daughter while her husband pursued his studies.

Throughout, she has managed to mesh her expanding career with her family life, a focus that surfaced early on. “I’ve always been interested in the rights of girls. But law was not something that I thought of doing as a child,” she says. “My parents were both teachers, and I thought, I can always be a teacher. But when I went to university, I met a lady who was teaching law. She had her Ph.D. She was confident, young, with a family. I saw that law was something that can be done by a woman. I challenged myself to think about breaking through into a male-dominated career. I saw that I could use the law to fight for the rights of girls and to fight poverty.”

~By S.K. List