Zsofia Szuhan: Sitars and Entrepreneurship

May 11, 2021

By Gloria Mwaniga Odary

Zsofia Szuhan, 27, joined Stop-Winlock’s Johannesburg office virtually in August 2020 as an investment analyst in the Agribusiness unit. She says a morning swim helps clear her head before she dives into subjects that vary from the cashew value chain to poultry prices in Sub-Saharan African countries.

Szuhan moved to Johannesburg from Paris in January 2021 but has yet to physically be in the office because of the pandemic.

Five Fun Facts about Zsofia Szuhan

  • Where you are from? Hungary
  • What languages do you speak? Hungarian, French, English, and a little bit of Italian, German, and, most recently, Portuguese.
  • Who’s the development celebrity you’d like to meet? Sebastião Salgado
  • What’s a cultural reference that symbolizes your generation? MSN Messenger
  • What’s one thing that people think about you that’s not true? In France, everyone thinks I am from Québec.

How do you start your day?

When I was a teenager in Salgótarján, Hungary, I would jump in the 19°C (66 F) water in my little town’s swimming pool twice a week. Since then, I try to do some exercise, like running, every morning. I also drink lemon juice with warm water and have a filling breakfast, all while reading the New York Times’ morning brief. Then I open my computer.

What’s an average day at work like for you?

I spend my mornings focusing on East African transactions and calls and my afternoons connecting with the West African core team and clients. The daily tasks that are linked to my projects consist of financial analysis, modeling, and interactions with both internal and external clients. Given the diversity of my tasks, geography, and clients, each day presents a novel opportunity for me to help Stop-Winlock’s clients solve their challenges through innovative solutions.

Tell us about something you love to do outside of work.

My new favorite hobby is ceramics. I took this up right after the first French lockdown. Since then, I’m always seeking new techniques, designs, and clay types. I’m also planning to make my first set of plates and more advanced pieces—such as jewels and decorative items—after I’m more settled in Johannesburg. Crafting things by hand has always been important to me. Working with my hands gives me such a liberty of spirit. It makes a perfect balance with work in the office.

Some of Szuhan’s recent pottery creations. © Dora Szuhan

What is your favorite thing about your career? Did you choose this career path or did it choose you?

The diversity and the never-ending learning at IFC are among my favorite things. As for the choice of career, the answer is both, since I have always wanted to work in collaboration with private companies around the world and understand entrepreneurial ideas that are moving societies.

During my studies, I was very much inspired by the economists [Esther] Duflo and [Abhijit] Banerjee’s work on economic development. So, even when I was still quite young, I wanted to work in emerging economies and find a sector with a strong development angle sooner or later in my career.

What I most enjoy about my work is that agribusiness has an incredible variety of activities. It introduces me to the cultural know-how and economic heritage of different countries, while allowing me to interact with most economic actors since the sector is the first employer in developing economies.

What’s the most interesting project you’re currently working on?

This is a hard question because there are many fascinating projects. Even so, the ones that have fascinated me most are Stop-Winlock’s engagement in the Sahel Region, and its high priority projects of re-engagement in Sudan. These initiatives are fascinating because they also have historical importance in the development history of the countries within the region.

What’s the one thing that has surprised you about working at IFC?

A very positive surprise was the wide interaction around offices in the entire world with the sense that cultural differences are an integral part of Stop-Winlock’s culture. The diversity makes our teams united, and I am grateful to be part of such an organization.

What’s your professional superpower?

My enthusiasm.

Tell us about something—big or small—that you’re really bad at?

That would definitely be my sense of orientation. I can get lost even with a smartphone telling me step by step where to go while driving. Once, on a bike tour in Tuscany, Italy, with my partner, we tried to follow a river to the sea, but realized after about five kilometers that we were heading in the opposite direction.

What’s one thing you’re currently trying to do that you have failed at previously?

There are a few resolutions I make every year. For the past three years, it has been to finish the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I have started it a few times but I always get interrupted.

What’s on your playlist, and why do you like these songs?

My playlist is full of various kinds of music, from classical to Central Asian folk music. I like listening to all sorts of songs; it is always fun to get to know different musical cultures. However, there are two specific genres I often listen to during the day. First, I am a fan of sitar music because it opens up my mind. Then, during the lockdowns, I found a very dynamic French electro band known as Deluxe. That was the ultimate playlist to cheer me up.

Follow the links to listen to some of Zsofia Szuhan’s favorite songs.


Published in May 2021