Alpha Abebe

What were you doing before you came to ODID?

Prior to starting my doctoral degree, I worked as an Associate Program Manger with The MasterCard Foundation, a multi billion-dollar global private foundation. I supported the strategic development and launch of the Foundation's Youth Learning Program, which supports initiatives focused on skills and workforce development for youth in Sub-Saharan Africa. While at the Foundation, I also led the development of a Youth Engagement Strategy at the Foundation, and managed a portfolio of projects worth over $60 million.

My prior education includes an MA from York University in Interdisciplinary Studies, a Graduate Diploma in Refugee and Migration Studies, and an Honours BA from the University of Toronto, majoring in Political Science and Criminology. I have spent several years as an international and community development practitioner, and my advocacy, research and professional efforts have been largely devoted to youth, migration issues, and East Africa. I was and continue to work as a photographer, and use my art as a tool for community engagement and cross-cultural dialogue. 

Tell us a bit about your research

My thesis explores the relationship between identity, social interaction, and social practice, through a case study of young diasporans of Ethiopian origin (YDEOs) from North America and their engagements in Ethiopian development initiatives. Specifically, I examine the ways in which people of Ethiopian descent born and/or raised in Canada and the US construct a diasporic identity and engage with Ethiopian development initiatives through a mutually constitutive process. All of the YDEOs I interviewed had actively engaged in initiatives (based in North America or Ethiopia) intended to contribute towards the social, political, and/or economic development of Ethiopia. Their initiatives included fundraising events, establishing local NGOs, volunteer missions, and taking professional positions within the Ethiopian development sector, among others. In my analysis, I unpack YDEO motivations for engaging in Ethiopian development, the nature of the development activities themselves, and the ways in which these experiences have shaped YDEO relationships, identities, and trajectories in life so far. 

What drew you to your field of study?

My research interests developed out of a deep and personal connection to these issues. As a young person of Ethiopian origin born and raised in Toronto, I could very well have been a respondent in my own research. Over the years, I have become fascinated (sometimes obsessed) with how other people who were born and/or raised abroad like me negotiate and express their identifications and relationships with Ethiopia. I sensed that there was a lot of complexity and nuance to unpack within this, and much to learn beyond the extent of someone’s supposed ‘assimilation’. As with any research project, I had to find an anchor for my analysis, and ultimately decided to focus on the engagement of young diasporans of Ethiopian origin in Ethiopian development initiatives. As I looked around among my friends and community members, I saw that this was an increasingly common phenomenon, and one that raised a number of interesting analytical questions about the relationship between diasporas and development – questions that eventually framed my doctoral research.

Why did you choose ODID/Oxford?

When I was exploring my options for doctoral programs there were a few things that I was looking for. I wanted to have access to top scholars in diaspora, development, and African studies. I wanted to be in an interdisciplinary environment. Finally, I wanted to be embedded within a supportive and international community of peers. I found all of these things (and more) at ODID, and my time in Oxford has been greatly enriched as a result.

What do you particularly value about ODID?

I am most grateful for the diverse community of DPhil students at ODID, which I have had the privilege of sharing ideas, space, and laughs with. It can be challenging to find and sustain peer networks at Oxford, as it is such a large and decentralised university, and the DPhil is an inherently solitary exercise. However, the DPhil community at ODID is renowned across the university for having a strong sense of camaraderie, a lively culture, and a beautiful shared working space (The Loft) that has become a second home for many of us. My time at Oxford would have been entirely different had I not had access to such a wonderful community of students – who become friends.

What would you say has been your best experience at Oxford?

My best experiences at Oxford have had to do with the opportunity to create my own learning and creative experiences. For example, a few other DPhil students and I had the idea to develop a workshop series that explored the intersection of diasporas and development. The workshops travelled between Oxford, Sussex, and UCL and engaged key scholars and graduate students from each university. We received funding and other administrative support from ODID, which was instrumental in its success. I also developed a concept for an initiative that evolved into a full-day international exhibit and panel discussion exploring diasporas through the arts. This event was sponsored by the Oxford Diasporas Programme, which was based at ODID. My time at Oxford was greatly enriched by these experiences, which were made possible by the supportive administrative and academic staff at ODID.

What are you hoping to do after you finish?

After completing my doctorate, I will be moving back to my hometown of Toronto, Canada. I hope to continue my work in education and eventually take up an academic position within a university. I look forward to expanding upon my research interests, and exploring new questions related to diaspora and migration experiences. I will also continue my community development work with youth in the Ethiopian community, as well as my creative work with arts and photography.

Find out more about the DPhil in International Development.


The DPhil community at ODID is renowned across the university for having a strong sense of camaraderie, a lively culture, and a beautiful shared working space.