University of Sydney graduate Thomas Williamson (BEc '13) will explore new ways to help smallholder coffee farmers in sub-Saharan Africa boost their economic ties to Australia as winner of the 2017 NSW Rhodes Scholarship.
The talented alumnus and University Medal-winner will take his passion for international development to Oxford next year, where he will complete a Master of Science in Economics for Development and a Master of Public Policy, focusing on private sector development in emerging economies.
The scholarship continues Thomas' altruistic streak developed as a Sydney student, where he volunteered as an English language mentor to Sudanese refugees with Sudanese Australia Integrated Learning, and acted as a pro-bono consultant to non-profit organisations.
Throughout 2016, Thomas has worked as a business advisor to Ethiopia's coffee industry, helping smallholder coffee farmers and cooperatives to improve the quality of their coffee, access financing and grow to become competitive exporters. Since graduating, he has worked for global strategy firm L.E.K Consulting and international development consultancy TechnoServe.
"Working in Ethiopia, I saw how improving the business practices of smallholder coffee farmers can fundamentally change their lives, helping them to send their children to school and even university," said Thomas.
"At Oxford I am looking to build on my practical experience in development consulting to research what works and what doesn't in business training, consulting and microfinance programs. I hope to then work closely with communities in emerging economies to implement those findings, particularly around how business advisory and microfinance services can be made into viable businesses that are both sustainable and scalable."
Thomas was dux of Barker College, gaining an ATAR of 99.9 in 2009. A former debater for the University of Sydney Union, Thomas also won the Australian Intervarsity Debating Championship in his first year of university.
He plans to use his time in Oxford to champion the need for Australia to engage in deeper economic ties with sub-Saharan Africa, and hopes his research will produce innovative ways to help small and medium enterprises in developing countries overcome their most critical challenges.
"While Australia is very much a part of Asia, we should not be blind to potential opportunities to develop mutually beneficial partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa," he said.
"For instance, Australia's world-leading expertise in dry-land agriculture makes us well-placed to improve the agricultural productivity of similarly arid countries in sub-Saharan Africa. However to do this, we first need to help smallholder farmers to become more effective business people, through training and financing, so they can capitalise on the opportunity provided by improved technology."
The Rhodes Scholarships for Australia were established in 1904, and enable nine outstanding students nationwide to study at the University of Oxford. Winners are selected based on such criteria as moral force of character and leadership, literary and scholarly achievement, and a commitment to service.
"Thomas epitomises the values we strive to foster in every University of Sydney student: innate curiosity in the world around them; a deep capacity for empathy with others; and the tenacity to put their talents to use in striving to change our world for the better," said Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Registrar) Professor Tyrone Carlin, an Honorary Secretary to the NSW Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee.
"Every year the selection committee faces a tough decision to select just one student from New South Wales from a pool of exceptional candidates. We are thrilled that another of the University of Sydney's best and brightest students has been recognised with this considerable honour.”
Thomas joins the ranks of more than 110 University of Sydney alumni to have achieved the prestigious scholarship, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He is also the eighth University of Sydney graduate to win a Rhodes Scholarship in the past 10 years.
"Now in their 112th year for Australia, the Rhodes Scholarships have a proud legacy of electing scholars who have gone on to show great distinction in public service, research, community development, the creative arts, and sport. We are proud of the diverse backgrounds and skills of our scholars, and continue to support their aspirations to create a better Australia, and a better world," said Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, from the Australian National University, National Secretary of the Rhodes Scholarships Australia.
2013 – Jacob Taylor (NSW Rhodes Scholar); Patrick Bateman (Australia-at-Large)
2011 – Nathaniel Ware
2010 – David Llewellyn
2009 – Natasha Simonsen
2008 – Johanna Ware (nee Mascarenhas)
2007 – Kate Brennan