Global South Indaba

Young People Making History: The Inspiring Story of Cephas Svosve (Oxford University)

Born at Chitungwiza Hospital, Cephas was destined to make history but not without overcoming great obstacles. His academic journey started at Chiremba primary school in Ruwa, a town situated 22 km south-east of Harare on the main Harare-Mutare highway in Zimbabwe.

At an early stage, Cephas lost his father, leaving him and his siblings solely in the caring hands of his loving mother who at the moment did not have formal employment. With everything left on her shoulders, Cephas’s mother started working extra hard to fend for her children. Out of determination to see her children complete their education, she started sewing and selling clothes and other products. She even joined the cross border women community just to send her dear children to school.

Cephas discovered he had a special talent in maths at an early stage. He excelled in his primary school studies and got admitted to Saint Faith High School. Going to an expensive boarding school such as Saint Faith for Cephas was a dream come true considering his background and financial status at the time. His family had to sacrifice for him. At Saint Faith Cephas took extra subjects unknown to his mother as she did not want him to strain himself. However, Cephas was ready to do whatever it took even if it meant going through it all alone. Eventually, he excelled in his ordinary level examinations and came out with 13 As and 1 B.

He proceeded to Advanced level and enrolled for Maths, Physical Science and Chemistry. While it was a great combination Cephas wanted to add Further Maths to make it 4 subjects. At this point, he had gotten a good picture regarding what he wanted to do post high school in order to realize his goals and aspirations in his career.

Cephas aspired to become a Quant (Quantitative Researcher) at the top of his career before moving to serve in the financial public sector of Zimbabwe. In order for him to realize his dream he found out from research that he needed to study abroad. When he completed his ‘A’ level studies he sought to apply for various scholarships in the USA that he hoped would fund him to study an undergraduate degree in the USA. His initial attempts were to apply for the USAP, his friend got it but he did not. He then went on to sit for the USA SATs examinations needed when applying to US academic institutions. Unfortunately, his spirited efforts did not yield any success despite the costs incurred through application fees. It must have been discouraging for him but he did not give up.

He applied to the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) for admission into the Actuarial Science program, He was convinced this was his closest bet towards becoming a Quant. His application was rejected because they wanted someone with 25 points rather than 20. Instead, he got offered a different program which he did not want. Understanding that sometimes you have to take action to get what you want, Cephas went to NUST and got the authorities to reconsider his application and came back with an offer letter. It sounds easy but it was not. His persistence, courage, determination and clarity of purpose got him what he wanted but it was not without terms and conditions. He had to pay his fees within a specific timeframe. This gave Cephas a new challenge. He did not know where he was going to get the money. His resilient mother had to borrow money to ensure Cephas meets the terms and conditions within the stipulated timeframe.

Eventually Cephas went on to do a BComm. in Actuarial Science at NUST in Zimbabwe. Fortunately. his studies at NUST got funded by Nyaradzo Life Assurance Company. In his third year at NUST, Cephas interned at Nyaradzo Life where he produced research work on how one can incorporate market forces (demand and supply) on the pricing of short-term life assurance contracts within a hyper-inflationary environment under the  Research and statistics department.

When Cephas reached his final year at NUST, a friend introduced him to the Rhodes scholarship. That resurrected his ambitions of becoming a Quant on Wall street. Being a Quant meant the world to Cephas. In his own words “Quants are like the rocket scientists in Finance, exactly what I dreamt of becoming.” Hearing about the Rhodes Scholarship became a turning point for him because, not only did he win the Rhodes Scholarship, but also enrolled directly into a PhD program straight from his undergraduate studies without having to do a Masters degree. It was inconceivable in the minds of many but it happened. He won the Rhodes Scholarship in 2020 under Zimbabwe Constituency and went on to win another scholarship, the Oxford-Linacre African Graduate Scholarship in 2021. With a selection rate of less than 5%, the Rhodes scholarship stands out to be one the most prestigious scholarships in the world. The Oxford-Linacre African Graduate Scholarship is awarded to the best Sub-Saharan African scholar at Linacre college in Oxford. 

Getting the Rhodes scholarship was with its own challenges considering the requirements and the fact that Covid was at its peak. First he learnt about the scholarship a bit late, they wanted 6 recommendations, 2 personal statements and a first degree class. Due to Covid-19 the school processes became very slow meaning he was not going to get his results any time soon. But because he had faith he applied anyway and got awarded the scholarship even when his results were super delayed. However, the results were still needed. Cephas’s faith made way for him and his examination papers got marked separately and alas he excelled and got exactly what was needed, a first class.

Currently, Cephas is a Final year DPhil (PhD)  Mathematics Candidate at the University of Oxford with research interests that lie at the intersection of Mathematics and Behavioural Economics. His first work applied Reinforcement learning on Agent-Based Models of complex networks to simulate macro-economic realizations in financial markets of mixed economies as an evolutionary consequence of microstructural interactions. One of the work’s goals sought to study the implications that passively allocating wealth to a market portfolio can have on the evolution of asset prices. The work’s insights showed that  passive investing shares similarities with trend-following and has a negative impact on social welfare when it dominates the market’s share capital.

Because of this work, Cephas attracted large interest from a USA based giant company, Fidelity investments, which is also one of the largest asset management companies in the world, and this led to his collaboration with Fidelity investments. He sat on their team as a Quant Researcher for 6 months and participated in investments on Wall street which he reckons a specific realisation of his initial career aspirations. During his time at Fidelity, Cephas produced research work on the optimization of strategic wealth allocation to behavioural microstructures emanating from Commodity, FX, Rates, Credit, and Stock markets in global markets with the intent to insure large stock portfolios against crisis. The work was added to his PhD thesis.

Away from research, Cephas Co-founded Peniel Foundation Africa, a philanthropic organization that funds education fees for students in Zimbabwe’s remote areas starting from the time they enrol for primary school up until they finish secondary and high school. The organization has attracted funding from well-wishers within Zimbabwe and across foreign countries that include the USA, South-Korea and United Kingdom.

Cephas was featured on the David Chikwaza- GLOBAL SOUTH INDABA together with other outstanding scholars including Petronella Munhenzva of Oxford University, Eric Ngang of the University of Birmingham and Lola Aojutiku of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The indaba premiered on 14 February, 2023 and hinged on how to land a highly competitive scholarship. You can watch this discussion now by clicking here.

Cephas is indeed making history and his story shows that nothing is impossible. You too can make history if you believe in the beauty of your dreams. From Chitungwiza to Oxford, Cephas is now making history, living his dreams.

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