University of Reading cookie policy

We use cookies on to improve your experience, monitor site performance and tailor content to you

Read our cookie policy to find out how to manage your cookie settings

Emma Joynson-Hicks has enjoyed a varied career. From politics and banking in the UK to agricultural development in East Africa – a career move that resulted in her becoming a key influencer in the sector.

Studying a master’s programme at the University of Reading helped Emma to broaden her expertise in agricultural development.

“I had been working in agricultural development in Africa for 10 years without any formal education to support my role. I was passionate about specialising in the field and knew that the University of Reading could help me. My studies have benefitted me greatly, giving me the ability to move from dealing in generalities to speaking with authority.”

Development in Africa

Emma's career in the development sector began when she established and managed Café Africa Uganda, a multi-stakeholder coffee platform that strengthened and developed Uganda's coffee value chain. The work undertaken by Café Africa Uganda more than doubled the country's coffee exports.

"The impact of increasing production and productivity was not only to increase the general wealth of the country with increased foreign exchange earnings, but also to increase the earnings of very poor coffee farming households.

"This work was vital in changing the way over one million families lived and worked, and could sustainably manage their farms and families through the good days and bad."

Emma's success with Café Africa Uganda led to her being invited by the United Nations International Trade Centre (ITC) to undertake a number of consultancy roles. She later created the International Women's Coffee Alliance in countries across East Africa, raising awareness of the potential for trade to optimise women's positions in the coffee value chain.

"I strive for empowerment for everyone, especially women, because they have few choices in this world and in many cultures they do most of the work. Everyone deserves a place at the table.

"When the need for change arises in a community, there are several ways of going about it. Some demand change using violence and conflict. Some like the status quo and deny the need for change, others protest.

"The most effective way I have found to create sustainable change is through trade – make it mutually profitable for everyone."

Back to the classroom

After gaining valuable experience in the field, Emma wanted to deepen her knowledge of agricultural development. She returned to education in 2015, enrolling on the MSc Agriculture and Development programme at the Graduate Institute of International Development, Agricultural and Economics (GIIDAE).

"In East Africa, where I was working at the time, everyone knew that the place to study agricultural development in the UK was Reading. I raised the money and was thrilled to get a place!"

Emma enjoyed every second of her master's degree and gained some essential skills from the programme.

"The most useful skill I developed was learning how to think critically and constructively, how to write and develop an argument, and how to research from multiple different sources."

Going into the programme as a mature student, with 30 years' experience under her belt, was a unique experience.

"I had real fun arguing and challenging the professors! But I did value their highly skilled teaching ability and the content on the course has been extremely helpful. I can still hear some of the lecturers and professors today!"

Gaining valuable skills in agricultural development

Emma found that her studies at the University of Reading were hugely beneficial to her future career.

"My education in food security from Reading has been particularly useful in getting me where I am today. There were many important elements to my time at Reading, but three of them were relearning how to think, how to read, and how to communicate."

Following graduation, she returned to Uganda and gained a consultancy job with AgVerify Ltd, a start-up seed verification company.

"I knew nothing about seeds, let alone seed verification. Despite my lack of knowledge, I was appointed as Operations Manager after the first week, and then promoted to Managing Director in my second week!"

Two years later, Emma joined Concordis International, a peacebuilding NGO working in the Sahel region, as the Director of Operations.

Looking back at her time in Reading, Emma stresses the importance of education and the value of transferable skills from the course.

"I found it fascinating to be challenged in a unique environment, and I believe I have progressed well since leaving Reading because of my new soft skills and improved technical knowledge.

"I've always tried to solve problems by bringing people together, and often this has led to innovations of one kind or another.

"This degree has given me more confidence to do that, for which I am eternally grateful!"

Read about our postgraduate programmes in international development

Find out more about the Graduate Institute of International Development, Agricultural and Economics (GIIDAE)