UC Berkeley Master of Real Estate Development and Design student Dicko Ba was recently awarded the prestigious 2019 Urban Land Institute Debra Stein Fellowship. The fellowship supports promising young women in their pursuit of responsible land use and urban development. We recently sat down with Dicko to ask her to reflect on her experiences and the industry.
1. Can you talk a bit about your professional experience prior to grad school?
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from London South Bank University, I started working as a business analyst in London. During this period of employment, I was also studying for my Masters’ degree in International Banking and Finance at London Metropolitan University. On completion of my Masters’ degree, I worked in various roles spanning the financial hubs of London, Dubai, and Johannesburg. In 2009 it was time for me to go back to Senegal and take advantage of a unique employment opportunity. I was recruited by one of the oldest and most successful private real estate development companies in Dakar; this was a big change from my banking experience. I started as a Strategy Executive Coordinator in the company facilitating a complete restructure of the company with the help of a renowned consulting firm. During this time, I reported directly to the CEO and closely interfaced with other key C-Level leaders and presented the progress to the board. This reorganization led to the creation of a holding company that I was tasked to set up and lead as the deputy CEO. Shortly after, I started my company, TRAMI Sarl, focusing on high-end commercial and luxury residential developments.
2. What led you to pursue a graduate degree in real estate development?
I started working in real estate development with an educational background in Finance. I always felt that I was missing a formal educational background in the field of real estate development; one that I have come to discover and love. At this point in time, I find that having a master’s degree in real estate will help me advance my career further and compete internationally.
3. Why did you choose UC Berkeley's MRED+D program?
I chose the USA, and specifically UC Berkeley, because of its international reputation as well as its capacity to develop innovative minds capable of concrete/practical actions towards transforming societies all over the world.
I also believe that the combination of my experience thus far, the program’s rigorous curriculum, and being in an elite group of peers, will help me get a better understanding of today’s real estate and design field and will result in rich cross-functional perspectives and productive collaborations. The Design aspect of this degree is particularly important as it will allow future developers to anticipate and avoid conception and sustainability (social, economic and environmental) issues that often arise during the pre-development stage.
4. What do you think are the most important qualities a leader in real estate development should have?
A developer should be someone who leads with empathy, and someone who has the will to create a better built environment for everyone. If all developers focused on the financial and community bottom line, we would be able to create truly sustainable communities and societies. The built environment shapes our day to day lives as well as our societies, and developers are the main protagonists along with the architects.
A developer should also be curious and look to be influenced by the best practices in other societies and find a way to translate them into the local environment.
5. Do you see a gender gap in real estate development? In what way?
I was fortunate to have never encountered any gender gap issues while being employed in real estate development. Furthermore, I was able to take concerted steps to avoid that for my colleagues when I started my company.
My first role in Real Estate was with a company led by a female CEO with 30+ years’ experience in the industry. When she, and the board, entrusted me with the creation of the holding company, it was important for me to create a diverse company from the onset where all genders and people of all faiths were employed equitably. As of today, over 53% of Alpha Sud Group’s employees are female and recognized for having one of the rare female CEO of a construction company in Senegal in 2014. Within TRAMI Sarl, 70% of the team are women.
6. What do you think are the biggest barriers that women must overcome in real estate development?
The very idea that it is a male-dominated industry should be the first barrier that we should break down. I found that being a woman in real estate development is clearly an opportunity as people are usually happy to see some diversity. We bring a unique point of view during the whole process; whether it is during the design stage while working with architects, or when negotiating with the cities’ Planning Departments.
7. Why do you think it's important to promote a "Yes-In-My-Back-Yard" approach to urban development?
International human rights law recognizes everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing. Housing is a powerful tool to reduce poverty and insecurity in our cities and countries. We are currently facing a housing crisis all over the world, from San Francisco to Dakar. Today, the more housing we will manage to build the more affordable they will become.
Every day, we face in the streets the homeless community or we cross path on BART with teachers, nurses commuting for hours between their houses and their work because they cannot afford a place in the city. If we do not make place for them, literally, in our backyards, we may very well, one day, find ourselves without teachers or policemen.
8. How does coming from Africa shape your perspective on real estate development? What do you see as the key differences between development in Senegal and in the US?
The first thing I noticed in the US is that we are confronted with the same housing crisis as elsewhere, only differently. The biggest difference being the density issue. In the US, we are looking to densify cities and reduce urban sprawl. Africa has the opposite issue. African cities are hyperdense and they keep getting denser. The hyperdensity has also led to fewer suburbs, thus resulting in ever-increasing rents and home prices with fewer homes in good condition.
While causes may be different, consequences for both regions are similar, and both are in dire need of affordable and decent housing.
9. What excites you most about the future of real estate development?
The hope that one day we will be able to house everybody in decent, healthy homes with active streets. I believe that manufacturing the built environment and streamlining it will be the solution to the housing crisis. It will allow us to create reusable building materials that will help us drive prices down and have more sustainable buildings.
Cities are constantly evolving and reinventing. I believe that the more we accept change, the more it will help us be reactive and adaptive to the needs of the people living in them in the long run.
Real estate development is long-term advance planning and has a permanence that is precisely opposite to flexibility. The challenge is how to make a building financially accessible and built to last 50-100 years and be flexible and reactive to the needs of the city.
Visit the Master of Real Estate Development and Design webpage for more information about the program.