Author: Philip Mbwaya, ALUSB Marketing Coordinator
With the recently concluded ALUSB graduation ceremony, we got a chance to sit down with Ibukun Awosika who is the Founder and CEO of The Chair Centre Group and serves as the very first female chairman of the board for First Bank of Nigeria. Ibukun is passionate about social issues, youth, and women empowerment where she was a past chairperson of Women in Business, Management and Public Service.
We were honoured to have Ibukun Awosika as the ALUSB 2020 Graduation Keynote Speaker and have her share some invaluable words of wisdom with the MBA graduating class of 2020.
We got to have a chat with her ahead of the graduation ceremony to talk about her experience as a successful entrepreneur in Africa as well as her vision and hope for the continent.
Q: How would you describe yourself?
A: I am someone on a mission to fully express myself, my talents, my gifts, and my interests in a way that I can serve my country, serve the world and eventually build a better society – these are the things that drive me.
Q: How did you first cross paths with the African Leadership University? And why have you chosen to honour ALUSB as the graduation ceremony keynote speaker?
A: I knew about Fred Swaniker’s project from the African Leadership Initiative, Aspen Global Leadership Network where we are both leadership fellows. I am impressed by what he has done with his ALG initiative and the impact he is having in terms of building a strategic mindset for future generations of leaders. My son has been part of the ALA summer programme in Johannesburg, and I know a few families whose children have been part of his ALG initiatives.
I, therefore, know for a fact that Fred is doing a strategic leadership development project for Africa’s development. Moving on to set up a university seemed like a natural progression forward for his initiatives and what he is ultimately trying to achieve. If he took the same principles and value systems from ALA and moved it to Business Education, that would have a significant impact.
I have kept an eye on what has been happening without being a part of it directly, so when ALUSB invited me, it was a no-brainer in terms of being able to add value to a fellow’s work. It would also be a chance for me to challenge and hopefully inspire the next generation of African leaders in terms of what they must do for us to build the continent.
Q: From your experience as a successful entrepreneur in Africa, what is the key to doing business in Africa that most people overlook?
A: For you to succeed as a business person in Africa, you need tenacity, a long term view, local market context, and you cannot give up!
For those coming from outside of Africa, you need to realise that Africa is not a village, it is not one country. Africa is made up of 54 countries and there are many countries within countries. Suppose you take my country Nigeria for example. In that case, there are as many countries as there are States within Nigeria, and even within the States, there are communities that have specific characteristics that have business implications. You, therefore, have to have a global approach with a local understanding as well.
You need to build a business within the context of your society, but you must be global in your practice and your value systems and in your dedication to delivering world-class service and product.
Ultimately, every gap you leave is an opportunity for your competition to take you out of business. All they need to do is improve on the things you lack in your business or deliver better quality products than yours at a cheaper price. This is part of how businesses from other Western and Asian countries take away the bread from African companies, even in their market.
One more thing is that we tend to approach business from a point of view of ‘me against them’, which can be against the government or policymakers. We see ourselves as being always on the right and knowing what to do and looking at the people in the public sector as knowing less and causing a lot of problems for business people, which they do in many ways.
However, one of the things I have learnt in my experience is that we have a responsibility to teach them continuously and aggressively in order to educate and empower them to make the right policy decisions that will support our businesses to grow.
The people who have to make those policies are themselves not business people, they have not experienced the business space. Even though they have the best of intentions for their countries, they tend to make the wrong decisions because if their influencers are not right thinking or they are giving them the wrong information, they will make the wrong decisions with the right intentions. We, therefore, have the crucial responsibility of how the business community is shaped. We must all get involved with all of our chambers of commerce, manufacturing associations, and any form of engagement that allows us to educate and to empower the policymakers better to make the right decisions that will help us succeed.
Q: What is your advice to women who aspire to be leaders?
A: I do not think the advice to a woman is any different to the advice to a man because while the most successful institutions will be the wise ones that have diverse leadership which means leadership that is inclusive of both male and female as well as have generational diversity where everybody around the table is not from the same generation. You allow yourself to have a table of men and women from different age groups so you can have the right collaboration of thoughts to engage and make the right decisions.
It is really about the effectiveness of that leadership and you having a sense of what you want and deciding how you live the rest of your life in line with how you are going to achieve that.
If you know that as a woman, you want to have a successful career as well as have a successful home, then it means that you will have to pay attention to who you marry because your spouse is a key factor in your life and it is not an emotional decision that you make without wisdom and concentration of where you want to go. You will therefore need to get the right kind of spouse that can engage with your ambition and drive by supporting and accommodating you through your leadership journey.
Additionally, there are no superwomen. Once you have traditional responsibilities as an African woman, you can still do the things you want to do without abandoning those responsibilities. You can outsource as much as you need to because if you are in leadership and you are successful at what you do, you have the right amount of disposable income that allows you to be able to engage the right kind of support to ensure that you can do the things you are needed to without dropping the ball.
Without a doubt, women can have it all! You need to organise your life to make it work and have the right kind of spouse.
You need to know the things that you will sacrifice to ensure that the things that are important to you work.
Q: Who are some of your leadership heroes?
A: I like the spirit and the thinking of Nelson Mandela. The forgiving and embracing leadership that unifies, I find that attractive in a leader. I like the open and free-spirited nature yet diligent and efficient leadership of the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Arden. She delivers on her goals and her assignment to her country. For me, it is leadership with a heart that attracts me because you can be both kind and firm, you can be acutable and still be loving. It is finding and embracing leadership that helps to build a better community.
Q: What is your prediction for Africa in the next 10 years? What are you most excited about?
A: From what the American elections have taught us in the past years is that prediction is a very risky business. I think what I know is we have the right kind of generational age group and if we handle them right and give them the right tools to work combined with the wisdom of the generations before that, we organise ourselves to allow compassionate visionary leadership to emerge, the whole world will have no choice but to stand in amazement as Africa reveals itself. I think there is so much that can work for us right now but there is so much that can go wrong as well. For me it is not about 10 or 20 years, it is about the blocks that we choose to build right now, I have the hope and faith that we will get there!
Q: What is your piece of advice to the graduates?
A: The world is yours to define and that there are boundless opportunities on the continent waiting for people to take them up. That to whom much is given, much is expected, they are the privileged ones. Much has been given to them for them to get here, now they need to show up and apply what has been given to them for the benefit of the continent.
Want to be part of the next generation of African leaders? Start your ALUSB MBA application here.
Author: JerryLynn Kariuki, Intern, ALU School of Business
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history. Students and teachers have had to adapt to the world of virtual learning; a world that comes with its own set of challenges. Luckily, Chidi Afulezi, ALUSB’s Head Faculty for Product, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is no stranger to challenges and he took this one head-on. We caught up with Chidi to learn more about his experience as an educator during a pandemic and get some tips on how to make the most out of virtual learning.
Q. How has COVID-19 impacted your work as an educator?
Chidi: One of the main impacts has been losing the personal face to face connection I previously had with my MBAs. It’s not possible to truly replace the particular aspects of in-person learning, such as body language or feeling the tension in a room when navigating difficult conversations.
Fortunately, ALUSB had already stepped up with virtual learning. The virtual learning experience was made more comfortable by hosting webinars, using emails and other platforms to communicate with students. I believe the broader ALU community is looking up to ALUSB as a benchmark for how we do virtual learning. As a faculty member, I am proud to know that it is not just the MBA’s who are getting some form of instruction but the whole ALUSB community is learning. I believe that among the many offerings, this element makes ALUSB an exemplary learning institution.
Additionally, this experience has prompted me to up my game in terms of the equipment, technology and tools I need to provide an engaging learning experience. Looking at it from teaching methodology, I had to find ways to bring empathy, energy, kindness and firmness to support my students through this challenging time and ensure we produce bonafide MBAs.
Q. What are the benefits of online learning/teaching?
Chidi: Through virtual learning, there are opportunities to bring more people into the classrooms.
There is also an opportunity to combine classes and to extend the executive education classes, not just to our students but to other corporate organisations.
Moreover, going virtual has allowed me to be with my family. While travelling was exciting, spending more time with my family has been a blessing which I genuinely appreciate, and I consider this a benefit of the transition to virtual learning.
Q. What are your highlights from our second online intensive this past July?
Chidi: The first thing I can point out is the ALUSB Operations team who stars in their execution of the virtual intensives. The group organised and ran a world-class virtual learning experience that was engaging for both the educators and the students.
My second highlight was the interaction with students, especially during the capstone presentations where they shared some of the projects they have been working on to solve challenges they have identified all over the continent and in different sectors. It was a learning experience for me too, and I felt inspired by their excellent work.
Q. What is your prediction for the education sector post-COVID-19?
“The education sector in the world, and more specifically on the African continent, is about to see some significant disruption.”
Chidi: The education sector in the world, and more specifically on the African continent, is about to see some significant disruption. Essentially, COVID-19 is an accelerant rather than a change agent. Previously, the changes happening in the education sector were moving at a slower pace. But with COVID-19, I anticipate the acceleration of significant shifts in the industry. I believe we are going virtual, and this will translate to more students having access to education.
Notably, this is predicated by the availability of supportive infrastructures such as internet connectivity and electricity. Universities and other physical structures will not disappear as these too have their significance in society. However, virtual education may become more predominant.
In addition to this, educators will need to be exceptional at what they do to attract the kinds of people who stick around virtually. This will be an opportunity to highlight the ‘superstars’ who can deliver instruction and teach via virtual mediums.
Finally, Chidi shared the following practical tips to make the most out of online teaching:
- You have to be interesting. While delivering content virtually, you need to make the delivery of your content exciting and simplified. An educator needs to be very engaged to ensure that students don’t get disengaged. This could mean having visual content that is well thought out and keeping your energy levels high.
- Get the right tools. Improve your delivery by ensuring that you have the right equipment to deliver online learning.
- Learn from other educators who are doing well.
- Find something that your students and team can look forward to. It is important to have something that brings you together and lifts your energy levels.
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Applications to join our MBA classroom in March 2021 are now open! Start your application today at: http://bit.ly/APPLYNOWM21 !
How are you doing? I hope you are safe and healthy as you read this post.
Months into the COVID-19 travel restrictions and work-from-home realities that have become the new normal this 2020, we and our organisations have started to adapt and move forward. It hasn’t been easy, but we take each day as it comes, doing the best we can.
One thing that gives me hope is my LinkedIn feed! I’m particularly struck by the number of my connections who have started new jobs in this period. And of course, some of these are members of the ALUSB community!
So I got to thinking: How are people starting new jobs remotely and how are employers onboarding their new hires?
Step up Akshay Vishwanath ‘20, a newly minted MBA, proud Kenyan and rising leader in conservation. In June, Akshay joined Maliasili as Manager, East Africa Portfolio, and kindly agreed to an interview with me to talk about his experience:
Q: OK, so let’s set the stage. You completed your MBA at ALU School of Business in March 2020. You were ready for a new professional challenge. What kind of opportunity were you looking for?
A: I reflected a lot towards the end of the programme, as part of the final MBA Leadership Lab term. I identified three main objectives for my next professional move and for the kind of African leader I wanted to be:
- To play a part in supporting the growth of indigenous conservation organisations.
- To improve the financing of conservation across the continent.
- To play a bigger role in the advocacy and social justice side of conservation.
Maliasili was an excellent fit, given its mission to support the growth of local, entrepreneurial, people-centred conservation organisations in Africa.
Q: You applied to Maliasili just as COVID-19 restrictions started to impact regular business operations. How did this impact your recruitment process?
A: The Maliasili team was already working remotely across the continent and the US. They adapted quickly and were able to remain focused on the growth of the organisation and so the recruitment progressed. My start date was delayed by one month, but this was to ensure that I had a full plate of work when I started.
Q: Tell us about the onboarding experience. You were joining Maliasili’s Kenyan office, but due to COVID-19, starting remotely and working from home.
A: I started with two others. A completely remote, online onboarding was new for the organisation and also for the new hires! Maliasili had to adapt and conduct our onboarding in unprecedented times.
When you change a job and join a new organisation, you normally make a mental shift. Usually, this happens as you move into a new office space and experience a new commute. Sometimes you move home and city! You turn the page and you start a new professional chapter.
This time everything was virtual. My new employer made a great effort for us to initially understand their team culture, dynamics and organisational culture. They made sure we understood the quality and standards that were expected as part of delivery. Doses of humour and fun infused everything. Whereas other organisations usually begin by providing a lot of reading material for you to familiarise yourself with the organisation’s goals, strategy, operations, successes and on-going work, I felt that Maliasili flipped it. They put more focus on team dynamics and organisational culture first.
“My new employer made a great effort for us to initially understand their team culture, dynamics and organisational culture.“
Q: So how has your first month been?
A: I spent my first three weeks in the new job understanding the organisation and team. Maliasili eased me into the job and organisational culture.
Q: So we’ve heard a lot about what Mailiasili did. What about you? What did you do to adapt to this new way of starting a job?
A: A big part of it is to go easy and not put too much pressure on yourself. Take a day at a time. Make a conscious effort to maintain your curiosity and hunger for the new job and all the potential that comes with it.
I was also conscious that my new employer was in unchartered territory too, and that we were experiencing these unprecedented times together.
Q: Any final tips to share about how a new employee can start remotely, successfully?
A: Here’s my advice: It’s about mindset. As the global health crisis continues into the second half of 2020, we are aware that things are not going to be the same. So throw the rule book out of the window and get comfortable with the fact that the world as we know it has changed.
But it’s ok. We adapt. Adjust your expectations and roll with it. Sometimes new chapters in our lives will be super creative and innovative, but things will also go wrong. Be ready for anything.
Don’t compare what is going on now with how things were done in the past or what you’ve experienced before. Experiment and figure things out – everyone has room to make mistakes. Be bolder, feel like you can apply yourself. You are not alone, there are many of us experiencing this across the world. Feel more confident to be your best self, knowing that mistakes are more accepted in these times of adaptation.
And I can’t stress enough; place emphasis on your new organisation’s team dynamics and culture. Spend time getting to know people on a 1-2-1 basis and schedule time to have fun together. When you finally meet in person, I am confident that you will slot right in.
“… throw the rule book out of the window and get comfortable with the fact that the world as we know it has changed.”
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Author: Vani Nadarajah, ALUSB Director of Admissions
Every 4 months, the ALUSB MBA students travel to Kigali for a week-long “intensive” where they get to connect with their peers and learn directly from African business leaders. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent travel restrictions, we were unable to conduct our intensive in person. Nonetheless, the ALUSB community gathered online for an exciting week of engaging sessions led by academic experts and business leaders from across the world.
Read on to discover some of last week’s highlights and takeaways!
The ALUSB MBA is a blended, part-time programme. This means that the MBA is part in person (in Kigali, Rwanda) and part online, where students engage in interactive, online learning while remaining at work in their home countries. This part-time MBA learning structure requires students to dedicate approximately 20 hours per week to their studies during their online periods. And as the world was forced to move online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our students became full-blown online learning experts! Although learning from home has become more common, distance learning is still a unique concept for most MBA students.
As we prepare for our second online ALUSB MBA intensive, we reached out to some of our ALUSB MBAs to put together a list of tips to make the most out of your online learning experience.
Sometimes, we come across a piece of advice that sticks with us and propels us forward. As part of our ‘Woman Of the Week’ campaign, ALUSB asked some of the women in our community to offer some advice to their peers in the ecosystem in the hopes of inspiring and empowering young, up-and-coming businesswomen across the continent. Whether you’re getting ready to make an important business move, take your career to the next level or just looking for some inspiration; this blog post is for you.