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.”
Want to read more stories from our ALUSB community? Here are some links to get you started:
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Author: Vani Nadarajah, ALUSB Director of Admissions
CATHERINE CHUMO ’20 IS AN INFORMATION OFFICER AT Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) in Kenya and is currently enrolled in the MBA for Conservation Leaders! We had the privilege to chat with her about her experience and work in the conservation field.
Catherine’s interest in nature and animals started at a young age. After visiting the Nairobi National Park as a child with her family, she knew she wanted to work in a space that would ensure the safety of wild animals. Today, Catherine is an Information Officer in the Communications Department of an international conservation organisation.
At ANAW, Catherine gets to experience the best of both worlds as she works both in the field and in the office!
While in the office, her responsibilities mainly revolve around planning and information management. As an Information Officer, she is tasked with ensuring that information and communication channels run smoothly and efficiently.
Similarly, her role in the field revolves around organising conservation initiatives in different parts of Kenya. This requires input from different members that make up the community, volunteers, government, partners, conservation stakeholders, donors, graduate students, and schools.
Catherine’s weekly schedule…
A typical weekday starts as early as 4 AM for Catherine. She starts her day off with a work out session after which she gets ready for work.
Her first task in the office, after a cup of coffee, is reviewing MBA work. This is to make sure she is set for the week and is up to date with assignment deadlines.
At around 8:30 AM Catherine has a team check-in where they lay out the agenda for the upcoming week. A huge bulk of the rest of the day is meeting with stakeholders and partners to work on different projects and collaboration opportunities. She often closes off her day by sending out communications and responding to emails. Her evenings are reserved for school work.
While in the field, Catherine starts her day with one of her favorite things; work out sessions in the wild. The team then has breakfast at 8 AM. After a briefing, the team heads out to different sites where they start working on different tasks such as de-snaring, animal rescues, human-animal coexistence activities, companion animal vaccination campaigns, and working with wildlife guardians for patrols.
ANAW team members, including Helen Jerotich, Eunice Robai, and Kate Chumo, rangers and Soysambu Conservancy staff during a full day of snare-removal at the Soysambu Conservancy northwest of Nairobi. Kenya, 2016.
ANAW projects include community mobilization that is focused on women within different communities that they operate in. These initiatives are designed to inform women of the dangers of poaching and to provide them with alternative sources of income such as basketry. The organization also works with young men to turn lethal snare traps into snare art.
Pursuing an ALUSB MBA
Although her work in the conservation field was fulfilling, Catherine was looking for a bigger platform that would allow her to work with others and take up the pressing issues in wildlife conservation. This led her to the MBA for Conservation Leaders! Besides these professional needs, Catherine was intrigued by the vision, innovation, and network that ALUSB offers and this made her decision to join the School of Business a no-brainer.
On handling roadblocks: Through Leadership Lab and other courses in the MBA programme, Catherine has learned to handle roadblocks with a healthy dose of emotional intelligence and calmness. “Leadership Lab really comes in handy when handling roadblocks especially those that require conflict resolution.”
Advice on working with different communities: While working with different communities, Catherine notes the importance of recognising and acknowledging the different dynamics within a community. She puts emphasis on the need to understand the community’s needs and priorities in order to move forward. She states that this is crucial especially in dealing with human-wildlife conflict, “You have to be a people person when working with a community,” she says.
The experience as a woman in a male-dominated field
Catherine acknowledges that working in a male-dominated field comes with some challenges in the field and in the boardroom. How does she deal with these challenges? A positive mindset and an assertive attitude! She also chats with some of her classmates, especially the women, as a way to keep her motivated and inspired. Catherine emphasizes that while being a woman at work comes with its challenges, being the only female student in the conservation MBA programme has been a great experience for her because of the support she has received from fellow classmates!
Her highlight at ALUSB
“My growth as a conservation leader has been heavily influenced by my classmates’ support and inspiration.” She also points out that the intensive held in Mauritius was a significant moment in her journey as a conservation leader. She was able to learn more about structural challenges experienced in conserving marine species. She gained tools from the marine conservation toolkit which she seeks to incorporate in her work.
“My growth as a conservation leader has been heavily influenced by my classmates’ support and inspiration.”
Advice to women seeking careers in environmental conservation
“Volunteer and take part in conservation programmes while in school. This will allow you to learn and give you skills which can give you a head start in your career. At the same time, connect with other women in the field as this will become a strong support system to help you get through challenges specific to women. Finally, always remember that everyone has so much to bring into the world of conservation therefore, you should be assertive and trust your instincts.”
We had the honour to sit down with one of the key figures behind the unique MBA collaboration between ALU School of Business and ALU School of Wildlife Conservation: Dr Francis Vorhies, Academic Director at ALU School of Wildlife Conservation, discusses the vital nexus of business and conservation – and how ALU is addressing the leadership deficit in the conservation field.
Francis Vorhies has racked up over 30 years of experience at the intersection of business, biodiversity and development. In short, he is the perfect interviewee to give us a look into the world’s first MBA programming for Conservation Leaders!
What drew you to work in conservation?
I moved to South Africa in the ’80s to work on the promotion of an equitable market economy for the post-apartheid era. During my time there, I visited a private wildlife ranch and met a couple who were saving wildlife as a small business. It wasn’t a national park, it wasn’t government-run; it was just a small company making money by saving nature. I never thought about conservation as a business opportunity before, but that was a turning point. Since then, I have been looking for ways to combine business and conservation across the African continent.
Could you tell us more about the ALU’s MBA programming for conservation leaders?
The African Leadership University in Kigali, Rwanda, has established the world’s first MBA experience for rising leaders in the conservation field. The collaboration between ALU’s School of Wildlife Conservation (SoWC) and School of Business (ALUSB) combines ALU’s rigorous, 20-month MBA degree with a specialisation in Conservation Leadership. SoWC’s specialisation includes five modules covering topics like Business & Biodiversity, Conservation Governance & Management, Conservation Markets & Finance and more, which are delivered in the classroom, via distance-learning modules and a field-based module.
The conservation-specific modules are designed to complement ALUSB’s MBA programme and help conservation professionals to apply MBA learning specifically to their field. For example, where the main MBA programme looks at management, we will look at conservation management. When they look at strategy, we’ll look at conservation strategy and policy.
The fifth course, Conservation in Practice, is a field module where the students will spend a week out in the field looking at conservation management. The lectures, the intensives, the assignments, the readings, the videos and the group exercises will be wrapped around these five modules.
What’s the one thing that sets the this conservation-focused programme apart from others?
At the moment, it’s the only game in town. It’s the first real attempt at putting together a high-quality MBA experience that is focused on the African challenges and opportunities for the conservation sector.
It’s a unique thing that we are doing at ALU: we’re looking at conservation as a platform for economic development, for growth, and for job creation. The programme is business-focused.We’re focusing on how the conservation sector can grow, how it can deliver goods and services, and how it can create inclusive employment opportunities.
But, what makes the programme unique is not so much people like me, but the cohort of mid-career students who are coming from different countries and different organisations. Enabling them to work together and develop their business and leadership acumen in the context of conservation challenges is really something special. The most exciting thing for them is having this 20-month space to go on a learning journey and become actual leaders in the conservation sector.
Why was the programme created?
The conservation sector has a real leadership deficit. That doesn’t mean that there are bad people in the sector or that they are uneducated… But the sector is mostly dominated by people who have studied natural sciences. And that is fine, but the conservation sector, like any other sector, is about much more than science. It’s about people, it’s about managing different groups, financial flows, marketing, product lines, value chains, and so on. There’s a real need for more leadership acumen in the conservation sector and ALU’s School of Business is the only school that offers an education that meets that need.
Who is the programme for?
Firstly, the programme is ideal for people who are already active in the conservation sector; people who either work for an NGO, are in public sector conservation management, or people who work in the eco-tourism sector, for example. But the programme is also very useful for people who don’t work in the conservation sector, but in intersecting industries that could threaten or damage the natural environment. Think of industries like mining, oil and gas, infrastructure… Finally, this programme is also a good fit for people who work in conservation-dependent sectors. These are industries that are dependent on nature like fisheries, agriculture, ranching and so on.
Essentially, this programme is designed for people who are interested in the business of conservation.
Why is the intersection of business and conservation so important?
If we don’t make conservation viable as a business, it’s going to be replaced. So conservation needs business, but there is also business to be made in conservation. Yes, we need zoologists, biologists and ecologists. But we also need leaders, we need entrepreneurs, and we need managers. So that’s what we’re trying to provide through this programme.
What are the outcomes that organisations can expect?
When the students do return to their organisations after the programme, we see that they have a much better chance of connecting the dots between the different parts of the organisation. We see that these students are able to play a more strategic and productive role in their organisation, either as a manager or by starting up new businesses in the conservation sector.
What kind of impact do you expect to see through this MBA?
In Africa, the impact would be to make conservation a viable business sector on the continent so that Africa’s wildlife can proven as a positive force for economic growth, increased revenues and job creation.
Phillip Kuvawoga ‘19 is a Zimbabwean professional planner, wildlife specialist and rising leader in conservation, working at WWF Zimbabwe. Some people call him the “Elephant Man’’, given his passion for these magnificent animals and how much benefit they can bring to communities. In this video interview, Phillip talks leadership: from the African leaders who have influenced him,. to what is needed from the leaders of Africa to come.
Here are some highlights from Phillip’s interview:
Which African leaders have influenced you and why?
“I think my father is an inspiration. He worked for 40 years in the conservation space in Zimbabwe and is well regarded. Sometimes my behaviour, my thinking and my visioning is inspired by him.”
“…if you look at the political landscape in Africa, one of the icons of our generation, toward political liberation and freedom of expression, has been Nelson Mandela. And back home, may his soul rest in peace, Dr. Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, in terms of his strive towards democracy…has been an inspiration especially to us, the young generation, in that we need to value people, human rights, and women, creating an enabling environment for people to strive and be the best that they can be.”
What leadership characteristics must you and your classmates emulate as rising leaders in Africa?
“There is a suite of characteristics that needs to be foundation of your being as a person; issues around empathy, virtuous leadership…I have learned that through my MBA journey so far, as long as you have the will, you have the heart and set your mind to it, you can do it.”
“It is about your integrity, it is about the consistency that you put to people, it is about you being honest in whatever you are doing. And you must know that along the way you will fail, but it is good to fail first and get up, dust yourself and do it again.”
Watch Phillip’s full interview below: