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: Tumiso Kevin Mokakangwe, ALUSB Intern
As 2020 has stretched humanity to its optimum level, even the ALUSB graduation was challenged. Truth be told, we did not know how virtual graduation would turn out, but we knew one thing: we had to celebrate the ALUSB MBA class of 2020!
As all eyes turned to our YouTube live stream for the virtual graduation ceremony on Saturday, 7 November, the graduates dressed in gowns and got ready to celebrate their amazing achievement from their respective homes, certainly not allowing the restrictions of the pandemic to steal the moment of success.
The online ceremony began with welcoming remarks from the President of the African Leadership University, Christopher Williams, highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on the MBA programme and its graduates. “COVID-19 has affected the graduates’ classes, finances and interaction. Also, COVID-19 has made us more aware that change must happen in the world, that a new breed of leadership must replace certain world practices,” said Christopher Williams, as he welcomed the attendees to the first-ever online graduation in ALU history! Furthermore, in his address, he mentioned how the success of the graduating class and their promise to the transformation of Africa is necessary to continue educating and unleashing the leaders through this programme. “There is a calling that everyone has to answer to without exceptions, it is to be authentic. You need to answer one of the following questions: what is your calling? How do you want to be known? What will you be famous for?” Christopher Williams stated as he motivated the class of 2020 to take the continent by storm and craft solutions that drive progress.
After the welcoming remarks, it was time to hand out the ALUSB Academic Awards that celebrate the students that have excelled in our flagship Leadership Lab and Entrepreneurship & Innovation courses! Chidi Afulezi and Dr Zukiswa Mthimunye commenced with the special awards for the graduates with outstanding performances in a couple of categories:
The awards were followed by the speakers from the 2 classes reflecting and purposing their future after the MBA programme.
“Let us not only move the needle but redefine the scale,” stated Mellisa Mazingi ’20, ALUSB student speaker for the class of 2020 ‘Insinzi’, as she took her time to show a lot of gratitude for the support she got during her ALUSB journey and reflected on the aims of her class when they decided to pursue their MBA. “When we committed to a pan-African MBA, we committed to leading the development of our continents, solving problems, creating jobs, leading governments, developing African organisations and building continental businesses. We are Africans with a deep and personal understanding of the things that need to be done for our continent to thrive. We as Africans have achieved so much and we have so much further to go. As it is the motto of ALU, WE DO HARD THINGS.” She ended with the pledge to commit to the vision and mission of the African Leadership Group and ALUSB of going into the continent to write stories of African leaders that paint a picture of an Africa so bright and vivid.
Joy Rucyahana ‘20 followed, representing the ALUSB class of 2020 ‘Umoja’. “Everything of value is going to come at a price. We are still going to fight even at your most prepared state and to learn that when challenges come they leave us with more experience,” Joy stated as she urged the team to go into the continent to make the necessary difference they spoke about in their sessions. She ended her speech with a powerful message to the graduating class: “Let us lead from a place of wisdom, knowledge and empathy.”
“Never be quiet when you should speak and don’t speak when you should be quiet.” – Ibukun Awosika
Before the graduates could be graced with their MBA degrees, there was one more important thing on the agenda: the keynote address. This year’s keynote speaker was none other than Mrs Ibukun Awosika, the Chairperson of the First Bank of Nigeria Limited and the CEO/Founder of The Chair Center Group, Mrs Ibukun Awosika. “Our abilities do not just depend on us, they depend on our community that we can lean on and the support we have. The knowledge you have gained here is meant to prepare you for what you are going to do. It will depend on how you apply your learnings, your relationships and your opportunities. It is important to shift from success to significance, leaving an impact in the work that you do,” Mrs Ibukun Awosika stated as she motivated the class of 2020. Her impactful words were far-reaching to the attendees from around the world.
Congratulations, class of 2020!
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.