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.
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.
As the world celebrated Father’s Day this past Sunday, Chidi Afulezi, ALUSB’s Head Faculty for Product, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, took this opportunity to flip the script and bring attention to an important issue in our communities: gender-based violence. We’re honoured to share his reflections on fatherhood with our larger community.
I would like to shout out all the ALUSB fathers. Happy Father’s Day to you. It is my privilege to play this role with you…It is not easy, but the fact is, being a father is the ultimate job in life. Yes, you have or will soon have an ALUSB MBA, and you are a captain of industry that takes no prisoners, but all of that is really beside the point…to me, the true measure is to be most successful at being a good father.
Now, of course, I had to flip this a bit. I am the dad of three incredible young women in their teens, and that has me acutely focused on the pain and raw helplessness that many fathers experience when their daughters leave home and don’t come back, or come back with wounds deeper than any external damage. I find myself focused on the angst and shame that some fathers feel to know their sons leave home and become predators and perpetrators of incredibly cruel acts towards women in our communities.
“Father’s Day is a day for me and for the rest of the fellas out there to affirm our undying and unequivocal support for our women.”
Listen, I am not here to equivocate about any of this. Gender-Based Violence is real, and anyone who wants to get into nuance or “should haves, could haves” lost me when they opened their mouth to speak. As a father of three girls, the husband of another man’s daughter, the son of another man’s daughter, and the brother to another man’s daughters…Father’s Day is a day for me and for the rest of the fellas out there to affirm our undying and unequivocal support for our women.
We can’t be leaders, or successful business people, without that affirmation. Yes, we can breathe fire in the boardroom or negotiate under extreme circumstances. But, I’m a father of three members of Africa’s most important demographic segment, and I will do what I must to support them, that’s what matters most. Nothing matters more.
I appreciate you, and again, Happy Father’s Day.
Yet another graduation is at the horizon for The African Leadership University School of Business (ALUSB)! On Saturday, 21st March the third cohort of ALUSB students will be walking the graduation stage at the Kigali Convention Centre in Rwanda as Masters of Business Administration. ALUSB is pleased to announce that the keynote graduation speaker will be none other than Ibukun Awosika, a driving force in business, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy on the continent!
About Ibukun Awosika
When it comes to business, Ibukun Awosika is a known pioneer. She currently serves as the first female Chairman of First Bank of Nigeria Limited. She’s also the Founder and CEO of The Chair Centre Ltd, a market leader in the office furniture and banking security systems industries. Her entrepreneurial ventures have earned her multiple awards, including the prestigious International Women Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Award as a nominee of the US Department of State.
In addition to her strides in business and entrepreneurship, Ibukun is a continuous advocate for the social, economic and educational advancement of women and youth across the continent. Through her personal projects and alignment with organisations such as The African Leadership Initiative, Women in Business, Management and Public Service (WIMBIZ), Aspen Global Leadership Network, and more, Ibukun strives to empower entrepreneurs to create jobs for the large unemployed youthful population.
“I come from a place where there are opportunities staring you in the eye. But it’s looking for the people who have the heart and the courage to do it and do it right.”
Ibukun is no stranger to the academic space; she’s a Chemistry graduate from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Nigeria; and an alumna of the Chief Executive Programme of Lagos Business School, the Global Executive MBA of IESE Business School, Barcelona-Spain and Global CEO Programme of Wharton, IESE and China European International Business School (CEIBS).
Having Ibukun as the keynote speaker continues an ALUSB tradition of welcoming a wide range of prominent, African individuals to address its graduating class. Former graduation keynote speakers have included Strive Masiyiwa, renowned businessman and philanthropist, and Donald Kaberuka, Former President of African Development Bank.
The Class of 2020, “Umoja”
The pan-African MBA Class of 2020, Umoja, of which one third is women, represents 15 African countries of residence.
ALUSB will celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of the Class of 2020 Umoja with a week full of events that will culminate with the graduation ceremony. The week’s events will include their final intensive, special guest speakers, and family events!
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.”
ALU School of Business (ALUSB) is delighted to introduce our newest MBA cohort! The first of our Classes of 2021 (named Ubuntu) launched 27 October 2019 in Kigali, Rwanda.
There are many wonderful statistics about this class, of which the ALUSB Admissions team is incredibly proud. But one statistic stands out in particular: 57% of the students in this class are women. In the words of ALUSB Vice Dean, Catherine Duggan, upon welcoming the class, “Many of the women in this room are the only women on their boards or leadership teams. Now you’re 57%”.
“Many of the women in this room are the only women on their boards or leadership teams. Now you’re 57%.”
Other statistics to note: 18 African countries of residence and 15 African primary nationalities are present in the class, with Namibia and Burkina Faso represented for the first time. The class has an average age of 36 years, with on average 11 years of post-graduate professional experience. As Ubuntu student Armand-Didier Konan ‘21 reflected, “Diversity is the most important thing that we have here and it brings a special flavour to this MBA programme.”
After an electrifying first intensive programme starting Leadership Lab, Doing Business in Africa and Financial Accounting courses, as well as some strong community building, our newest leaders for the African Century have returned home to their families and organisations, to prepare for ALUSB MBA Term 1.
“Diversity is the most important thing that we have here and it brings a special flavour to this MBA programme.”
We can’t wait to watch you learn, build and grow, team Ubuntu! I am because we are!