Testimonies - EMBA - Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Social Business
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I was born in the UK, of Nigerian descent, and have spent the majority of my career within industry where I have worked for organisations like Dell Computers and Accenture as a solicitor. Before I started my studies at HEC Paris, I was General Counsel for a private equity portfolio in London, where I led the legal function for a number of years.
I chose the Innovation Social Business Major because after spending most of my life in the corporate world it was time to start thinking of doing something different. I projected myself to what I would like to be doing in the future and knew I would like to work or support organisations where everyone in the value chain was benefitting. I also wanted to learn as a leader and acquire a different perspective. There is so much talk about social business and development that I wanted to understand the fundamentals and discover what opportunities it could present for me and my community.
The programme was a real eye-opener and a very humbling experience. I travelled to two places I had never been to before – Cape Town and Bangalore, where we were hosted by the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the India Institute of Management (IIMB) respectively. These two schools are thoroughly respected in those regions.
In South Africa, I arrived as a student curious about the people, post-apartheid and found a country and people rearing to go! Excited by the many opportunities that presented itself in this era of digitalisation and innovation, I was in awe because everything seemed "up for grabs". Every single social class was involved in this movement but nowhere more prominently than at the base of the pyramid. In fact, I met entrepreneurs with the most interesting ideas at the base of the pyramid. Africa as a continent is still not for the faint - hearted but for those who see potential in the face of such rigour - Africa opens up a whole new world to develop, create and innovate. Whether it be home-grown businesses using what they have to get what they want or international businesses with expansion plans into the Continent, necessity has opened the eye to see what would otherwise not be seen at the base of the pyramid.
In India, we were able to see that the focus of social business was benevolence and the reduction of poverty. Services and products were being provided essentially to meet these challenges.
I have become more aware of the environment I live in and the programme has shown me that where there is a will there is a way. It became very clear to me that establishing or working for a business in which the entire value chain benefits is far more sustainable in the long run. I also learnt that even though a company is “not for profit” there are multiple arenas for such businesses to be sustainable.
I particularly enjoyed meeting the local people. In Cape Town, for example, we met people who lived in the settlements. They shared their homes with us and spoke to us about their dreams and aspirations and what they were doing to achieve them. It was incredible to meet so many entrepreneurs who were not fazed by the challenges they faced, such as financing, for example, and found a way to meet their goals.
In India the emphasis on giving, back to the less privileged, whether in the form of providing free medical services or financial aid and this very strong ethos was greatly appreciated by all the participants.
The quality of teaching was excellent. David Ménascé, the Academic Director was passionate about this topic and his enthusiasm and passion were infectious. We all came away with ideas and recommendations for ourselves as entrepreneurs and for our companies. The programme also provided an opportunity to interact closely with people benefitting from social businesses and the guest professors were very knowledgeable.
My class was made up of a cross section of professionals. There were engineers, management consultants, professionals from pharmaceuticals and construction. We also had people from the food industry and family business owners. It provided a rich exchange of experiences and opinions. We had all come together to learn what can be done in this segment and what is currently being done. Some of my colleagues had chosen this Major, intending to return to their respective jobs and make recommendations to their companies. Some people like me, wanted to experience how we could contribute to the world now or in the future.
The programme has broadened my horizons. I learned the importance of active listening, which for me is the ability to listen with an open mind and without having preconceived ideas before giving an opinion. This is particularly important when you have limited knowledge and no real interaction with the environment in which you find yourself.
My ambition is to return to a leadership position in a company that truly understands the concept of innovation in a social context. I would eventually like to work or provide guidance in a consultancy capacity on social business “doing good” in Africa and helping to establish sustainable frameworks.