Last week I went to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the Africa business conference organized by the Harvard Business School (HBS). As this was my first time in Cambridge, I spent the first day of my trip going around and trying to get a feel of this historic city. Unfortunately, Cambridge’s weather was just as bad as Chicago’s so I was not too excited about my freezing tour. Notwithstanding, I did experience a lot of cool historic and current sites and sounds; the computer science building at MIT was one of them:
As expected, HBS was able to deliver some African heavyweights as keynote speakers at their conference. My favorite was Okechukwu Enelamah, the founder and CEO of Africa Capital Alliance, a leading private equity firm in Nigeria. The best part of his keynote was when he spoke about the difference between mentorship and sponsorship. Paraphrasing, a mentor will provide you with guidance while a sponsor will expend his or her economic, political or social capital to see you succeed. In his case, his sponsor was his former boss who not only coached him but also recommended him for admission to HBS at a time when going to Harvard was mostly unheard of for Africans. This story really got me thinking about two things: how can I get sponsorship in my own career, and how can I give it?.
The conference had a variety of panels covering an array of topics from agribusiness to tertiary education in Africa. My favorite was the panel on women and leadership as it was literally “star studded”. My two coolest people on the panel were Ibukun Awosika – a serial entrepreneur and business leader in Nigeria – and Ory Okolloh, a Harvard alum and former policy manager for Africa at Google. Ory actually has a cool TED talk about the African story which you can check out here.
Mrs. Awosika really set the audience on fire with her passion and practical insights stemming from years of experience as a business leader, wife and mother. One interesting piece of advice which she gave to the ladies and I’m paraphrasing loosely was: if you are dating a guy, do not try to become the woman you think he wants you to be. Instead, tell him your plans and ask him about his. If they don’t match up and you decide to end the relationship, know that you have saved yourself and that gentleman a huge amount of frustration in the future.
Apart from the keynotes and panels, another interesting part of the conference was the opportunity to network with a wide variety of Africans currently residing within and outside the US. On a personal note, I was able to connect with people I had met while studying for my undergraduate degree in Nigeria, and had not seen for close to 10 years! This was really exciting, and I was really glad that I got to be part of this large gathering of Africans talking about Africa.