Tida’s RLF at AfriLabs, Nigeria (Part 1)

“Tida, don’t smile so much in Nigeria if you want to survive, o!”

“Never leave your food lying around – you could get poisoned!”

“Make sure to tone down your accent so that you don’t seem foreign!”

“Beware those smooth-talking Naija boys!”

“Shine your eye, o!”

This is the advice I got from friends and family on how to ‘survive’ my three months in Abuja, Nigeria. Almost everyone around me seemed worried when I chose to do my Responsible Leaders Fellowship (RLF) there – if you read some of the messages I got, you’d think I was heading out to a war zone! Especially for my Southern African family, my decision to go to Abuja instead of Cape Town (which would only be 2 hops away from home in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe) was beyond comprehension. Let’s just say Nigeria(ns) don’t have the best reputation in Zimbabwe and the image of Nigeria is mainly formed through Nollywood movies whose storylines often centre around witchcraft, cult-killings, drug cartels, kidnappings, love ‘hexagons’ and evil mother-in-laws. Oh, and the fact that my cousin eloped to Nigeria with a Nigerian guy some years back didn’t make matters better for me – mom’s suspicion levels were at maximum 😉

This was not going to be my first time in Nigeria, though, so I was really relaxed and excited about the opportunity – until the week before I left Berlin. Continue reading “Tida’s RLF at AfriLabs, Nigeria (Part 1)”

Internship Bound

So far ESMT has been nothing short of a thrill ride!

It seems like ages ago but I remember when the program started, I was all wide eyed and bushy tailed. Right now, it seems my tail has lost it fluff and my eyes now have depth due to all the short nights and long, long days. I have found myself in the ‘valley of despair’ few times during the first two modules of the program. However, the clouds parted after a while and the sun shone again. Continue reading “Internship Bound”

MIM @ ESMT – Module 2

An update

Amidst all the exams and assignments, I am writing this post because now with a more regular life here in Berlin my judgement would not be biased (and you will learn the significance of this word when you do as it might have been in my first post and also might help maintaining the continuity my first post.

This time of the year most of my class is busy applying for various internships and its tough to find one for a non-German speaker (so you might want to start early!). The career services at ESMT however have been quite useful in arranging some events which are helpful.

My overall experience in the first module was quite great in terms of the quality of professors and also in terms of the broad range of content that was covered during the class. Its quite surprising that in such a short time, we are equipped with a lot of techniques to analyse and make decisions based on data. I have learned various new modelling techniques and am quite impressed by the course content of some of the courses.

5 weeks into the second module, I cannot deny that its taking some time to get used to the work load again after quite a long winter break. Along with the regular work, the ghost of internship still looms. Continue reading “MIM @ ESMT — Module 2”

First month of Master’s in Management

Starting out in Berlin

Hello! I am now an ESMT student and since the start of the program 3 weeks ago, I have been wanting to put everything together including what is going on with the program, the classmates and of course, Berlin! So, I figured this would be the perfect platform to do so, since people might get something
out of this.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-4-20-04-pmThe first few weeks have been really promising, and the first week is the best welcome any university can have for its students, since we all came from different cultures and background, it was really good to have the first week to get to know each other. A usual conversation used to end up about getting to know something or the other about a country you didn’t really know well, also ESMT as well as the city of Berlin helps you with settling in as well.

Teaching Methodology:

Since I come from India, the universities I am accustomed to are a bit different in the sense of teacher student relationship, method of teaching, etc. I was expecting it to be different here, but this fabulous is not what I had expected. We got to meet the various faculties in the first week and a lot of faculties took interest in us personally, and greeted us every day and whenever there was a new class, one of the more familiar faces introduced them to us and so ESMT took a lot of care in making us feel at home (however I think this could be a “trap”). Decision theory is the first subject  we went through and looking back, I am quite amazed how much I have learnt in the last 3 weeks only! It gives me a lot of hope of the coming two years here.

Fellow Students and Classmates:

The students you meet on campus are really friendly and they always help you out with your queries regarding professors, exams, the internships, etc. Its really great to interact with them and have them give you the first take on whats it going to be like for the coming years. With the kind of work they did during their internships and the satisfaction level of each of them is pretty amazing too, it almost feels like career services helped them find the tailored internships somehow.

My classmates have been really really awesome too, they come from such a varied background and the diversity is another feat in itself. We have since the beginning of the program shared some group works, apartment issues, registration in the city, going through the german bureaucratic system together and of course partying together! All of this has had an impact on the class unity and I think we have a great and a verimg_20161010_231245  y interesting blend of people in the batch.

And now, Berlin:

I found myself, again and again, doing Berlin things. There’s really no way around it in Berlin

fotor_147603657571281Well Berlin is one of the most attractive attribute that ESMT students go for (if not the most attractive) and is rightly so. Berlin is a very vibrant city and its an amazing place to be. The people are more or less quite friendly (except for the lady at city registration) and you see a culture which in my opinion is hardly matched by any (and I have been to most of Europe). Sometimes, the nightlife of Berlin what it is glorified for (and rightly so), but the best thing in my opinion about this city is, even for people who don’t party much like me, there are ample of choices and things to do in the city (like Banksy art collection or the festival of lights, a lot  of places with historic significance etc.). Except for the fun part of Berlin another great feature of this city is its start up atmosphere, a lot of young berliners you speak to are very inclined to do something on their own and are generally very motivated in this aspect. There are a lot of start up meet ups which definitely provide anyone with an inclination to get the most out of this city’s ever growing start up space. Although I am yet to visit ESMT’s GTEC, I have heard a lot of amazing stuff about the centre and am very keen to meet them soon!

My main aim of writing this article is to give you a brief idea about the atmosphere and the positive environment around me, which is very highly  facilitated by ESMT’s super awesome faculties, admission team, the career services team, etc who always make you feel at ease and the surrounding ecosystem of your classmates and other study groups which provide you with a unique diverse and growth oriented atmosphere. This is what I think will steer ESMT to greater heights in the coming years!!

The fellowship experience

Last week I returned from my ESMT Responsbile Leaders Fellowship (RLF) in Cape Town. Time flew. Driving to the airport, it felt like yesterday when I drove on the same road exactly five months ago, in the opposite direction. As I was wrapping up in Cape Town, someone asked me why I chose ESMT for my MBA. This made me go over my ESMT application and I found this.

ESMT Application

RLF was one of the major reasons why I chose ESMT. I am passionate about empowerment and was certain of seeking RLF even before I joined ESMT. After the program was introduced to us, TSiBA popped up as an interesting option. TSiBA is a non-profit private B-school in Cape Town that offers business degree to the underprivileged, and business training and mentoring to disadvantaged entrepreneurs. After talking to the MBAs from the past year who had done their fellowship at TSiBA, I was convinced that it fits my bill perfectly.

Why TSiBA?
Early in my life, I learnt that when one chooses to focus on problems, one sees only more problems, but the moment focus shifts to possibilities, we see opportunities. This is a paradigm shift in thinking which is very difficult to attain given the nature of circumstances you grow up in such areas. There is a lot of conditioning you go through that you have to undo in order to make that shift. And I believe examples are the best way to demonstrate this possibility. I chose TSiBA because I saw the opportunity to be that example. When I learnt of the circumstances the entrepreneurs and students at TSiBA go through in life, I thought I could share my experiences with them to instill the belief that it is possible. I however don’t think this can happen over a guest lecture or talk. I was convinced that being a part of their learning journey is the best way to make that impact, and I saw RLF providing me that opportunity.

The RLF Experience @ TSiBA
TSiBA is a great organisation and I loved the experience there. There are a lot of things to do, and there is a shortage of skilled people who are willing to support. So when I started there, I got to chose what I wanted to do. TSiBA gave me complete freedom in executing the projects that I had taken up. Staff members are very friendly, supportive and collaborative. They are more like a family than coworkers. There is a lot of friendly banter in the staff room. Interactions with students were energising and humbling. The RLF experience made several indelible impressions on me that I am sure will stay with me for a long time. Here are the most important lessons I learnt.

Planning is good, having an open mind better!
The MBA experience gave me fresh perspective on how things don’t always go as planned, and helped me appreciate how important it is to be temperamentally ready to handle any kind of situation, not only in business but also in life. The RLF @ TSiBA helped me put this to practice. Last October, when I interviewed with TSiBA, we agreed on the areas that I would support TSiBA with. By the time I arrived in Cape Town, more than 3 months had passed, and things had changed a lot. The work that I wanted to do was not possible due to unforeseen circumstances. Instead I had a completely different set of projects to choose from. And I chose to manage a brand new program, Juta-TSiBA-EME program, which involved building a small business, ground up, in a tripartite set up.

Juta-TSiBA-EME Program
This program is a concerted effort by two organisations committed to black empowerment in South Africa. The program was conceived of in late 2015 and the execution began in February 2016. The program was sponsored by Juta, a leading publishing house in South Africa. The vision of the program was empowerment of the disadvantaged. The goal was to identify a disadvantaged black entrepreneur and to use donated stock to set up an Exempt Micro Enterprise (EME) business. Juta chose TSiBA to do that and I anchored the program execution for TSiBA. My activities involved research of the target market, coming up with a value proposition for the business, building partnerships with potential partners, drafting contracts for the tripartite collaboration, and selection of a previously disadvantaged black entrepreneur as the business partner (to take up the business once I leave South Africa). To provide experiential learning to entrepreneurship students, I anchored the end-to-end execution of the student project of the program as well. Towards this, I created simple processes for stock reporting, pricing, order placement, invoicing, payments, order collection, stock returns, and reporting. I also provided business coaching and mentoring to students. This was a complete start up experience for me. I learnt a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Student project launch

I went to Cape Town with an open mind about my work. And in retrospect, I think this mindset helped me see the opportunities available rather than getting disappointed by the changed circumstances.

Preparing for failure is an important business skill
The most important lesson I learnt from the Juta program is, how important it is in business to be prepared for failure. My lack of exposure to business landscape in South Africa made the selection of an entrepreneur the more challenging of the work-streams I had to manage. When we announced the program and invited applications, there were quite a few interested in coming onboard as the EME. One of the applicant teams showed the drive and motivation required for our program. We interviewed and found them suitable for the EME. The prospects sounded promising. We were about to confirm their selection, and they pulled out citing workload and alignment issues. In the meantime, the interest of other parties also dwindled and I missed the deadline to select the EME. Within a few weeks, things that seemed very promising faded away one after the other, and I was not prepared for that. This was a major jolt to the program. What I learnt from this experience is that in business even the most promising lead may not materialise and being prepared for that eventuality is very important. This learning came in handy in another project. A few Northeastern University (USA) and TSiBA students collaborated to start a social enterprise and agreed to have me in an advisory role. Drawing from the failure of the Juta program, I was able to make recommendations for strategy that ensured that we were prepared for failures and thereby we could better manage the risks.

You learn a lot more when you teach/coach
At TSiBA, I had a variety of interactions with students. As part of the student project of Juta program, I coached students on setting up businesses and mentored a few of them. I also had an opportunity to be a tutor for entrepreneurship and leadership. There were many brilliant ideas discussed, personal stories and issues shared and discussed, ideas challenged, solutions proposed and debated, agreements and disagreements, viewpoints countered and so on. Those discussions helped me learn a lot about the South African culture, and I also felt I got a good understanding of how the youth think (Not saying that I have grown old!). The element of vicarious learning associated with such interactions is fascinating and it taught me a lot. There were many eureka moments when sharing my experiences and beliefs with students gave me a fresh perspective on my life.

Wrap up
The feedback on my programs has been very positive and the results promising. In a span of three months, the student arm of Juta program sold 1,571 books, resulting in a revenue of ZAR 18,105.30.

Revenue

At the time of my leaving Cape Town, the EME had sold about 140 books and generated about ZAR 12,600 in revenue. The revenue from the student project and a part of the EME revenue will go to TSiBA scholarship fund for future students. Reading through the reflection papers submitted by students at the closure of the student project, I felt the project met its goal of providing experiential learning to the students. Personally for me, what stood out was students giving feedback that my guidance helped them sell to customers, made them think differently about doing business, and that they made real changes to their business approach.

Farewell

Thanks to ESMT and TSiBA for the wonderful opportunity!
santom