With a thriving economy and the highest entrepreneurship rate in the world, Africa is the place to be for working professionals looking to make their mark. We spoke to three INSEAD MBA alumni from the region about the skill sets needed in Africa, how the INSEAD MBA helped them excel, and what advice they would give to graduates looking to build a successful career in Africa.
What skill sets are needed in Africa today?
“The first is an innovative mindset,” says Deji Adebusoye, INSEAD MBA Class of 2013 and Principal at Sahel Capital, a private equity firm in Nigeria. “You need to be able to break barriers, and then think outside the box. The second thing - and this is more from a soft skills part - is that you need to be able to build relationships. The culture here depends on your ability to build relationships.”
Osen Iyahen, Founder & CEO of environmental sustainability consulting company Optimal Greening in Nigeria, agrees. “From a soft skills standpoint, things like teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills are very important,” she explains.
“And I think critical thinking or problem-solving skills are something that you need in this part of the world because things often don’t go the way that you would hope that they do, and so you have to be able to think quickly and think on your feet to be able to solve problems.” Osen graduated from INSEAD’s MBA programme in 2012.
In terms of hard skills, Osen believes entrepreneurship will dominate the region in years to come. In fact, it already is. According to the African Development Bank, Africa has the highest entrepreneurship rate in the world amongst the working-age population, and the highest percentage of the female adult population engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity (27%).
I believe Africa is the next big thing.
"The continent is full of potential waiting to be harnessed and it needs to be done strategically so that we can get the optimal results,” says Petrine Addae, a public sector consultant in Ghana who graduated from INSEAD in 2017. “And this is where I believe INSEAD would be extremely helpful because the INSEAD MBA is very intentional about its focus on strategy.
Strategy is something that we need because we don’t just go out and tap potential, but we need to do it strategically so that we will maximise the results. So I guess coming to INSEAD and learning more about strategy would help you to excel [in Africa] because you will do things in such a way that optimal results are always achieved.”
Thriving in the unknown: How the INSEAD MBA helps you excel in Africa
INSEAD has helped me to face the unknown,” Deji says. “You meet several people coming from different parts of the world, you go through a one-year hectic, intense period of learning, bonding, socialising, interviewing, and everything just hits you on all sides - and yet you still stand on your two feet.”
He continues, “When I came into private equity, everything was new for me. But here I am, five years after. So, I think one thing INSEAD prepares me for is the ability to go into the unknown and still be able to thrive.”
For Petrine, it was the experience of being thrown into a competitive, diverse environment that challenged her to grow. “When you come to INSEAD, the first thing they do is put you in teams,” she recalls. “And this is a very good thing because Africa is a very diverse continent and it is rich in culture. So, for you to excel in Africa, it means that you need to be able to work with people from different backgrounds, different tribes, different ethnic groups, and even different countries.”
The curriculum also played a big role in shaping the way INSEAD students think. “The courses we take at INSEAD are really rigorous in nature,” Petrine explains. “I found INSEAD to be very, very competitive and this has shaped my way of thinking and doing."
After graduating from INSEAD, I must confess, I am not afraid to take up anything that is competitive in nature. Basically, I’m not afraid of competition because I am not afraid to lose.
Key advice to flourish in Africa
If you want to build a prosperous career in Africa, the INSEAD MBA programme is one to consider. It equips you with the skills and real-life experience needed to succeed and opens up a global network through its alumni community.
"Go for it. The INSEAD MBA is worth it,” Petrine advises. “People who come to INSEAD are amazing students looking to excel. They are always looking for things that will challenge them and they stop at nothing. With the competitive nature of the environment, it actually gives you an upper hand when you graduate. It means you’re already sort of ahead of the average in the world.”
Whether you are new to the region or not, Osen advises, "Reach out to alumni. Set up informational interviews, try to understand what people are doing, what people think is relevant, where they see the trends in Africa, and understand that and stay in touch because you never know what may come in future."
Osen also suggests to "keep an open mind”. When she first started her MBA, she was determined to go into strategy and marketing. But nearly 10 years later, she is now running her own business.
One really never knows how things play out, so just be open-minded, take as many classes with as much breadth as possible, because you’ll never know where that would take you.