For the next two days I will be journaling about my time at the Harvard Business Schools (HBS): 20th Annual Africa Business Conference (ABS). I will be speaking on the main conference day, Saturday 2 March. I have been inspired since I have arrived and given the challenges it took me to get here I know something significant will happen. I flew from London Heathrow to Boston Logan yesterday, after a canceled flight Thursday evening. It was snowing and colder in London than Cambridge when I checked my app, so I was actually looking forward to mild weather. When we were landing in Boston, the plane was shaking due to a nor’easter that is now plaguing the northeast, USA. When my flight was canceled the night before, I was initially annoyed but realized quickly that I was not meant to be on a plane that day. As I sat there with the plane shaking and shifting in the air and even on the runway due to strong winds and rains, the pilot messages about turbulence and making sure our seatbelts were fastened; I smiled. I smiled because it was clear I was protected and that I was meant to land safely. I spoke about being a woman of faith before and moments like this only amplifies why I am. So I landed, intact. My thanks to the Virgin/Delta pilot and team for getting us to our destination safely.
After landing, there was no time to waste, I checked in at the hotel and headed straight to the VIP events that I could make. My first experience was attending a case study led by Professor John Macomber, a renowned infrastructure expert who is also leading a ‘Doing Business in Africa’ series at HBS. The case study for discussion, Infrastructure in Nigeria: Unlocking Pension Fund Investments is new and written by a Liberian woman, Pippa Tubman Amerding. My ears automatically perked as a Liberian woman, I had a moment of pride that would continue (I’ll come to that later). So we sat there speakers and HBS alums discussing whether this deal would be good for Nigeria. I won’t go into the details of a 36 page case study (we got the executive presentation) but I will say the themes about what it means for investments in Africa and who benefits from them, if investments actually benefits the country in this case Nigeria, what the risk sharing and who loses, and whether deals like these are scalable were discussed at length. During the discussion, Professor Macomber almost jokingly started a war when he digressed to talk about his Ghanaian tie and as someone who is not African, he thought Ghanaian jollof rice was better than Nigerian jollof rice. I, of course, had to speak up and say it was too early for such hostilities at a conference and to settle it, Liberian jollof rice is better #facts. Trust me, find a Liberian friend to make you our jollof rice, it will bless your life.
I then made my way to the keynote address by Raju Kaul, Chief Operating Officer & Head International Markets at Sundial Brand LLC, Manufacturers of Sheamoisture. Here is where my second moment of pride came. Raju is Liberian and this was my first time listening to a Liberian executive speak about their company. Sheamoisture is a Liberian owned company developed using the traditions of Liberian and Sierra Leonean women. I sat there reflecting on why representation matters. I also was appreciative of the representation across the continent at the 20th annual ABS. Usually, when I attend “African” focused events it is typically Nigerian, Ghanaian, South African and Zimbabwean which has an unintended consequence of reinforcing a narrative that Africa is a country, not a continent. While I am focussing on my countrymen here because it is rare to see it, there is strong representation from across the continent at this conference it is no wonder that it is the preeminent event about Africa outside Africa.
I ended my day at the new venture competitions. This was where start-ups had the opportunity to pitch for investment into their companies and explain how that capital would be used. There were 9 presentations in total; however three stood out for me personally. Firstly Oze, a mobile phone app that allows small business owners in Africa to manage their accounting and build analytics to make strategic decisions. Secondly, Tuteria the uber for tutors in Africa. Starting in Nigeria, Tuteria allows students from all ages to get tutored on anything from coding to music. Finally, Nokware skincare was founded by two black women who use natural products created by and for black women. They also source in London, so I will be checking this out.
I then ended my day at the networking reception over good food and conversation. As I headed back to my hotel I was intellectually, emotionally and physically filled.
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