The Cambridge MBA opens new doors, it allows you to be curious and to explore unexpected opportunities; to develop a global network, make lifelong friendships and benefit from renowned academic faculty. This is what I was promised, and I feel privileged that this was what I discovered to be true.
The Global Consulting Project (GCP) is one of the signature projects for the Cambridge MBA, and I was more than excited when I was assigned to a project with London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) earlier this year. I had already been working to support innovation and to grow start-ups in Africa, during my work in United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) before my Cambridge MBA. The GCP project was a joint initiative between LSEG and African Women on Board (AWB), to identify barriers and unconscious bias for female entrepreneurs when funding, scaling and operating business across Africa.
However, the much-anticipated project began with a surprise, the global pandemic. The first meeting in early March at LSEG went online, and the field research planned in either Nigeria, Kenya, or Egypt was subsequently cancelled altogether. Although I tried to see challenges as opportunities, it took a little while for me to accept the reality of the situation, because I believe that to see ‘Gemba’ (front-line) and meet people face to face is essential to understanding the facts and engage with the growing ecosystem. In late March, we had to handle our own physical environment and make decisions about whether to stay in Cambridge or leave the country. The UK Government advice and the subsequent guidance from Cambridge University was being updated day by day. The good news at the time, was that my GCP team members were very supportive and encouraging, and we were all working to do our best in an unprecedented situation. Moreover, shifting all the interviews online actually offered us more opportunities for the research, resulting in many more interviews taking place than had originally been envisaged.
We eventually conducted 28 interviews across 5 countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa – gathering insights from entrepreneurs, inventors, and corporate executives, who were all professional, passionate, and open to sharing their experience. We focused on these countries because 85% of venture investment in Africa in 2019 went to Nigeria (37%), Kenya (28%), Egypt (10%), and South Africa (10%) (Partech Partners, 2020).
While the total amount of venture investment to the continent overall in 2019, grew to 2.02 Billion USD (+74% YoY), the amount of funding made available for female entrepreneurs was limited to only 264 Million (+35% YoY). Although the development of the wider startup ecosystem is in a range of stages across these countries, we found the growth opportunities, as well as common barriers, towards female entrepreneurs in particular, included access to knowledge, access to capital, access to networks, meritocracy, socio-cultural norms and business goals.
Through the Cambridge MBA GCP project, I not only learnt about our research themes, but I was also able to apply and further develop a wide range of Cambridge MBA skills, including learning to project manage in an unstable global environment. Staying positive and keeping focused was key across the team, to build our resilience to external factors beyond our control during the Covid-19 outbreak. A forward-looking email, or an encouraging word fostered strong bonds across the team, and ensured we continued to remain proactive. Team dynamics matter – finding the strengths of individual team members and allocating tasks effectively throughout the project was key to its success. I also personally learnt to enjoy a challenge. It is important to find joy in a project, despite any circumstances going on behind the scenes. For me, it was a pleasure to get to know new people, explore new insights, as well as working with people who had different work styles, a different perspective and perhaps different ways of understanding a problem.
I would like to thank to London Stock Exchange Group and African Women on Board for giving me and the team this amazing opportunity, as well as guiding us carefully through to a successful conclusion for our Cambridge MBA Global Consulting Project.
The project client thanked the MBA GCP team, ‘London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG) was delighted to partner with the University of Cambridge’s Global Consulting Project (GCP) programme for yet another successful research venture. Although the Covid-19 pandemic dampened our proposed research approach, the efforts and enthusiasm demonstrated by the Cambridge MBA expert team, ensured that all research requirements were met and a quality output was provided. LSEG would like, in particular, to commend the team for their extraordinary efforts in creating a sense of comradery and pushing through in these unprecedented times’, Ibukun Adebayo Director, Co-Head Emerging Markets International Markets Unit, London Stock Exchange Group
Cambridge MBA Head of Business Development, Sadia Cuthbert, said, ‘This MBA GCP explores an important topic – how to enable women entrepreneurs in Africa to participate as forceful economic agents. Working with the London Stock Exchange Group on this very important topic, the students learned about the barriers that need to be removed to allow women entrepreneurship to flourish. I am impressed by how quickly the team adapted to the new COVID world during the project – a true example of agility and impact during the global pandemic’.
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