In September, Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo gave a talk at Yale School of Management in which he extolled a new age on the African continent that will harness economic development to create a new, more prosperous future for Africans. “Democracy and freedom,” Akufo-Addo said, “are providing the political, social, and economic platforms for Africa’s long-awaited development. Africa is on the cusp of building a great new civilization, one which will unleash the great energy and potential of the African people.”
For Molabowale Williams, a member of the Yale Class of 2020 and a native of Lagos, Nigeria, those words ring true — and they are especially true of his home country. Nigeria, after all, is Africa’s economic engine in terms of nominal GDP, the world’s seventh-largest country with a population of nearly 200 million that is on track to be No. 5 by 2050. No wonder, Williams says, students from there are clamoring for an elite business education — and schools are eager to welcome them.
“On one hand, I think schools are responding to increased demand from Nigerians for a world-class education which is being matched by strong academic/quantitative performances and competitive and compelling MBA applications,” says Williams, 26, a former Citibank analyst who earned an economics degree from American University of Nigeria in 2012. “On the other hand, I think these business schools are also very interested in training leaders that have the potential to help Nigeria/Africa develop and grow. Basically these institutions are hopeful that they can shape the future of Africa with education.”
FLEXIBLE ABOUT LOCATION, BUT PLANNING TO RETURN TO AFRICA
Williams worked in strategy and analytics in corporate and investment banking and hopes to continue in those functions post-MBA. However, he’d like to move into a different industry, including, possibly, international development. Eventually, he says, he’ll return to Africa to utilize his talents.
“I think Nigerians offer a multi-dimensional and deep view of complex problem-solving. This is probably because we come from an environment where you have to develop multiple contingency plans to survive, and navigating the business environment is not as straightforward as it is might be in the U.S. and Europe,” Williams tells Poets&Quants. “I think our unique perspective on problems adds something different to the MBA classroom.”
Though African representation in business schools has not traditionally been high, Williams says he has met many Nigerian students at Yale SOM. That’s not why he chose to go there, though. “I chose Yale SOM because the program is guided by its mission to educate leaders for business and society,” he says. “In many ways I identified with this mission because I want to be able to make a positive impact on people and the society with my career. I considered other programs in North America that I felt had similar values and would provide the resources and platform to further develop myself.
“My plan is to work abroad for some time before returning to the African continent. However, there are also interesting and challenging opportunities in Africa that I am exploring. An MBA is supposed to stretch you and give you a different way of thinking, so I came in with a flexible mindset about location. Instead I’m trying to focus on the kind of work and impact I want to make after graduation. I don’t envision that getting a work visa will be straightforward, for various reasons, so my strategy is to focus on the value I can bring to the organization and be adaptable about location, because sometimes work visas are outside a company’s control.”
A CALL FOR SMALLER SCHOOLS TO CONSIDER NIGERIA
Back in Lagos, Joseph Bassey wants what Molabowale Williams has. The 32-year-old procurement supervisor at Olam Grains, an international agribusiness company, came to the MBA Tour event hoping for guidance in his quest to attend a top North American or European school. He wasn’t disappointed.
“The experience was fantastic,” he tells P&Q. “Rarely do we experience such opportunity without an exuberant price tag attached to it. It was a great experience and an opportunity to meet face to face and interact with top academic officials, representing some of the best universities in the world. I truly believe that this experience will not leave the hearts and minds of the Nigerian youths that were present. From the questions being asked by the aspiring students to the one-on-one interactions, you could see the hunger and passion to learn and desire to gain knowledge on the untapped educational opportunity relating to business and entrepreneurship.
“The representatives did an outstanding job on answering all the questions to the best of their ability, giving great tips on how to apply to their MBA programs, take the GMAT, write your essay, and preparing your application in general.”
If he had one suggestion for the future, it would be for more middle-tier schools to get involved. Nigeria is not a rich country, despite its geopolitical economic prowess, and smaller schools could find much interest there.
“I hope for more opportunities like this to grace Nigeria, but not only the top MBA schools which come with high tuition fees,” Bassey says. “Let’s not forget that a majority of our citizens are going through severe financial strain and this will always be a factor for Third World countries. Going forward I would like to see some middle-class international schools coming to organize tours, workshops, on-the-spot admissions, and the like.”