Meet the MBA Class of 2021: Ifeoma Okonkwo, Ivey Business School

Ifeoma Okonkwo

Ivey Business School at Western University

“Environmentalist, wildlife conservationist, and a former competing gymnast. But my ultimate passion is service to people.”

Hometown: London UK, Lagos, Nigeria

Fun Fact About Yourself: I owned a successful enterprise for a short time, I used to breed and sell catfish. At one time I had over 300,000 fish in my pond.

Graduate School and Major: University of West of England Bristol: BSc Environmental Management

University of Manchester; Msc Environment and Development

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Aniuzo Palm Kernel Oil Mill: Sustainability and Operations Manager

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Resilience/Resourceful: When we had to move to online classes due to COVID-19, it was tough as can be expected, but I saw my classmates rise to the occasion like true leaders. We did our best to simulate an in-person class as much as possible. We agreed to turn off our phones, not to use the zoom chat, and ensure that everyone can contribute in class discussion. Outside of class, I saw my classmates try to stay active and social with the new reality, by hosting virtual yoga, virtual wine nights, even virtual mental health check sessions. Besides being some of the brightest and diverse individuals I have ever met, their willingness to support each other is comforting, especially, for an international student like me.

How has the case method enriched your learning?  The case method was definitely a new experience for me, being put on the spot and asked to challenge my ideas, was daunting in the beginning. However, I have learned to trust my ideas and my unique creative problem-solving skills and broaden my knowledge from a variety of diverse opinions and experiences from my classmates.

Aside from classmates and cases, what part of the school’s MBA programming led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? The alumni network: Ivey’s awesome alumni network is one I heard of before I applied to Ivey, and I can say the strong alumni network is very real. The alumni are always willing to give their time and resources to help during this journey into career management. I have learned as much from them as I have from the program. The guidance and support is important for me new to Canada with no connections. The strong alumni has provided me with a springboard to success.

You moved online quickly after arriving on campus due to COVID-19. What has the transition been? How has an online platform impacted your relationships with your peers? It was difficult to adjust because we had only four days in class. Everyone was excited to start what would be a phenomenal year, so, when the lockdown happened, it was a shock.  Adjusting to carrying out the case method on zoom was a challenge because zoom doesn’t allow for rebuttals and easy flowing conversations.

It also made it difficult to connect and get to know the rest of the cohort, especially those in a different section. However, now that some of the restrictions are being lifted, we can meet in smaller groups. Being isolated from each other these past few months makes meeting in person so emotional; it’s like the lockdown never happened. I do believe that after overcoming adversity together, we will only become stronger as a cohort. We are the Ivey class of COVID-19.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Whilst working at the UN, I delivered a program that provided training and micro-finance to 200,000 young farmers in East and West Africa. The project provides these young farmers with skills for breeding rabbits for meat (and tilapia as well_, which helped reduce the rate of malnutrition significantly in the communities.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? As an environmentalist, my primary focus has been conservation and sustainability. I always viewed businesses as evil corporations looking to pollute and reduce biodiversity. Having worked in Africa’s largest e-commerce platform and in a Palm oil mill, I began to understand better the synergies and complexities between the environment and the corporate world. Therefore, an MBA is imperative at this point in my career as I would like to understand how businesses work and how we can better integrate the environment and sustainability into business decisions.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I always knew I wanted to move to Canada, do a year program, and be taught using the case method of. Ivey was the only program that provided all three.

What did you do during the application process that enabled you to get accepted into Ivey? This will sound cliché, but I was 100% myself. I showed that I would how I would be an addition to my classmates because of my diverse background, but also my willingness to learn from them. Above all, I showed vulnerability and imperfection during my interview, which is what I believe made me the perfect candidate.

What is the biggest epiphany you’ve gained about yourself or the world since you started at Ivey? Define what success means for you

Being the first VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Ivey, during COVID-19 era and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement presented unique challenges I could not have predicted at all. I had to juggle classes, recruiting, my MBAA duties, and questions about Diversity and Inclusion from my cohort for which I did not have the answers. I was trying so hard to be successful at everything that I was burning out. The program throws so much at you, that eventually, you’ll have to prioritize what takes precedence.

I realized I had to redefine what success meant for me, some days it was focusing on my MBAA duties, which meant that I wasn’t 100% ready for all my cases, and that’s okay. I can’t do everything, but I can try.

It’s all about progress, not perfection.


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