This summer, I took a solo trip to Accra, Ghana for my internship at OZÉ Limited. OZÉ is a financial technology company that encourages business to digitize their sales and transactions to grow their enterprise and provides access to affordable capital. In January, OZÉ raised a $700K seed round. I worked directly with Co-Founder, Meghan McCormick, who is an MIT and Harvard Kennedy School graduate. She mentored me, gave weekly feedback on my projects, and guided me through entrepreneurial aspects of her company’s journey, including meetings in French with the African Development Bank.
The summer between the first and second year of business school is an important time to gain new skills and validate your professional goals. While many students enjoy their internships, an overwhelming number of MBAs re-recruit during the second year – for a variety of reasons. Personally, while I loved my internship at OZÉ, their business model is focused on local Ghanian and Nigerian talent, so I knew to not expect a return offer. This significantly reduced my anxiety and allowed me to work hard without performance pressures. I stretched myself to learn SQL and develop a short-term lending product for micro SMEs, work I had never done before. I bet on myself and took on projects that developed my strategic and analytical skills in West Africa so I could follow my passion. I made connections in Ghana and a positive impact within the community this summer.
DON’T NEED TO “HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER”
I met Meghan in January and we chatted about how she started OZÉ and her challenges related to securing VC funding. I expressed my interest in staying connected with the company; Meghan promised to keep me in the loop once the MBA venture fellow application opened. Sure enough, in April, Meghan emailed me with the details to apply. Getting to know founders and other business professionals in your target region or industry is essential to building your brand and rubbing elbows with future leaders. Every conversation serves as a positive impression that resonates with someone for a future meaningful opportunity.
Making the most of your summer internship involves setting goals, seeking feedback early, and connecting with other employees to integrate into the workplace culture. This year, many internships were remote or offered a hybrid option; some companies offered in-person retreats and team-building activities. Over the summer, I benefited from OZÉ’s hybrid model. The office is located in a co-working space and there are 30 employees across the teams in Ghana and Nigeria. A typical work cadence is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and everyone is permitted two days each week to work from home. The co-working space organized the teams off-site and there were also OZÉ team outings to connect with my colleagues outside the office.
Undoubtedly, making office connections can influence your professional experience. I remember chatting with two OZÉ employees before I accepted the internship. They encouraged me to “be curious and come as I am.” They added that I should not worry about “having it all together because everyone is learning as they go”. This commentary gave me peace and confidence to accept the position; I am so thankful I followed my intuition to move to Accra for the internship. I am fully vaccinated and this was my first time in Ghana. My colleagues made my trip exciting, memorable, and full of adventure. They helped me navigate how to order street food and find fabric to get clothing made. They even recommended social clubs and restaurants to me. They called establishments for me to verify information and even helped me find an FX trader to exchange money.
LEARNING THE ROPES
I benefitted tremendously from learning other aspects of the operation through OZÉ’s daily 20-minute “stand-up meetings”. Here, all company employees share their daily workload and key objectives for the day to collaborate on solutions and push company targets. I was exposed to customer acquisitions and marketing functions in Ghana, and pricing projects for the Nigeria office. Both of these complemented my workstream and I was able to contribute to existing projects outside of my scope.
One of my projects was to create a short-term lending product and this required both data due diligence and qualitative interviews with local Ghanaian businesses that use OZÉ. This component necessitated me to work with one of the undergraduate interns, Jesse, at Ashesi University. Together — and with another business coach at OZÉ, Prince — we spent two days traveling to six businesses that included cosmetics, catering, recyclable bags, and auto parts to conduct qualitative research interviews. Jesse and Prince are brilliant, knowledgeable, and helped me synthesize the interview data to create a flow chart that outlined the process and usage guidelines for the short-term lending feature. The product successfully launched before my internship ended and I am awaiting the outcome for this trial market product. Providing access to working capital is a key growth driver for any enterprise, and my passion for business development in Africa was further ignited during this hands-on project.
My other project at OZÉ focused on learning SQL, R Studio, and the AI algorithm that processes customer creditworthiness and determines their lending capacity. Interestingly enough, credit scores are not available as an evaluative measure for SMEs and financial institutions. Despite this, we need business data to access financial aptitude. The wonderful Ashesi interns also supported me in this effort to troubleshoot the algorithm and determine creditworthiness for enterprises based on their operating history. I worked to process the first customer loan for Nigeria using this model.
ENGAGING WITH LOCAL TALENT
I do not have a data systems or coding background, but I agreed to manage this project to expand my analytical thinking. SQL and R Studio are both open source and most information is available online. Still, I had to ask for help when I was stuck. Meghan and I had weekly check-ins to discuss any project deliverables, share feedback, and have open dialogue for leadership training. Her direct mentorship helped me improve my business perspective in Africa and my structural approach to problem-solving. I quickly realized that Western technology and American logic were ineffective within less developed enterprises. For perspective, businesses are uncomfortable connecting the OZÉ application with their bank accounts due to a lack of government trust and transparency.
Meghan’s candid insights spurred me to innovate and she also guided me within my long-term career trajectory. She connected me with several entrepreneurs. They included Miishe Addy of Jetstream, a logistics company that recently raised $3M and Samlara Baah, founder of Loo Works, a sanitation company. Over small group dinners, we discussed funding entrepreneurial ventures and life adjustments when you relocate internationally. These conversations were incredibly helpful to understand professional agility and budding career opportunities across West Africa.
My Wharton/Lauder classmate, Jordan Anoma, also connected with local Ghanian entrepreneurs and professionals to ensure I had agility on the young professional social scene. He introduced me to Maudo Jallow, who currently works in the Office of the President in Gambia for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. Maudo is also the founder of Prime Years, an event-planning company that connects like-minded young achievers committed to working together to discover and fulfill their true potential across Africa. I attended his event in July, which consisted of a panel focused on government and political actions that have social implications for young Africans. We discussed the SARS movement, government and business relationships, and interactions within the energy sector. The event concluded with brunch and networking.
AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE
I was educated about the first-hand political impact of social and economic unrest. At the same time, I engaged with resilient young professionals. Many of them are highly educated but cannot find fulfilling job prospects, so they started their own venture. Many of them knew Meghan and spoke so highly of her work ethic and OZE’s positive impact among Ghanian small businesses. My connection to Meghan immediately gave me social validation and opened other opportunities.
This included volunteering at the Osu Correctional Centre. Here, I facilitated entrepreneurship training to teenagers aged 12-17. In addition, I shared my entrepreneurial journey and gave insights on SMART goal setting and practical ways to monetize their vocational skills in a service-focused economy. This was a highlight of my Accra experience, where I was able to reinvest my time back into a community.
My professional experience in Ghana was unforgettable and it was a stretch experience that has framed my perspective as I consider new opportunities across Africa. I evolved my technical and product management. I also made ever-lasting social and business connections to support my career trajectory on the continent. Further, as a 2Y Lauder student, I plan to leverage my perspective both in the classroom and in my graduation thesis. My summer internship truly boosted my professional confidence and I am excited to reconnect with my classmates for a masked in-person second year!
Stay tuned and I hope to see you “Living on Locust” with soul, purpose, and a spirit of collaboration!
Azline is from Waterloo, IA and became a National Gates Millennium Scholar in 2009. She studied International studies and French at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, and graduated Cum Laude in 2013. During her undergraduate tenure, she studied abroad in Fort-de-France, Martinique, and Geneva, Switzerland and also interned at Black Entertainment Network and Google, Inc. Azline worked for Delta Air Lines for seven years before starting a dual degree MBA/MA program at the Wharton School and the Lauder Institute.