2023 MBA To Watch: Helena Jennifer Afordoanyi, Boston University (Questrom)

Helena Jennifer Afordoanyi

Boston University, Questrom School of Business

“I am a woman who is persistent, resilient and full of grit.”

Hometown: Accra, Ghana

Fun fact about yourself: I love toddlers, so I volunteered at a nursery in Ghana after high school and taught 4-year-olds how to read and write. The kids I taught are now freshmen in college!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, BSc Land Economy

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Old Mutual Ghana as a Financial Advisor selling insurance in partnership with a multinational bank

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? I was on a Leave of Absence from my MBA program in 2022. I did a double internship in 2021, one with Food System Foresight, a boutique food consulting firm based in New York (although I worked remotely from Ghana due to the pandemic). I coordinated a design-thinking SPRINT that brought together key stakeholders in the food industry across multiple regions in Europe, the US and Africa in a virtual space. The purpose was to find solutions to food safety issues in informal markets.

I built the collaborative virtual workspaces that allowed the participants to run the SPRINT. Prior to the conference, I curated bite-sized recaps of past dialogues among the stakeholders into learning lab podcasts. These podcasts served as a refresher for the participants to prepare them for the conference. By the end of the conference, the stakeholders created low-fidelity prototypes of food safety interventions which they then presented to the global funding agencies.

Where will you be working after graduation? Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

VP of Operations – Christian Business Group

Graduate Assistant – Strategic Operations and Initiatives Support – Feld Center for Career and Alumni Engagement, Questrom School of Business

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During my one-year leave of absence, I became co-founder for a robotics startup in Ghana and led the team to win a grant to produce a working prototype of a smart irrigation system. It was exciting to see my influence in the start-up because, before joining, the founder (an engineer) proposed multiple directions to grow the firm. These directions seemed impactful but not practical and were beyond the scope of the start-up’s capabilities at the time.

It was great to shape the vision of the startup towards a more urgent and plausible need in the community vis-a-vis the startup’s current abilities. My addition to the firm’s leadership gave managerial direction and gave the startup a push in the right direction.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am proud to have developed and launched The Breakfast Soirée, an agri-food processing business in a developing country. Despite the infrastructure challenges, it was a profitable business that I managed for over three years. While my foray into entrepreneurship offered me the opportunity to gain unique insights into the vast business opportunities available in agriculture in Ghana, it also revealed the urgent need for me to acquire the skills required to grow and manage an impact-driven business.

This entrepreneurial journey led me not only to apply to and gain admission in a top MBA program, but also win a full-tuition scholarship, as a minority from Accra, Ghana. Entrepreneurship taught me to embrace risks and that “everything worth doing, is worth doing well”.

Why did you choose this business school? During my entrepreneurial journey, I discovered a dire lack of innovation in the agricultural sector, especially in Ghana, a country which is rich in resources and agricultural potential.  I found this to be one of the primary reasons why such an important industry is unable to contribute significantly to the economy. Bridging this gap has become my life’s goal. It was compelling to see a continent with numerous resources and business opportunities, yet plagued with poverty, and still lagging in development.

Hence, I chose Questrom’s MBA program because it was the right program to equip me with the knowledge and innovative skills required to increase value in African agriculture through its Innovation and Entrepreneurship concentration (now Pathway). I particularly chose Boston University because of the Build Lab, an incubator that brings together and nurtures student entrepreneurs to churn their ideas into reality. Additionally, Boston University is nestled in Boston, a commercial hub in the US that attracts droves of promising young talents, creating an ecosystem of student-entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Prof Greg Stoller. His enthusiasm when facilitating classes, passion for entrepreneurship, swiftness to respond to emails, always welcoming charisma, and candid self. His array of case protagonists who graced the class as guest speakers presented real-life scenarios and brought more practicality to the entrepreneur’s journey beyond the print.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? This is a tough one. I loved all the strategy classes, but Competitive Strategy by Prof Andy King stands out the most. Many of the cases that were discussed in the class were ones that I had previously researched during my entrepreneurial journey, prior to business school:  (1) Coke wars and learning how Coke sells a feeling and not a product; (2) understanding that Kodak was not even in the camera industry to begin with; and (3) the almighty question: is Tesla a car company, a tech company, an energy company or an innovation company?

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The Internal Fund for Social Impact:  This is a fund set up and run by students where, each year, current students who have secured an internship or a job, are encouraged to donate one day of their salary paycheck to support the fund. The fund supports other colleagues in unpaid internships. This speaks to the strong community and support system at Questrom.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why?  I would explore the city of Boston more. I was so engrossed in the Questrom community that I missed out on events and city life that I could have enjoyed in the Greater Boston area as a student.

What is the biggest myth about your school?  It is the assumption that Boston is a sports city so I expected tons of running and athletic groups. Previously an athlete, I looked forward to joining student running groups. I was shocked about how I never heard any of my colleagues mention going for runs together.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? I love the Massachusetts Bay Transport System, popularly known as the T. It provides a convenient and economical way to move around the city. Learning how to navigate the T was a whole course on its own.  I love how well-planned it is. What was initially frustrating became a fun and exciting adventure!

What surprised you the most about business school? The crucial skill and almighty word “networking”! Prior to Business School, I naturally enjoyed connecting with mentors and older business executives to learn about their career trajectories. I was surprised to discover how significant this skill was to succeeding in an MBA program.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I thoroughly researched the Questrom MBA curriculum to learn all facets of the program, including the companies that hired from the school. That way, I was able to ensure that my goals aligned to the program’s curriculum, concentrations (now Pathways), club activities, and student-engagements. During the application process, I saw that my goals could be achieved at Questrom and my personal statement was able to reflect that.

 Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Kavya Nagabhusan – She was always present for her peers anytime anyone needed her assistance. I loved her kindness.

 What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1. To build an African owned and managed agricultural sector conglomerate focusing on sustainable food chains that reduce food waste and preserves nutrients

2. To speak English, Spanish and French fluently

What made Helena such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Helena was an absolute pleasure to have as a graduate student. She was in my MBA Entrepreneurship class this past fall and worked tirelessly both inside and outside of the classroom. She was regularly in touch with me to clarify concepts in class that she wasn’t fully comfortable with, but also in many cases to learn more, or even debate me on their merits. Inside the classroom, she was an active participant both individually during case discussions, and also working alongside her teammates with group projects. I can’t think of a better nominee from the Questrom School of Business as one of our best and brightest students.”

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF MBAS TO WATCH IN 2023

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.