“Cold-calling and emailing alumni simply cannot compare to chatting with them over drinks and explaining that you had a leadership role in organizing the conference they came back to campus to attend.”
Wharton Africa Business Forum
Shalewa Odusanya , WG’16, Mo Abudu, Divinty Matovu, WG’17, Dimia Fogam ,  WG’17

Having lived and worked in East Africa before business school, I was ecstatic to join the team for Wharton’s 23rd Annual Africa Business Forum (WABF23) and make an impact during my first semester on campus.

Helping organize this conference has been one of the most rewarding leadership experiences I’ve had at Wharton so far — I led the design and implementation of the social media marketing strategy for #WABF23 (you can see some of my work on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).

In the spirit of our Forum theme for 2015 — My Africa Story: Lessons in business, visions for impact, here are 5 lessons I learned from this opportunity:

1. Conference planning is an amazing leadership opportunity for first-year MBAs.

First-year MBA students are bombarded with leadership opportunities. For me, this myriad of opportunities is a blessing. However, it can complicate the process of opting into roles that will challenge you, strengthen you as a leader, and enable you to make a significant impact on a team. While the time commitment for WABF23 was significant for me, I got an immense amount of value from the experience.

I came into Wharton wanting to evolve as a leader. Rather than leading solely by authority, one of my key professional development goals is to learn and practice methods to lead by influence. WABF23 gave me the chance  —  in a low-risk environment  —  to test methodologies that aligned with these goals while also connecting with second-year student leaders.

2. Being involved in a three-day, two-night conference requires diligent child care planning.

In total, there were about 28 hours of programming planned for this conference between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. That is 28 hours I was away from my 3-year-old daughter Nyah, on campus, helping to ensure the smooth flow of the conference operations. That is also 28 hours to pay a childcare provider for his/her services.

Thankfully, my good friend Lara agreed to come down to Philadelphia from New York for the weekend to help me with Nyah so I could attend the conference. This saved me at least $500 in childcare costs, and required diligent planning on both of our parts. Teamwork makes the dream work  —  so after a few weeks of emailing back and forth, Lara had a full calendar of activities to keep Nyah engaged while I focused on the conference. The peace of mind of knowing Nyah was well taken care of while I was at the conference was invaluable.

3. Don’t be shy  —  be BOLD!

The conference speaker line-up was stellar. Our bill of keynote speakers featured:

  • Hakeem Belo-Osagie  —  Chairman, Etisalat Nigeria
  • Mosunmola Abudu  —  Founder, EbonyLife TV
  • Colin Coleman  —  Managing Partner, Goldman Sachs, Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Anna Bossman  —  Director , Integrity and Anti-Corruption Division, African Development Bank Group
  • Lucy Quist  —  Chief Executive Officer, Airtel Ghana

After hearing from so many accomplished leaders from various industries during the conference, one of my key take-aways is that being bold is the only prerequisite to success. Shying away and failing to seize opportunities is a sure way to guarantee you don’t secure that dream job, launch that start-up, or even get a date.

I was especially impacted by Mo Abudu’s keynote speech. I loved that  —  in the midst of giving valuable career advice  —  she also addressed her role as a mother and her children’s influence in her life. She boldly shared with the audience that she never viewed her career success and having children as mutually exclusive. Of the many gems of wisdom she dropped during her speech, I took this one to heart and was so excited to get a photo with her and my Wharton colleagues, Dimia and Shalewa.

4. Take advantage of unique opportunities to network with alumni.

As the MBA recruiting season kicked into high gear, many of my classmates were scanning the goldmine that is Wharton’s alumni directory to reach out to people working in their industry or working at companies where they want to work. Cold-calling and emailing alumni simply cannot compare to chatting with them over drinks and explaining that you had a leadership role in organizing the conference they came back to campus to attend.

Wharton’s Africa Business Forum always brings many alumni back to campus. These alumni are at different stages of their careers  —  some of them are newly minted associates at Wall Street’s top investment banks while others are senior in their careers or have launched companies.

5. Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the moment.

Sometimes, when planning an event, it can be hard to stop and enjoy the moment. You can get so wrapped up in making sure everything runs smoothly. You can get preoccupied with ensuring that everyone is having a good time that you forget to have fun and network

I’ve been there and done that during my undergraduate organizing days, so I came to WABF23 fully prepared to be present in the moment. I had a wonderful time at the WABF23 black-tie gala and after-party at the Regent’s ballroom of Loews hotel.

Divinity with classmates after Wharton Africa’s black-tie gala.

Reflecting on the WABF23 experience, I cultivated special relationships with my classmates throughout the weeks of conference planning and preparation. This experience set the pace for my first year at Wharton and is undoubtedly one of the best experiences I’ve had so far during my MBA.

This piece is adapted from a post that originally appeared on MBA Mama.

Posted: April 20, 2016

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