Mandela Washington Fellowship at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
Early this year, I was in the beautiful Marrakech mountains in Morocco exploring the wonders of nature on the back of a camel when I had an epiphany – the future of Africa lies in its ability to develop and create an enabling environment for its burgeoning youth.
As the saying goes, “A short pencil is better than a long memory”, thus, I quickly drafted the concept notes for this idea on my phone - ready to be explored with my team. Now back at the bus after an exhilarating experience and in network reach, my phone kept buzzing with notifications and the first email notification I saw was from the US Embassy in Ghana with a congratulatory message – I had been selected to participate in the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders by the US Department of State. That’s a breath of fresh air for a dreamer like me to go into the land of the free and the home of the brave with the opportunity to learn in a different way and network in ways capable to open the matrix and give wings to my dreams and vision for a better world. Could it have been any better, when a follow-up email by IREX notified me that I was placed in the Leadership in Business track at the esteemed Northwestern, Kellogg School of Management? Now, this was no longer a dream, it was a reality.
It was time to embark on this journey. I was expectant and had high hopes to maximize this opportunity not just for me but for the lives I’m impacting. The journey began with an intense three-day Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) at Golden Tulip in Accra, Ghana with la crème de la crème of thirty-two (32) Ghanaians selected from over four thousand (4,000) applicants. This PDO had a dual purpose, that is, on one hand, to prepare us for our new adventure with an overview of the US culture with the program expectations and requirements; and on the other hand, to give a networking opportunity for the Ghanaian contingent to meet and familiarize with the rest of the fellows. The message was clear from the onset, this fellowship is what the fellow makes of it. The onus of the impact of the program is with the fellow. This was a home run for me. I have been given a dream launchpad and it was time to take the leap of faith.
Fast-forward, after over ten (10) hours of direct flight from Kotoka International Airport, I landed in Washington Dulles transiting to Chicago, Illinois. Along with my compatriot Paa Kofi from Ghana and Jean-Paul from Rwanda, we were welcomed at O'Hare International Airport with one of the warmest welcomes I have witnessed from tired people. Meagan Keefe, Associate Director of Program for African Studies (PAS) at Northwestern University, and her colleague - Kelly Coffey - stood there with the Northwestern card, beaming with smiles and excitement after waiting for more than fourteen hours welcoming one group of fellows after another. This subtle experience about the importance of a very good welcome was my first lesson. Neither the bad weather - with continuous rain outpours - nor the long wait to welcome us, almost all day, was sufficient justification for extending a nonchalant welcome. The stakes were raised when we met the thorough Tiffany Williams-Cobleigh, Program Assistant at PAS, and her colleague - Adoria Randolph – who gave us a point-by-point debriefing and handed us our welcome package. These initial impressions stayed with me throughout the program and equipped me to have sufficient justification for the benefit of the doubt in the event of any letdown. This was an instant publicity winner for my host institute.
These earlier experiences served as a springboard for an outstanding first class with international career coach Aida Camara-Crowder, who focused on the qualities of the servant leader. The primary lessons were about the importance of teamwork, building and leveraging trust, understanding the perspectives of leading from the back or the front, the relevance of clarity in communication; and learning to adjust vs. adapt. To improve our self-awareness, we began our leadership journey with CliftonStrengths Assessment by the Gallup Organization to identify our five (5) key strengths. The next day, Ashley Thurmond Abraham, a Kellogg MBA alumna and one of the event planners, led us through creating a framework for our expectations and how we could achieve them. Joseph Patton, a seasoned executive, and career coach kickstarted our Kellogg experience with one of the most memorable and practical lectures on Presentation Skills and Elevator Pitch. He climaxed the lecture with the art of persuasion, the importance of understanding personality traits, and learning to read the room.
Definitely, there had to be some funfair, and what a time to be in the Windy City – Chicago - when the world’s biggest Blues Festival was ongoing at the famous Millennium Park. It was nothing short of beauty. I loved every bit of it and so our weekends thereafter were full of fun and volunteering activities to further appreciate the rich diversity of American culture. We had some site visits and encounters with State Senator Laura Fine, Inspiration Corporation, Oja Express, YoFresh, One Acre Fund, mHub, TechNexus, World Business Chicago, Deloitte, July 4th Parade, Chicago Botanical Gardens, The Garage inter alia. Unfortunately, just a week into the program, I became unwell and had to attend the lectures by Gail Berger on "Creating Strong Organizational Culture," Ivy Onyeador on "Managing Teams," and Lance Bennett on "Leading Through Listening" outside of class
I recovered and joined in time on Juneteenth with David Anderson – a former Obama White House Aide. One could clearly see the program was not going according to plan, but David pulled out all the stops to make it a memorable one. The key takeaway was, “We tend to think that when we are winning, we will keep winning and when we are losing, we will continue losing. But life has its own algorithm and sometimes you can start losing for no wrongdoing of yours and vice versa. So, learn to prepare for such moments by adapting quickly, failing cheap and earlier. It is a better way to grow.” On the side, I also had the honor of receiving personal coaching from the brilliant Dominique Harris, a partner at Kearney, who showed me how to concentrate on the plethora of opportunities and chances that lay ahead of me.
After spending almost two weeks on the Chicago Campus, it was officially Evans in Evanston for the ensuing weeks. These were those moments that further heightened that ambiance, that you are indeed at the prestigious Kellogg School of Management. These were top-tier classes featuring in-depth discussions on cutting-edge topics in finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, accounting, communication, and leadership. We kicked off with the “Venture Discovery” class by Stephanie Farsht - Innovation and Strategy Professor - where she began with this quote, “We do not start a business, we solve a real problem”. Thus, know the pain points and work on the value proposition with your singularity statement. She practically walked us through the Product Market Fit and the Business Model Canvas by highlighting the importance of creating customer archetypes and personas.
The next lecture on “Global Entrepreneurial Finance” with Jose Liberti - Associate Professor of Finance - focused on how to unlock value considering the top-line and bottom-line of the balance sheet. Finance is not only a net present value (NPV) calculation, therefore, there is a need to be able to identify and exploit potential sources of value. First, this can be done via operational engineering with a focus on maximizing profit and minimizing cost with the critical change areas being the EBITDA and capitalization of expenses via revenue/cost synergies, rationalization of operations, divestments of non-core businesses, and acquisitions of related businesses. To further unlock values, this must be done with frameworks such as financial engineering, governance engineering, and multiple arbitrages (via market timing and multiple expansions). Next, Greg White - Entrepreneurship & New Venture Formulation Professor – with a very good case study on Loop Capital taught “Business Planning” underscored the importance of organizational culture by delving deeply into the field of Private Equity (PE).
Accounting and Finance could not have been better taught than Mark Finn – Clinical Professor of Accounting and Co-author of International Accounting, 5th Edition, the market-leading textbook in international accounting - on “Understanding Financial Statements”, Derrick Collins on “Entrepreneurial Finance” and Marlon Primous on “Financial Modeling”. Key take-aways: EBITDA is the proxy for cash flow; cashflow before debt and tax is leverage; how to situate venture capitalist (VC) and private equity on the J-curve with the expected returns to understand when a P.E. or V.C. is right for your business; understanding senior debt, subordinate debt (always refer to seller’s note used in acquisitions), junior debt/mezzanine debt, preferred and common stock; understanding international accounting and reporting standards (IFRS and US GAAP) with extras on cash and accrual accounting.
How can one teach “Marketing and Communication” if the class of the lecturer is not already marketing to the learners? Kevin McTigue on “Segmenting, Targeting, Positioning” followed by Caleb Gardner on “Branding and Digital Marketing” was a class that made marketing by anybody look possible. Kevin further asserted that to target, one needs an offering with a competitive frame of reference that stands out with a differentiating benefit by/because of “Reason to Believe”. Caleb expounded on brand culture and brand voice while underlining the value of building equity with people before asking them to participate by creating value first. Caleb emphasized that “Social and mobile are human behaviors. Contents start with relationships and end with relationships. Design for relationships first, campaigns second”
Mark Achler took us on a journey of Empathy and Private Equity and “How to lead an entrepreneurial venture” from these perspectives. He personified the lecture in every way. He explained the three fundamental principles of empathy: "It is not about you", "Do your homework", and "Bring a Gift." He used these three basic rules in an eye-opening empathy-VC matrix as a practical guide.
We further explored “Strategic Challenges in Emerging Markets” with Associate Professor of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences, Ameet Morjaria centering on the Behavior Equilibrium Theory using cases on corruption, expansion, and new markets from around the world with two key lessons about having skin in the game and a prominent victim. Karin O’Connor, Clinical Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship, shared some insights on “Growth Strategy for Entrepreneurs” with detail discussions on viability and scalability leading to a thorough analysis of the Unit Economic Models for Businesses (Customer Acquisition Cost, Customer Life Time Value, Churn Rate, Retention Rate). We concluded the session with Clinical Professor of Strategy, Carter Cast, on “Leadership of a Growing Company” and “How to effectively pitch at an early stage”. He elaborated that investors would focus on four key areas, that is, people, market, product/service and go-to-market strategy.
In addition to having access to this wealth of practical and technical knowledge, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management, gave all twenty-five fellows the opportunity to pitch their final focus project – an ongoing project or a new project. Robert Shaw, the prize donor and adjunct professor, Jeff Stine, an advocate for equal entrepreneurial distribution and a specialist in venture capital in Africa, Karin O'Connor, an investor in early- and growth-stage companies for more than twenty-five (25) years, and other members of the Kellogg School of Management and Program of African Studies made up the jury. According to the expert panel, this was by far the most difficult pitch demo to select winners from because the quality of delivery and idea contents were so competitive that practically every pitch was worthy of an award. At the end, four projects in the fields of fintech, health innovation, e-commerce, and agribusiness were selected for the awards. It was an honor to be selected as a prize winner.
The fellowship was crowned by a two-day summit that took place on the Chime platform. This culminating event was an opportunity for Fellows to build the foundations of long-term partnerships with U.S. professionals and each other and make plans to continue their leadership journey after their Fellowship. These objectives were achieved by networking and partnership exposition sessions in rooms hosted by USAID, USADF, Prosper Africa, Fulbright, World Bank, D-Prize, Accountability Lab, inter alia with keynote addresses by US Secretary of State – US Department of State, Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Representative – Indiana, Jackie Walorski, U.S. Senator – Delaware Christopher Coons, and Chief Executive Officer - The King Center, Dr. Bernice A. King among others.
After the summit, Kellogg School of Management and Program of African Studies, Northwestern University organized a closing dinner and presented our certificates of completion from Kellogg and the US Department of State.
Wait again, did all of this happen or it was just a dream? Surreal, but this is what the United States of America gave twenty-five (25) African fellows in Northwestern, thirty-two (32) Ghanaians and seven hundred (700) young rising African leaders across the USA. This is my story, my experience, and my lessons in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The United States of America through the Mandela Washington Fellowship has given wings to my dreams and aspirations. The American dream I have experienced is evidence that the African dream is a possibility. Thank you, USA, for this dream launchpad to impact more lives in Africa and everywhere.
Dr. Evans Duah
Mandela Washington Fellowship 2022
Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University