Explore Careers in Africa
“If you really want to reach your full potential and do more than you think you can, then you have to hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself,” said Okendo Lewis-Gayle at OCS’s popular “Exploring Careers in Africa” event this past Wednesday. With panelists from all backgrounds, the discussion offered advice on particular aspects of working both in social enterprise and in Africa.
Go with the flow
Richard Rowe, who has always been concerned with establishing a pathway to make the world more viable for marginalized children, currently serves as the CEO of the Open Learning Exchange, which is an organization committed to universal access to education. Having spent a lot of time in the social enterprise sphere, he admitted that his trajectory has come with a lot of surprises. “My career path has been a journey of confronting barriers and seeing doors open that I didn’t expect. It’s a constant journey of learning and sometimes regretting—or sometimes being ecstatic—over choices I’ve made along the way.”
What makes you excited to wake up every morning to work on your social enterprise? For Richard, it’s about being “irrational.” “You can’t do anything we are doing by being a totally rational person. We’re talking about systemic change, not putting a band-aid on the problem,” Richard Rowe said. “It’s something that is long and hard and painful, not only for you but for the people whose lives you’re trying to change. You have to be empathetic about the fact that even the thing that is going to improve their life is going to be a hard transition for them. It is something that gives me joy because I know that I’m doing the best that I can.”
When you’re getting started in social enterprise, don’t underestimate yourself. “Every contribution matters – you’re not too young or too inexperienced. Whatever you can bring to the table will bring a lot. Curiosity means a lot. Just do something,” said Aminata Kane, who works to give local affordable and fashionable clothing for Senegalese professional.
“If you want to be an entrepreneur, you can’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers,” urged Kate Clopeck, the Executive Director for Community Water Solutions. “If you are saying there’s a need that’s not being met, you’re basically telling everyone who works in that industry that their work isn’t successful. It’s hard to say that without burning some bridges, but it’s feasible and something that needs to be done to make the industry better.”
Don’t underestimate Africa
Most of all, don’t underestimate Africa. “For a long time, people were calling Africa “the hopeless continent,” and they are now just thinking of Africa as “Africa rising.” Africa is changing very rapidly—development used to take a very long time but it doesn’t anymore,” Okendo said. “You’ve got to be cognizant of the times that we live in – you have to be willing to take risks. You’ve got to find the passion you’ve got to find the thing you’re willing to stay up at night and work on.”
Julia Eger, ’14