After MBA In UK, Social Entrepreneur Hears The Call Of Africa
After leaving the leading management consultancy firm Deloitte for an MBA in the UK, Janet Bolo has her sights set on social entrepreneurship in the African region.
Janet Bolo is an MBA who dreams big. She is hoping to change the status quo in her home country, Kenya, an African-state that is sometimes characterized by a lack of education, and as having a lack of opportunity for its citizens.
When Janet left her management consulting job with leading firm Deloitte, and left Kenya to begin an MBA last year, it was partly because the UK has more “choices”.
Indeed, no African-based business school made it into the elite, top-100 in the MBA ranking tables, and despite IMF forecasts’ that the sub-Saharan African region will enjoy growth of 6 per cent in 2014, there is still a lack of management expertise.
And although Janet did consider enrolling on MBA programs there – after an undergraduate degree at the University of Nairobi – the truth is that an MBA outside the region was invaluable for her career development.
A few months into the full-time MBA at Aston Business School, and she has been inspired to pursue social entrepreneurship – whether through a start-up or back with the big players in management consulting.
Either way, she says, her business ambition remains the same: “I want to get into impact investing or social entrepreneurship. So I hope that when I’m done with my MBA, even if I go back to consulting, I will work with companies that have an impact in society. Or run a social enterprise,” says Janet.
It would be a cliché to say she hopes to change the world, but that’s not far from the truth. “I hope that I can. One family, one child and one country at a time,” she continues. “I had this social entrepreneurship idea before Aston, but I was looking at running an NGO.
“When I came to business school, it shifted my thinking; my mind was open to new ideas and social entrepreneurship makes sense to me.”
For a consultant with four years’ experience dealing with local and global companies at Deloitte in Tanzania and Kenya, this might seem an unlikely choice. But an MBA degree works wonders with your career opportunities. For Janet, it is enter as a business development specialist, leave as a fully-fledged social entrepreneur.
There are more highly-ranked MBA programs in the UK than in Kenya, but the same gap could be said of education in Africa as a whole. Janet believes education is the key to raising her country to new economic and social heights. And it is a sad fact that many of Kenya’s poorest population have little or no access to it.
The statistics are also misleading: Kenya’s free and compulsory education system has increased gross enrolment rates to over 90 per cent nationally – yet nine out of 10 children from poor households fail to complete their basic education, according to UNICEF. And School dropout rates are increasing, especially in drought-affected areas.
For Janet, social entrepreneurship is key to bringing education to the masses. And education is key to bringing the estimated 43 per cent Kenyan’s whom were living below the poverty line in 2011 out.
Her “vision” is to see poverty and other social problems alleviated through education. “My interest is in education and mentoring young people, and I believe that if people have access to education, then their lives will change,” she says. “Most of our problems – such as health issues and poverty – are because of a lack of education.
“Our future is social entrepreneurship and it will change a lot. We cannot rely on foreign aid forever and investing in businesses and activities that have a social impact is the way to go. It will be very important for the future of Africa – or at least present Africa.”
She was inspired by the social entrepreneurship opportunities after entering the Hult Prize 2014 with Aston’s team TIBA. Janet linked up with four of her MBA classmates and saw off competition from more than 10,000 other applications – many from top business schools – to make it to the regional finals, held in London next month.
The competition is designed to act as a catalyst for social ventures that aim to solve the planet’s most pressing challenges. And the Aston team are competing to improve the health of 250 million slum dwellers around the world suffering from chronic diseases.
In an industry that is essentially providing knowledge to clients, an MBA was her way of improving her ability to consult. She considered rankings and the cost of different degrees, and Aston is great value for money, she says.
Although she thinks Africa has good opportunities for business education, Janet thinks a diverse cohort – over 90 per cent of Aston MBAs are international – has so far been “invaluable”.
While most MBA programs in the Western world require you to take the GMAT – Aston waived the test for Janet, whom had never done it. The school says that for full-time MBA applicants, a well-rounded score “may” be required.
Although, data from the Graduate Management Admission Council suggests that an increasing amount of tests are being taken in the African region – even more than in Eastern Europe.
She considered an MSc, but the experience those cohorts’ contain isn’t comparable to those on MBAs programs. “I wanted to move to a higher position in business leadership and MSc’s are too specialist,” she explains.
After breaking into one of the most sought-after consulting firms in the MBA community, it was tough to leave. “It was very difficult – to leave the comfort of earning a monthly salary, and good salary at that, to being a student with no salary at all,” Janet says.
“However I look at it as an investment, an investment in my life. It was tough but it was a decision I had to take if I wanted to move positions.”
Those moves, it turns out, are not so clear-cut. She isn’t sure whether to return to management consulting or launch her own social enterprise. “The good thing about consulting is the networks and platform that can help you form a wider plan,” Janet says. “Although you can only recommend ideas – in a start-up I can implement any ideas I want.”
Whatever path she chooses, all that matters is helping improve quality of life in Africa – and eventually the wider world.
Janet’s risk in leaving Deloitte to pursue social enterprise is perhaps the embodiment of what the Hult Prize stands for.
She wants to tackle grave issues faced by billions of people, and is prepared to sacrifice her career path to achieve it – at a time when social enterprise and sustainability is firmly back on the business school menu.
Poverty and acess to education remains a problem in Kenya. And while economic stability may be sweeping across the region, Janet has a long way to go to change the tide.
But an MBA degree is her enabler.