Why I returned to Lagos from Silicon Valley (Part 1)
Let me tell you how it all began… from Genesis.
I landed at night and the feeling was surreal. Shortly after the landing announcement, we floated towards a web-work of light. As I craned my neck, stretching from my window seat, I saw stretches of highway outlined by bright yellow stars, some static others shooting patiently. As we inched closer, I could see tall buildings shooting out of the terrain like bedazzled icicles.
December 14, 2013. I traveled to the UK for a professional training. It was my first trip outside Nigeria and I was excited to see a world different from the one I grew up.
London looked like a cluster of Christmas lights laid out by a fairy. As we hovered towards the landing strip, I flashed to Genesis 1:3. Let there be light. Was this where God stood? They say Paris is the city of light, but I saw London first. London bore a celestial fragility that got me wondering whether we could land on this beautiful city without breaking it. I had felt a different kind of fear landing in Lagos and Abuja, where the clusters of light sat in black voids. There, I had feared we were landing into nothingness.
I alighted and the more I breathed the heavy London air, the louder my conscience screamed. Though I had dug in my feet to resist intimidation by the city, something about it upset my perch. Something about it reminded me of Lagos, yet something fundamental set the two apart. Where one city had succumbed to chaos and reveled in it, the other fought relentlessly despite the uncertainty of victory. That fight yielded all the progress around me and the weight of it shamed the Lagosian in me.
I spent two weeks in the UK and I became angry…at Nigeria; at our leaders and forefathers! Addressing no one in particular, I asked: “What were our forefathers doing when Europe was developing?” So that my great-grandchildren won’t have to ask what I was doing when the likes of Rwanda, Ghana, Botswana, and co were developing, I decided to take some crazy gamble with my life.
In 2014, I travelled more, thanks to company trainings and the power of love. Training took me through Warsaw to Budapest, my fiancé took me to London again. She was studying for her Master’s degree in University College London. I am not sure why, but I expected my feeling of “anger” to pass. I tried to bury it under gratitude for my opportunity to visit these beautiful cities. I comforted myself with thoughts of the millions who would be grateful for my current state, but the image of their bloodshot eyes shamed me into another realization. My spot was not all those young boys and girls in I left in Sagamu wanted. They needed more; they needed someone that will be a force, the genesis of change for their generation, our generation.
On my return to Lagos after my visit, I put my anger into action. I researched how developed communities emerged in Europe and America. In the process, I stumbled on a four-part documentary, “Men Who Built America”. That was the life changing gospel for me. I was inspired by the stories of leaders who had emerged from America, as far back as Carnegie and Rockefeller; leaders who dared to rebuild a whole continent! Surely, if I walked in their shoes I could build a town, a city, maybe even a nation. I thought. I believed.
“I’m going to study how they do business in that America,” I assured myself.
Harvard drew me in with its cache of fortune 500 CEO’s and its 36-billion-dollar endowment. As I researched business school requirements, my pocket mocked my aspirations. The cost of a top-ranked program could build an estate in my hometown. Where would I get the money? I combed the internet for financing options for my $250,000 MBA. Shortly after I started my research, I saw a post on my Twitter feed suggesting that MBA aspirants reach out to someone for application assistance. That someone was Damilola Oyedele, who at the time was applying to Chicago Booth School of Business.
After listening to me gush about Harvard for fifteen minutes, Damilola pitched me a pivot. She said I had the ideal profile for Stanford GSB’s Africa MBA Fellowship, which could slash my costs significantly. I had heard about Stanford University, at least through Mark Zuckerberg’s story, but my obsession with the Harvard brand had relegated Stanford GSB to my peripheral. Damilola delivered a strong pitch, bound with a $140,000 close, the fellowship’s size. I had two weeks before applications closed. With her help, I drafted my essay and applied for the fellowship.
I was shortlisted on one condition, I have to get a spot in the MBA class reserved for less than 5% of applicants. How do I convince this people to give me a spot?
Michael Adesanya is a young Nigerian. A 2015 Stanford Africa MBA Scholar. Michael’s coming-of-age memoirs is scheduled to be published in 2019. Kindly follow him on Medium, Twitter, and Facebook.