5 Things I Learned While Helping Organize Wharton’s Africa Business Forum

As I shared in an earlier post, I led the design and implementation of the social media marketing strategy for Wharton’s 23rd Annual Africa Business Forum (check social media for #WABF23 to see some of my work). The conference took place November 13–15, 2015 in Philadelphia but planning began last Spring. Having experience living and working in East Africa before business school, I was ecstatic to join the WABF23 team 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. The conference sold out with 650 attendees from all over the world and another 250 people on the waitlist. Our team increased attendance by more than 50% of last year’s conference. In the spirit of blogging about my MBA experience, here are 5 things I learned from this opportunity:

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

First year MBA students are bombarded with leadership opportunities. For me, the myriad of opportunities are a blessing. However, this 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 2nd year student leaders.

2. Being involved in a 3 day, 2 night conference requires diligent childcare planning.

In total, there were about 28 hours of programming planned for this conference between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. That is 28 hours that I was away from 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 dreamwork — 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.

Lara, me and Nyah before Lara headed back to NYC.

Shoutout to Lara for giving up her weekend, and being an amazing sisterfriend to me for the last 7 years!

3. Don’t be shy — be B O L D!

The conference speaker line-up was stellar. Our keynote line-up 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. She was dropping some serious knowledge. 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.

(L to R: Shalewa Odusanya — WG16, Mo Abudu, me, Dimia Fogam — WG17)

4. Alumni!!!!!!!

With Carole, a 2014 Wharton alumni who now works with the IFC.

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. As the MBA recruiting season has kicked into high gear, many of my classmates are scanning the goldmine that is Wharton’s alumni directory to reach out to people working in their industry or working at companies they want to work for. 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. I look forward, in the coming weeks, to following up with the alumni I met at WABF23.

5. Have fun and enjoy the moment.

At the black tie gala with WABF co-chair Johan (WG16)

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 is running smoothly. You can be pre-occupied with ensuring that everyone is having a good time that you FORGET to have fun and network. Welp, 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 gala and after-party as evidenced here by some of my favorite pictures of the night.

Having some photo booth fun with my classmates after the WABF23 black tie gala.
With my classmates after Wharton Africa’s black tie gala.
Selfie with Jidenna and my classmate, Margaret, at a private reception Jidenna’s team organized for WABF leadership.
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