Top 10 highlights from WABF23 – My Africa Story: Lessons in Business, Visions for Impact

WASA made history at WABF23. To reflect on WASA’s record-setting conference, Shalewa Odusanya – one of the co-chairs – shared the top 10 highlights from WABF23.

1. The largest conference at Wharton.

In November 2015, Wharton welcomed over 650 people for the 23rd annual Wharton Africa Business Forum “WABF23”. Our attendees were students from top MBA and other graduate programs around the world as well as professionals representing a diverse set of industries. Africa was on the agenda and the stage was set for what would be a power-packed weekend of developing new connections and exchanging ideas and exploring the business climate in Africa.

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Shalewa chatting with guests during Day 2 of WABF23.

2. Impactful keynote addresses marked by standing ovations.

Our keynote speakers highlighted the significant opportunities in Africa for those who are willing pursue them. In the morning keynote, Anna Bossman, Director of Integrity and Anti-Corruption at the African Development Bank, and Donald Duke, Former Governor of Cross River state, Nigeria reminded us that it is Africans who have the power to change our own fortune. Mrs. Mosunmola Abudu, our afternoon keynote, prolific television personality and founder of Africa’s first Global black lifestyle network, informed us that the African dream is alive and well. Hakeem Belo-Osagie, our evening keynote, Forbes Africa person of the year and one of the most respected names in African business, reminded us that there is life after rejection as he shared the story of his 50 job applications and 47 rejections in his second year as a Harvard MBA student.

 

3. Pearls of wisdom from leaders in business.

With 60+ speakers, the conference was a master class on business in Africa. Attendees struggled to decide between multiple concurrent sessions. New session formats included industry deep dives in sectors that will drive the future of Africa’s economies. Notable among these were the Agriculture deep dive with Matthew Forti, Managing Director of One Acre Fund, the Telecommunications deep dive with Lucy Quist, CEO of Airtel Ghana, and the financial services deep dive with Colin Coleman, Managing Partner, Goldman Sachs South Africa.

4. Bridging the gap between Wharton and Africa.

The Forum, which was open to both Wharton students and the general public, gave our classmates the unique opportunity to connect with some of the best and brightest Africans and lovers of Africa in the diaspora. The prospective student session led by our very own Dean of Admissions, Frank Devecchis, was a full house of eager, aspiring, potential Wharton MBAs who learned about student life and academics at Wharton as well as some of our new Africa focused initiatives including the Lauder Africa program and Wharton Africa Growth Partners.

5. Showcasing the African (and Afropolitan) entrepreneurial spirit.

Sessions such as “What it takes to be an entrepreneur in Africa”, “How to get your Africa-focused startup funded”, “The Next List” and our venture competition which included a $5,000 USD cash prize focused on entrepreneurship. We were able to highlight the entrepreneurial spirit that is strong on the continent. “The Next List” featured young entrepreneurs in the diaspora who successfully turned their passions into profits. Our venture competition saw many submissions that highlighted the diversity of problems being solved on the continent and in the diaspora but ultimately narrowed down four very promising finalists to battle it out for the grand prize. Our sessions on securing venture capital funding for Africa-focused ventures and what it takes to be an entrepreneur in Africa were packed with eager entrepreneurs-in-the-making

Winners of the WABF23 venture competition.

Winners of the WABF23 venture competition.

6. Highlighting the presence (and importance) of women in Business.

As is the case in most business settings, women are underrepresented in business in Africa. We made it a central tenet of the conference planning to improve female representation in our speaker lineup. To this end, we were able to ensure over 40% of our speakers were female. We included a session that catered to aspiring young female professionals, giving them an opportunity to learn from more tenured businesswomen.

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7. (Re)-connecting with alumni.

WABF23 saw record alumni participation. 25% of conference speakers were Wharton alumni, and more than 20% of all sponsorship came from alumni-owned organizations. Recent grads flocked to Philadelphia in droves.

8. Working hard, playing harder.

It has been said that Africans know how to party. We knew that the social aspect of the Forum would be just as important as the more formal programming. Therefore, we ensured that our participants had ample opportunity to connect and network with each other from small group dinners and a welcome cocktail reception on Friday night for our attendees to the gala dinner and after-party which featured a performance from Nigerian music sensation, Jidenna, to the farewell brunch on Sunday.

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9. Dreaming big, setting goals and taking action.

In March/April 2015, we dreamed up a vision for WABF23. It was audacious, it was ambitious and some of it was pretty laughable. However, coming full circle and reflecting on the experience one year later, I realize that ideas and dreams really are a dime a dozen and execution is everything. It was by setting goals, creating a plan to accomplish those goals and working through that plan that we were able to put together an epic conference.

10. Connecting with the dream team through our shared experience.

WABF23 would not have been possible without the incredible effort put forth by the planning team who dedicated countless hours and committed themselves to realizing the vision we had set forth. My co-chair, Johan Ferreira, and I were blessed to have such a high-functioning team. At one point, a member of the team commented that we were the size of many startups in New York city (about 40 people). Thinking about our dream team in that context was very humbling for me. I am grateful for the leadership lessons I took from the experience and to my classmates for giving me the opportunity to grow and flex my leadership muscles through this experience with them.

WASA is a student-led club of the Wharton Graduate Association and the focal point for Africa-related activities at the Wharton School. Our members are MBA students from Africa, as well as students interested in the continent. Building on the strengths of its diverse and strong community of members, WASA offers a variety of educational and cultural events, career and networking opportunities, and academic support to its members.