Amina is a Nigerian entrepreneur who founded Abuja Cakes and Sugarcraft Society, a group of women who share ideas and inspiration to foster growth in business.
“Focus on what makes you stand out.”
Being a Mandela Washington Fellow in June and July 2014 was a blessing for me and one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
I don’t have a university degree or the professional credentials of others selected for the fellowship. But I am a resilient, optimistic businessperson, determined to achieve my dreams.
I entered the fellowship on the business and entrepreneurial track, assigned to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I attended lectures and engaged in debate with my professors and other fellows about contemporary business practices. I learned methods for beginning a successful startup, strengthening a thriving business and tackling the challenges that arise for all business people.
We learned how to draw up a business plan and all its key components. I discovered that I had already been applying some of these practices in my business by instinct alone.
Training exercises showed us how to make effective decisions as leaders, work in teams and understand our strengths and weaknesses as leaders.
Being introduced to top leaders in American businesses, institutions and social enterprises was another dimension of the experience. We visited top-notch companies such as Crain Communications, IBM’s Innovation Lab, the McDonald’s Corporation and Google Chicago, just to mention a few.
Talking with these successful professionals and experiencing their energy was refreshing. I have so much to learn about the business world, but I realized that I can go as far as my guts can take me.
We also volunteered in community service projects — going to farmlands to weed grasses, playing with kids and mentoring teenagers. We saw the socioeconomic voids that volunteer organizations fill and the benefits of giving back to society. We experienced American culture and community life at sporting events, concerts, food exhibitions and other activities.
After my weeks at Northwestern University, I went to the Washington Summit, where I rubbed shoulders with more executives from top nongovernmental organizations and businesses.
I made many worthwhile contacts, and I am working on building future relationships with these people.
The most significant contacts I made are new friends from all over Africa — Uganda, Niger, Guinea, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique and more. We shared our stories and, in so doing, realized we all have the same struggles and fears. We also share pride and ambition to realize our goals.
This comradeship provides great motivation to, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.”
At the summit, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other prominent people related to us like friends. President Obama spoke about the challenges young people face in Africa and his intentions to support young African entrepreneurs with financial grants and skills training.
It was inspirational to learn that the first African-American U.S. president will be watching to see what young Africans can achieve in the future.
My experience as a Mandela Washington Fellow was overwhelming in the best possible way!
If you’re applying for the 2015 program, I recommend that you be original in your application and focus on what makes you stand out. If you are making a social or business impact in your community, by whatever means, be proud to say so. Prepare a compelling one-minute pitch about your achievements to make a memorable impression.
If you are selected, go to the United States with an inquisitive mind and a commitment to learn all you can. That attitude will allow you to return to Africa with people-oriented initiatives that would transform your community and our continent at large.
More Mandela Washington Fellows describe their experience.