Insight From Your Fellow Student: An Unlikely Entrepreneur

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Olivia B. Zank, MSc Political Economy (2013-4), frankly discusses her experiences at several developmental organisations and how this led to her creating a tech-enabled supply chain finance firm in Rwanda: BeneFactors

Hiking in RwandaOlivia hiking in Rwanda’s beautiful thousand hills, December 2015

After completing a BA in International Development and Economics at UEA, I joined SOAS for a taught post-graduate programme. I was torn between which programme to join though – ultimately, I was interested in financial sector development in especially Sub-Saharan African countries, but I was also very drawn to the political economy analysis and the critical thinking that SOAS is known for. In the end I opted for the MSc Political Economy, but took every finance course that the school of economics offered. This flexibility from the school in terms of curriculum for an MSc allowed me to learn from two of the most renowned thinkers in their fields, Professors Mushtaq Khan and Costas Lapavitsas. I inhaled as much knowledge as I could from these two bright minds and I continue to see the influence on their thinking in my journey since SOAS. Alongside my MSc I was also very fortunate to work as a part-time researcher for Public World, a high-class consultancy specialising in issues of employment around the world. I had come across the Public World while dredging the internet for summer internships between my undergrad and masters and I immediately knew I wanted to work for them. I then proceeded to email the managing director enough times for him to finally agree to give me an interview and subsequently a chance at an internship which turned into part-time work during the year I spent in London. Juggling work, post-graduate studies and social life wasn’t easy but getting work experience while studying turned out to make all the difference for me post-graduation.

There is a well-trodden path from an MSc in Economics at SOAS to the ODI Fellowship programme. I am no exception and applied while still a student. The ODI fellowship is a two-year placement in a developing country government and provides unique insights into especially the capacity constraints in terms of being able to deliver services and effectively enforce regulation. This was the kind of full immersion I was looking for. However, I did not get in to the fellowship when I first applied.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine was just completing the DFID Graduate Placement, and inspired by his experience, I decided to apply and to my surprise, I got in. This (now discontinued) programme was a one-year placement to work with the UK Department for International Development and I was lucky with the team I was placed in – I got to move to Glasgow and work with the Regional Directorate’s Stats and Evaluation Team, i.e. the team of experts that help all DFID’s 32 country offices monitor the extent to which they are effective at alleviating poverty and create opportunities around the world. Having such a bird’s eye view of DFID’s multi-billion-pound country programme portfolio was another wonderful chance for learning – about how the aid sector works and how to know whether what you’re doing even has an impact. I had a wonderful line manager in Glasgow who really helped me improve my skills and become more efficient in my work. Most importantly, I also realised that while the UK civil service was a great place to work, it wasn’t for me – I wanted to be much closer to the action so to speak, and still dreamt of immersing myself in a developing country.

So I reapplied for the ODI Fellowship programme the following year and this time I was better prepared, more qualified and I got in. I was sent to Rwanda to work in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM). In many ways, Rwanda’s civil service is one of the most effective civil services in Sub-Saharan Africa. Corruption is low, the leadership is ambitious, and there is a good amount of debate over technical policy decisions, making for a very stimulating environment for a young economist. I worked alongside local civil servants on donor coordination and planning, conducting bi-annual sector reviews on programme implementation and policy developments in the private sector development and employment space. My time in DFID had prepared me for many of the challenges that plague civil servants around the world (endless meetings, unnecessary procedures, inability to fire inefficient workers etc.), and my frustrations in MINICOM were not unlike the frustrations we had in DFID, albeit at a different scale, which was humbling and eye-opening. After about a year, MINICOM was merged with the Ministry of East African Community and the minister, now in charge of a bigger mandate, wanted more advisory support. Since I’d been delivering good work for the past year, it was decided that I would join the Minister’s Office as his policy adviser. The next year therefore saw me working on various senior government policies such as the Special Economic Zone Policy, the flagship ‘Made in Rwanda’ Industrial Policy and the 2018-2024 Private Sector Development Strategy. Rwandan politics are fascinating, and the end of my fellowship coincided with the formulation of the country’s Vision 2050 and the 2017 presidential election, revealing much about the hopes and dreams of the country, as well as its current capacity to implement transformative programmes. I will forever be grateful for the time I spent as an ODI fellow, despite the obvious challenges and frustrations of working in a low-income country’s civil service.

One issue that always ran through the policy analysis and development I did, was that of access to finance. Rwanda remains a low income country, with GDP per capita at just $702 in 2016. National savings are low, and hence access to finance continuously comes up as the number one constraint for businesses. Without a thriving private sector, Rwanda would never achieve its development goals. The only problem was, despite my strong interest in financial development, as a policy advisor in MINICOM, I was not supposed to work on access to finance, which falls under the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Central Bank’s mandates. From the sidelines, I could see these institutions focus on making it easier for companies to access loans from banks and micro-finance institutions as well as encouraging people to save. There was some efforts to diversify the range of financial services available especially in working capital, but those efforts was limited, and speaking to my friends in the business community, I couldn’t escape the feeling that introducing different kinds of finance, was actually what was going to matter in the long run.

BeneFactorsOne of BeneFactors’ first clients, Dieudonné (R) speaks to an employee in his chilli oil factory outside Kigali, Rwanda, January 2018

A specific lecture from Professor Lapavitsas’ Financial Systems and Economic Development class at SOAS also kept coming to my mind – modern banking in Europe emerged as people and companies started selling on credit, and thus having claims on each other. Having a claim on someone is not as good as having cash in cash which can be used for further production or consumption. Specialised institutions therefore emerged to buy those claims from the original holders, freeing everyone else up to go about their business. These institutions later on became more sophisticated and started extending credit, offering savings and all the other things that was being promoted in Rwanda as a solution to access to finance gap – in other words they became commercial banks. Yet those products were not how financial intermediation first emerged and banks have kept their first line of business, collecting corporate claims, even as they now offer a more diversified and by now more profitable range of services.

A conversation with a good friend running a logistics company in Rwanda and struggling with cash flow gave me a term to research – factoring. It quickly all came together – factoring, or supply chain finance in general – is exactly the act of buying claims that the first European banks started with. It is strictly working capital products, providing cash flow stability to companies within established supply chains and it is therefore considered as trade finance – and hence within my ministry’s mandate! I could work on it! I spent the next three months going down a deep rabbit hole on supply chain finance, becoming more and more convinced that introducing such financing in the Rwandan economy could have significant impact due to the widespread illiquidity found. I drafted the necessary policy documents and tried to put the issue on the relevant people’s agenda, hoping they would make the necessary minor reforms and regulatory clarifications. The goal, I believed, was to attract an investor who would set up a commercial supply chain finance company and solve the cash flow issues of Rwandan companies.

In the meantime, being very enthusiastic about this amazing opportunity I had come across, I tried it out with a few friends. I knew people in the business community who had cash flow issues and I had some savings I was willing to risk to prove my point. My first trials worked out. I not only got my money back, but also received feedback from these first clients that there would indeed be a huge market for this in Rwanda, across East Africa and beyond. To avoid any issues with the regulators, I registered a company and BeneFactors was born.

BeneFactors TeamThe initial BeneFactors team: Happy (L), Paul and Olivia, December 2017

If someone had told me in 2016 that within a year I would become an entrepreneur, I would have laughed for days. I was always more of the academic type, enjoying research and planning processes, not fast-paced operations and striking deals. Yet somewhere between August and November 2017, I decided to not take another job after the ODI Fellowship and dedicate myself to BeneFactors, to see whether I could make it fly or not. It was perhaps the scariest decision I ever made, and I’m on the steepest learning curve I’ve ever been on, with an unhealthy amount of stress and anxiety. However, with every new client and new issue to solve I’m learning new things – about my client’s specific line of business, finance, operations, HR, accounting, psychology, and about myself and what I am capable of. BeneFactors is still a very young company and it is far from certain that we will succeed. I certainly still have a lot to learn as a first-time entrepreneur and CEO, but it was the best decision I ever made.

BeneFactors is currently recruiting volunteers to start in June 2018 for a duration of 3-6 months. Check out the careers section on their website www.benefactorsltd.com or get in touch with Olivia on olivia@benefactorsltd.com for more information.

Olivia B. Zank

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Please also note that SOAS Careers is committed to only advertising paid internships positions, in line with National Minimum Wage regulations. Further information and positions are available here.  

Advertisements

Insight From Your Fellow Student: From SOAS to Dakar, or, the NGO Internship Route

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Madeleine Race, MSc Violence, Conflict and Development (2016-7), talks about her move from London to Dakar, Senegal for an internship with community development NGO, Tostan.

fullsizeoutput_55c

After two years working in the UK charity sector, and an eye-opening three months volunteering in sustainable business development in Uganda, my desire to pursue a more international-facing career with a socially-oriented goal drove me to apply for a development studies Masters. Suffice to say, an intense year studying ‘Violence, Conflict and Development’ at SOAS both satisfied and encouraged my curiosity to know more about the world which turns around us.

Of course, after a year of poring over dusty textbooks (read: napping in the Senate House library) and countless conversations putting the world to rights over a Blue Moon in the JCR, mine and my classmates’ discussions started to turn towards the world of work. Having spent the year tearing apart the complexes and corruptions of the ‘Development system’, how on earth were we going to come to terms with finding a job in it?

It was during one of these conversations that a good friend suggested Tostan, a human rights-focussed NGO which has been working to empower African communities to fulfil their own visions for sustainable and relevant development since the 1990s. Tostan – which means ‘breakthrough’ in Wolof, the primary language of Senegal – works alongside rural communities to equip them with basic knowledge of their human rights and responsibilities, and the leadership skills needed to make positive change. The organisation is especially well-known for sparking incredible social change across the West African region through the movement to abandon harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Cutting and child marriage.

How lucky I felt to see a job post on their website at the end of the exam period: I applied straight away! I am now halfway through a six-month internship in the Grants Department in Dakar, and learning every day about the realities (good and bad) of work in an NGO headquarters and life as an ‘expat’ in Senegal. Settling in to life here has been at once challenging, invigorating and astonishing. Although there is plenty to critique about the Development sector’s reliance on underpaid graduate labour, the reality is that internships can be excellent gateways and I am looking forward with optimism to seeing where this one takes me. My key advice to anyone considering the internship route, however, is to first reflect and be realistic: Can you afford to do it? City life is expensive the world over. Will it challenge you enough? If you already have some work experience, then you could apply for posts with more responsibility. Will it lead to further opportunities? Smaller organisations can often be more flexible at the end of your contract than larger structures like the UN.

It is important to note that I wouldn’t have discovered this opportunity if it hadn’t been for that one recommendation from a friend, or the support of the SOAS Careers Service. One of the best things SOAS has left me with is a worldwide network of incredibly dedicated and dynamic peers – so my top tip would be to listen to them, take their advice, share your own, and you never know what a small conversation might lead to. The Careers Service helped me to do a practice interview and even specifically sought out a Francophone team member to run through questions in French. This practice interview gave me the small but vital confidence boost I needed to do well in the real thing. Having been out of the professional mind-set for a year, the Careers Service’s tips helped set me on track to think and behave professionally and confidently in the interview. Go and see them today – it’s the perfect excuse to get out of that library!

Madeleine Race

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Please also note that SOAS Careers is committed to only advertising paid internships positions, in line with National Minimum Wage regulations. Further information and positions are available here.  

I Bet(te Midler) you’re eager for some more career advice!

 

This week we’re looking at what the multi-talented Divine Miss M has to say that we can apply to our career journey. As a singer, songwriter, actress, comedian, and film producer, Bette Midler is no stranger to success. Known for her quick wit, sharp tongue and eccentric nature, Midler proves that confidence is key! Sadly a great many quotes did not make it in for obvious reasons but below are the some of the most socially acceptable things she’s said and how you can use them to maximise your success!

 

giphy

“I firmly believe that with the right footwear one can rule the world.”

Whilst they might not be the be-all-and-end-all of career success, a snazzy pair of shoes can have a big impact on your confidence and make a great impression. If you can strike the balance between function, comfort and style with your footwear then you’ll really be on top of the world.

 

a1qyx

“I have my standards. They’re low, but I have them.”

Keeping your standards higher than Bette is advisable (a quick search on the web’ll tell you where her career began) but be pragmatic. Sometimes you need to lower your standards in terms of salary or responsibility in order to get the experience needed to progress. Thinking about things in the long-term will keep you motivated. Jobs that seem mundane are often opportunities to really develop essential workplace skills.

 

when-your-delivery-food-comes-youre-trying-figure-out-what-garnish

“Cherish forever what makes you unique, ‘cuz you’re really a yawn if it goes.”

Don’t be embarrassed to stand out. Nurture qualities, interests and skills that set you apart from the rest. If you have a niche skillset or ability it might feel like it’s not useful but there will be an opportunity for you out there – fret not! Don’t let what sets you apart slip away – be proud of all you can bring to the workplace.

 

giphy1

“People are not the best because they work hard. They work hard because they are the best.”

For most people, The Divine Miss M most of all, success doesn’t come easy! Each and every one of us has a natural talent – something they excel at with ease. It could be maths, or making people smile. It doesn’t matter. Find out what you do the best and work hard doing it.

 

tumblr_nwonepoq481u58bayo1_250

“A person’s life is a journey, a road. Sometimes you go off the road and sometimes you stay on all the way through. But you are the only one on that road. It’s your road.”

Like a road, there are bumps along the way. Try visualising how far you’ll have travelled in a year, five years or thirty years when the road gets tough and you are feeling stuck. No matter how slow you feel you are going, you are making progress. Each day brings with it new experiences and a chance to develop your skills and abilities, and if you see it like this then you can maximise what you get out it and soon you’ll be cruising along!

 

shake-it-big-business-36006850-500-300

“You have to think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, but you have to know that you’re not.”

A healthy dose of confidence can go a long way, yet the line between being confident and being arrogant can be pretty slim. Knowing yourself is an important part of projecting confidence. Know your flaws as well as your strengths, and work to develop those areas you’re weaker in and you’ll be well on your way to being as self-actualised as Bette!

 

tumblr_li1r8bmke01qacvq1

“When I finally did stop and look at my life, I realized that I had done what I’d set out to do. In my pitiful little way, I had climbed the mountain I had chosen. And there I was, on top.”

It’s important to turn around and take stock of all that you’ve achieved – whether that be an academic, a personal or a professional achievement. We’re all success stories in our own way but increasingly people minimise the things they’ve accomplished. Be proud of what you’ve done no matter how small it seems as it’s these small victories that form the foundation of the mountain. Setting long-term goals can help keep you climbing when the incline is steep.

 

tumblr_nw8jc0mkfl1tv5ikso3_250

“You gotta have some friends!”

Cheating a bit here, as it’s technically a song lyric but the sentiment stands. Friends will get you through the down days, will be there to celebrate the successes, and above all they’ll keep you sane when work is tough. Find good friends and keep them close!

 

James Hallett – Volunteering Advisor

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Life as a graduate millennial in the charity sector

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Evelyn Snow, MSc Development Studies (grad 2017), talks through her journey from SOAS to making a difference in the charity sector, and her current role as Schools’ Programme Assistant Coordinator at education charity Wings of Hope. 

unnamed

Evelyn and the Mayor of Barnet who came to visit a stall that a WOHAA team had at the Barnet Christmas Fayre, where they raised £328

When I applied for a Masters in Development Studies at SOAS at the beginning of 2016 I hadn’t really thought beyond the fact that it sounded like a great course, in an amazing environment filled with inspiring academics and interesting people. When I received my final degree confirmation in December 2017, I was in a very different place to where I had begun with that first application.

My course had a lot of variety in its students – from those who had recently finished undergraduate study, to those who had worked for several years already – so it did seem like some people had a very solid plan, and really knew where they were going in their careers. To tell the truth, having changed so much during my short time at SOAS made me really think hard about my next steps after finishing the Masters, and where I wanted to be in another year’s time. I still don’t have the answer, but I do feel like I am one step closer to working it out!

As anybody who has experienced SOAS knows, the critical stance taken by students and
academics towards the status quo means that finding a job afterwards can be somewhat
challenging – with my other Development Masters peers we often discussed where we would find the kinds of jobs which would balance our grand ideas of ‘the right kind of’ change with the practicalities of graduate life! I also knew I needed some hands-on experience, in order to tailor my patchwork CV to where I thought I was heading later on. Apart from some volunteering work, I didn’t really feel like I had much to offer the kinds of development arenas I was interested in.

When I came across the internship at the Wings of Hope advertised on the Careers network at SOAS, it sounded exactly the balance I was looking for; hands-on experience of charity work in a small team, where student fundraising efforts in the UK are rewarded, and the funds raised go to help educate children in India and Malawi. For that reason I didn’t hold out much hope of getting it, so when I was offered the internship I was delighted – and even more so when it later turned into a permanent position!

My job is hugely varied; from admin tasks to giving presentations, mentoring teams to marketing and organising events, I work with teachers, professionals, and students hoping to engage them all in our educational work. I have given a keynote speech at a careers networking event in a school, presented our work to a business owner who is interested in working together, and researched other similar charity programmes, in the same week as visiting schools to check on the progress of the student teams we’re working with!

A typical day can begin with an assembly at a school, presenting our social enterprise programme (the Wings of Hope Achievement Awards) to students aged 13-18, encouraging them to get involved, then whizzing back to the office to market the programme to more schools, and organise more presentations, followed by catching up on the paperwork of logging students’ details, and often finishes with mentoring sessions with teams who have started their fundraising projects, giving them support and ideas and encouraging them to be the best they can be.

I have been surprised by the variety within my role, and I think this is a huge advantage of working with a small organisation – because we are a team of 4-6 I get to see all sides of what we work on which is fantastic, and means I can be heavily involved in all these sides. This means a lot of juggling too, so there is constantly something else to do, and when I began I found it extremely challenging to keep up with all the different aspects of the programme at the same time, as it felt like having to do several people’s jobs at once. Now I’ve got more comfortable with this, I see it as a steep but impressive learning curve, and I think it would be very hard to go back to working on only one aspect of such a programme at one time.

Life in the charity sector however is full of compromises and stretched resources, something I do find challenging, as there is always so much at stake. My students keep me motivated however – I really get energised when I speak to them and see how passionate they themselves are about making a difference in their fundraising, and this keeps me motivated to continue trying to support them in this and encourage others to get involved at every level.

It has been a hectic few months since I started here in August, and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot already. I’m trying to take graduate life one step at a time, and I may not know where I’ll be in a year’s time, or five, but at least for the moment I feel like I’m managing to achieve some real-world change for students in the UK and elsewhere, and absorbing an enormous amount of experience at the same time.

When it comes to thinking about careers, it can be pretty scary and intimidating, but I think the important thing is to not to worry too much about having the perfect post-graduation plan, and instead to take every opportunity that comes your way. Go for what feels right at the time – who knows where it might lead!

Evelyn Snow

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Insight From Your Fellow Student: My Summer with the Civil Service

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Harmanjit Sidhu, BA History (grad 2017) and Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee at SOAS for 2017/18, talks through her recent experience of the Civil Service’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme. 

Harmanjit

I have to admit, I was quite apprehensive about sacrificing possibly my last ever summer holidays to complete the Civil Service’s Summer Diversity Internship Programme. On reflection, it was probably one of the most beneficial experiences of my life.

For seven weeks, I was based at the Ministry of Defence, working on the Covenant Grant Fund which helps to support ex-servicemen and women through funding local projects. Some of these were based on helping veterans find work after completing their service, whilst other projects focused on aiding veterans who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I was given the responsibility of producing a case study booklet, evaluating the success of some projects the Grant had funded in the past. I had to finally present this to a senior steering group of the fund, which was made up of both military generals and civil servants. It was quite possibly the most frightening experience of my life- but as soon as it was over I can’t remember feeling more proud of myself! The final case study booklet is now used within the department as a key piece of publicity, and is distributed as events to showcase the achievements of the Fund. Therefore, in some ways, I have left behind an enduring legacy.

The range of projects on offer for interns is huge. Following a successful application, you are allocated to a department and project. For most people this is pretty random, however, if there is a project which is aligned to interests you mentioned in your written application, or on the phone interview, you are assigned to it. I was also able to indicate my preference for the type of work I wanted to do, e.g. Communications over technical/ operational. Fellow interns were placed in departments like Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Cabinet Office, the National Crime Agency and so on. Their projects included updating travel advice on the FCO website based on new information, evaluating a project completed by the team in the past, or conducting interviews to gather feedback on a new software.

The project and the overall experience of working within the civil service has provided me with a whole range of new skills. In producing the case study booklet I had to communicate with a hugely varied range of people, from senior diplomatic figures, to army generals, to on the ground grass root activists. As well as this, I had to plan, write and design the content and layout of the booklet too. I was given additional responsibilities of reporting back after attending conferences, attending high level meetings (after signing an official secrets act- all very exciting!), as well as the day to day communications with current grant holders, and chasing end of year grant reports.

Interns were also given ample opportunities to network across other government departments. At the beginning you attend a huge opening ceremony, normally held at the FCO, and there are a number of other events during the summer where the entire cohort of interns gets together. You have the opportunity to meet assessment day coordinators, ask current fast streamers questions, and meet representatives of different government departments who are happy to offer advice and guidance. You are also given a ‘mentor’, normally a fast streamer who can help provide specific advice on the project you are completing, as well as helping you out with Fast Stream application questions. I received some great advice from my own mentor, and have kept in touch with him since I left the scheme.

Increasing diversity and improving representation is a huge objective at the moment, and rightly so. Time and time again, as interns were told about how vital the issue of representation is for the government. The SDIP scheme taught me how much variety there is on offer if you work for the government. If you’re somebody who believes passionately in using your career to create meaningful and lasting change, and you meet the criteria for applying, then challenge yourself to completing the SDIP this summer. It could change your life!

Harmanjit Sidhu

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk

Insight From Your Fellow Student: Life in the Creative Industries

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Ifeanyi Awachie, MA Global
Creative & Cultural Industries (2016-17) offers an honest insight into her journey in the creative industries so far. 

africa salon instax 2016 - photo by www.yannickanton.com-218

Ifeanyi at AFRICA SALON 2016 at Yale

Hey! I’m Ifeanyi. I’m a Nigerian-American writer and arts curator. I did my Master’s in Global Creative and Cultural Industries at SOAS in the 2016-2017 academic year, and I’m currently working in the creative industries in London as well as on my own creative platform.

The thing about choosing a creative career path is – there is no path. You have to mould your education, jobs, and experiences into the creative life you want to live. Try doing that while being a working-class, black immigrant – it can be really hard to find examples of people with your experiences and perspective doing the work you want to do.

That said, my experience trying to find creative work and launch my own platform in London has been challenging, enlightening, but ultimately positive. A big part of the reason I came to SOAS was to develop my business, AFRICA SALON, a global events company curating contemporary arts festivals at the intersection of academia and the creative industries. I started the platform in the States and came to SOAS to study African arts and culture more deeply. I chose my course for its practicality – for one of our modules, students can do an internship in the creative industries for credit. I used that credit to work on my company. One of the projects I assigned myself was to host one of my festivals at SOAS. I curated an event called ourselves + others: african feminist re-CREATIONS at SOAS, which took place on November 25. We had a full house, the speakers and performers made our audience swoon, and so many people told me
that the space I created is needed in London. The festival was a kind of taste test for the
potential of my business, and the results were promising.

While planning the festival, I learned about the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, a work visa that allows international graduates to stay in London and start businesses. It sounded perfect for me – I want to launch AFRICA SALON in London, and of course, keep living in this fabulous, hectic city. After a two-round application process that included pitching my business to a SOAS Enterprise panel, I was endorsed for the visa.

mo(ve)ments - photo by www.yannickanton.com-0400

Ifeanyi and Kenyan creative duo 2ManySiblings

Though I would be starting a company, I needed a way to support myself. I’d practically been applying for creative jobs since the moment I got to London, but no one seemed to be biting. I learned that roles at the organisations I wanted to be part of were extremely competitive, and I started to get discouraged. Then one night, I was at a party, talking to a Nigerian guy about my interests, and he suggested that I get in touch with his former boss, the director of TAFETA, an African art gallery. I visited the gallery, and the director and I hit it off. I started spending more time there, going to exhibition openings, even proposing a collaboration between TAFETA and AFRICA SALON. Though that project didn’t pan out, the director eventually offered me a job. I was pumped. I was passionate about the talent of the artists the gallery represented and excited to work for an organisation where I felt represented as a Nigerian and an African arts enthusiast.

Like many creative jobs, the gallery role was a great fit, but wasn’t going to pay me a lot. As a young, broke creative, you need to find creative ways to make money; I am constantly doing research to do just that. That’s how I learned about the SOAS Santander Scheme. If, as SOAS student, you find a great position, Santander will put in a certain amount of funding that your employer then has to match to bring your pay up to living wage. With the Santander funding, the gallery was able to offer me a paid internship as Trainee Gallery Manager.

My position at the gallery was to be short-term, so I kept a lookout for jobs. One listing I found made me stop in my tracks. It sounded perfect for me. It more or less outlined the work I did through AFRICA SALON and at the gallery, and sounded like exactly the type of experience I’d like to have next. But I was sure I wasn’t going to get it. It was at a big arts institution, and I’d been burned by those all year. I put a lot of work into the cover letter, but I knew I needed to do something extra to make myself stand out. I scanned my mental list of people I knew in London and reached out to a friend that I thought might have a connection to the institution. She did. I met her contact for coffee. That conversation gave me a better sense of the organisation, and while the person I met had no power in the hiring process, I could tell I had made a positive impression on her, and I crossed my fingers that that would count for something.

I got the job. I now work as Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. It’s early days, but the role feels like one in which I can make valuable contributions, and the environment feels closely suited to my interests. Next year, I’ll be working full-time at the ICA while developing AFRICA SALON. It feels really good to look back on how things have come together, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to relax. I’m always looking for ways to improve my work, elevate my brand, and stay on top of my various projects and responsibilities. I hope my experience gives you some ideas, but remember – no one can really tell you how to be the creative you want to be. In my opinion, all we can do is seek out those personal connections, be scrappy and resourceful, and keep hustling.

Ifeanyi Awachie

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.

Insight From Your Fellow Student: The Lowdown on the Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

As part of our Student Insight blog series, Candace Evilsizor, MA Gender Studies with reference to the Middle East (graduating 2017) talks about her new role as an Associate soon to be starting at Boston Consulting Group.

Candace

Why did you decide to work for a consultancy?

As I studied the career trajectory of people with high-level jobs in policy and NGOs, I was surprised to see how many of them got their start in consultancies. While academia equips you to understand the causes of a problem, consulting teaches you how to strategize and implement a solution. I decided to pursue jobs in consultancies in order to develop this skillset.

I also knew I’d enjoy the day-to-day work. As a people-person, I was motivated by the chance to contribute as an integral part of a team. And I love the intellectual stimulation that comes from the constant exposure to new industries.

What is it that consultants do exactly?

They avoid answering that question. J In all seriousness, consultants solve problems with data for clients. Firms often specialize in a certain kind of consultancy, such as strategy, operations or information technology, which differ based on the expertise offered and the clients served.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a strategy firm. Strategy firms advise businesses how to outperform their competition and break into new markets. They are often hired to work with C-level executives and senior government officials.

I’ve heard consultants work long hours, is that true?

Consulting is a package of extremes. The job involves long hours, lots of travel, and pressure to deliver a quality solution to your client. On the other hand, it pays well and the firm invests in your professional development, accelerating your career.

What if I want to work overseas?

Then consulting is a great field for you! Many strategy firms encourage work abroad via short-term assignments, year-long placements, or even relocation to one of their international offices.

I chose BCG Middle East as a means to expand on the area studies foundation that I gained at SOAS. I was also attracted to the volume of public sector projects here. With Dubai hosting the World Exposition in 2018 and Saudi Vision 2030, it’s an exciting time to work in the region.

What does the recruitment process look like?

My recruitment process entailed an online exam (testing math and business competence) and two interview rounds. Each round involved solving various business cases and discussing my professional and educational qualifications with different interviewers.

The business cases in consulting interviews are shortened versions of problems that the firm has solved for previous clients. They are used to help consultants evaluate the candidate’s quantitative skills and logical reasoning.

Here’s a sample case from Harvard Business School’s Case Interview Guide that I used to practice: “A fast food chain recently bought a bovine meat-processing outlet to supply it with fresh hamburgers and other meats. The shop process is: cows enter at one end of the shop, meat gets processed in the middle, and then the meat gets packaged and delivered at the other end. The manager of the butcher shop cannot not decide whether to have the cows walk or run into the meat processing room. Can you help him?”

As a proud SOAS student, my first concern was for the cows. But this case also requires the candidate to think about supply and demand dynamics. And calculating the exact quantity of meat needed to fill the restaurants’ orders – which determines the speed at which cows should enter the plant – not only reduces the chain’s costs, but also prevents food waste.

I don’t have any prior business experience. Is that a problem?

No, consultancies welcome a broad range of expertise. My professional background is in the development sector, and I studied social sciences at SOAS. If you’re bright, teachable and hardworking, the rest can be learned on the job.

Then what qualifications do I need?

Consulting firms look for strong marks and high standardized math scores. Each firm will have its specific application criteria posted online. BCG requires AAB at A-levels (or equivalent) and a First or 2:1 at university (expected or received).

It’s also important to demonstrate professional achievement and people skills through internships, campus leadership and/or volunteer activities. You need to show that you can motivate a team, overcome obstacles and effect change in your field.

I think I’m a competitive applicant. What can I do to prepare?

The first step is to obtain an interview! Given the large number of candidates, it’s advantageous to meet people within the firm in order to highlight your application. Don’t feel shy about attending networking events or contacting people online.

And although private sector experience isn’t necessary, it’s important to feel confident with business terminology and mental math. I’d recommend finding another student interested in consulting and to give one another cases. Before my interviews, I read that most successful candidates practice at least 30 live cases, including some with current consultants, and I found this a helpful target.

At what point should I talk to the SOAS Careers?

SOAS Careers is on hand to support you with all aspects of your next steps after SOAS – whether you have no idea at all what you want to do, or if you have a definite plan in mind!

Among other things, Careers can provide practical assistance with covering letters, online maths preparation and mock interviews. They proved an invaluable resource when I was preparing my application materials (which are typically due in October) and throughout the interview process. They’d recommend you drop by their new Careers Zone in SL62, Paul Webley Wing as early as you can to work in partnership on your future.

What are you most excited about for your new job?

After studying with such an international cohort at SOAS, I’m thrilled at the diversity of my coworkers at BCG Middle East. Over 50 nationalities are represented in the Dubai office alone! I’m also excited to learn more about the region and to contribute to its public and private sector growth. While I’ll miss my time at SOAS, it’s safe to say that I’m excited about my new role as an Associate with BCG.

 Candace Evilsizor

Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert careers@soas.ac.uk.