Afua Osei started a full-time MBA at Chicago Booth aged 24. She became a McKinsey consultant aged 26. Now, aged 30, she’s running her own business.
She’s co-founder of She Leads Africa, an online community platform empowering women in business. Since its launch in 2014, She Leads Africa has attracted over 250,000 women from across 30 different countries in Africa, connecting them to global brands like Intel, Huawei, and Facebook.
It’s also helped provide entrepreneurship training to over 1,200 women and given out over $50,000 in startup grants. Last year, Afua even brought two of her ex-MBA colleagues over to Lagos, Nigeria, to give classes and business training to some of the women in the network.
With Ghanaian roots but born and raised in the US, Afua served as a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia, worked on US political campaigns and in the Office of the First Lady, prior to her MBA. She initially joined the University of Chicago as a Master of Public Policy student. While her friends partied in Cancun, she spent her Spring Break prepping for the GMAT.
At Chicago Booth, Afua joined the Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) and developed her new business idea. After graduation, she put her business plans on hold and started working for McKinsey in Nigeria until, in February 2016, she quit her job, took the leap, and went full-time with her business.
How did the idea to start She Leads Africa come about?
During my first summer at Chicago Booth, I interned at a mobile technology company in Nigeria. I was one of only two women in the office, and she and I became friends.
While I was there, one of our male colleagues got a promotion over her, even though she was very qualified for the new position. When I spoke to my boss about it, he said he didn’t hear her speak up, or recommend new ideas. I asked her: how do you learn how to get a new job, and navigate the corporate space? She said you just have to figure it out.
I was coming from a space at Chicago Booth that was so supportive, with training, workshops, and so many people helping me to be successful. I realized that most normal people don’t have access to so many resources. So, I wanted to create a resource and a platform that would help young African women navigate the corporate space.
What is the future for women in business in Africa?
We think that startup ecosystems provide a lot of opportunity to create a more inclusive business environment in Africa. We don’t need to follow the history or trajectory of the US or European market. We can start to integrate diversity and inclusiveness in the startups that are being built now, so that in five-to-ten years’ time it’s not a surprise to see women in the c-suite and women CEOs.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Chicago Booth?
I started out at the public policy school on other side of the campus. I met a really smart classmate during our orientation. He was a consultant, doing a joint MBA degree, and he was really good at solving problems and structuring things. I thought, I should be like that too!
When I was looking at business schools, I liked the flexible nature of Chicago Booth. I ended up taking classes at the law school, the policy school, and the business school. Chicago Booth also pays great attention to the career services. I wanted to be in a space where there were going to be people helping me to succeed.
Would you be where you are today without the Chicago Booth MBA?
Unequivocally, I would not be doing the work I am now had I not gone to Chicago Booth. When you have an MBA from an established business school, people trust your expertise and your insight. That opens up opportunities for you.
The time I spent at Chicago Booth, and going through the SNVC, enabled me to test out a lot of assumptions and avoid a lot of mistakes with running my business. Now, we use the Chicago Booth alumni directory when connecting to corporate brands.
The MBA provides you with that opportunity to switch career track. I don’t think there’s anything else out there that gives you the chance to say: ‘I want to try something new.’