The first of six weeks that I’ll be interning for the Emzingo Fellowship in Johannesburg, South Africa, has flown by. I’m still processing a lot, as the fellows’ lives have been rather intense between field partner projects, after-work sessions, and unofficial fun and exploration.
To come up with one or two pat phrases conveying all my impressions of this place would be glib at best and downright artificial at worst. There are bits and pieces, glimpses of layers and layers of this country underneath what new visitors see, snippets heard or overheard, strands that will eventually be woven together into whole cloth, but as of yet, the pattern remains unclear.
After a few days of in-country orientation sessions getting to know each other, our neighborhood, and South Africa, we started work with our field partners this past Wednesday. I am working with Ankur Dhawan, a fellow IE Business School MBA, at Zazida Institute of Entrepreneurship, a post-secondary educational institution for educating and training entrepreneurs.
Zazida has started small, teaching 25 students in its first year, but its founder, Vincent Joyner, has big plans: he wants to reach 100,000 entrepreneurs by 2021, and to do this through the creation of a network of online and offline resources for aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa, including online educational content, seminars, webinars, networking events, peer coaching, and a social network.
Mine and Ankur’s project is to develop a strategy for launching this network, for acquiring clients, and for monetizing the platform. Vincent intends to launch the website for the club on July 31st—talk about managing expectations.
One of our first steps in determining content to include and leave out is talking to current Zazida students, to understand which resources aspiring entrepreneurs in the area would use, and which ones they wouldn’t. After all, we can’t possibly know what potential clients might want if we don’t really listen to them.
A realization dawned on me on my very first day: these were not students starting up individual businesses, but, rather, that they had combined each of their talents; Alfre’s design education, Velicia’s interest in green products, and Paul’s experience in promotion to form a team. After meeting one another at Zazida, they joined forces and decided to design and sell eco-friendly clothing and promote it at a fashion show that is booked for this coming September. For Alfre, Velicia, and Paul, the whole was truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Seeing this team come together organically, and witnessing their energy and ambition inspires me and makes me think about what’s really important when forming teams. Most of my work experience prior to the MBA was more individual or hierarchical rather than collaborative, and the teams I’ve worked in while at IE Business were formed by third parties rather than coming together on their own.
Most of those teams lacked the same drive, cohesiveness, and enthusiasm that I see among the Zazida students. When I look at them, I realize that, when teaming up with others, it’s not just important to find people whose strengths complement your own, but also who share your motivation to reach a common goal.
If anything, the latter may be more important than the former. After all, if someone doesn’t completely want to be there in the room with you, creating something together, no matter how talented they are, they won’t give their all. But if, on the other hand, someone shares your passion and enjoys working with you, they deserve a shot, even if they don’t appear to have the sort of experience you need, because they will work to help you achieve a common goal and, together, you will discover how their strengths can help reach it.
Yvonne Krywyj is an Emzingo Fellow (Summer 2012), and IE Business School MBA
Read more about students doing an MBA in Europe here