Africa is a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds and I’m a great representation of that. My father is Ugandan, my mother Zimbabwean and my wife Ghanaian. I grew up in Johannesburg in a conservative academic household where education was highly valued. I owe my desire to achieve and learn to my parents.
Before I joined LBS, I worked in aeronautical engineering. I studied at the University of the Witwatersrand to Master’s level, joined a space engineering research company in Pretoria and helped found a company that developed solar power plants in South Africa. I went from being a junior engineer to a senior engineer responsible for £385m worth of sustainable electricity within three years.
When the political situation made building solar power plants difficult, I joined a private equity firm. Life there was hard and fast but after a couple of years, I began to plateau. So, wanting to improve my understanding of the commercial world, I started to think about the value of an MBA.
Nasi Rwigema was a recipient of the MBA Mo Ibrahim Foundation Scholarship
“The theory of business school is just one part of the educational experience”
In South Africa, most people live harmoniously but we tend to stick to our own. Growing up, I was part of lots of different social groups and what frustrated me was that I could never seem to bring them together. You’d have a party or go out for dinner and your friends would sit in their groups and not mix. I found that cultural openness and desire to come together at LBS: here, it’s the norm to mix with others. I didn’t realise until I arrived here how much I’d been longing for that.
My MBA2020 class includes a former ballerina from the San Francisco Ballet and a guy who spent 10 years living on a remote island aqua farming. There are also people from the more traditional worlds of tech, finance, consulting and energy. Those without the ‘typical’ pre-MBA experience aren’t just coping – they’re thriving. Everyone’s motivations and circumstances are wildly different and that’s what makes it such an interesting place to learn.
The theory of business school is just one part of the educational experience. What makes it richer is the different hands that go up in a lecture and the different stories that people share. You want to be surrounded by excellence – and you get that at LBS – but if those classmates also come from different places it leads to the best kind of educational experience. It’s constant exercise for the brain.
I saw the Mo Ibrahim Scholarship advertised on the LBS website: it provides full fee coverage and brings you into the Mo Ibrahim Foundation family. Naturally, I was overjoyed and beyond grateful to be awarded it; it has made my entrepreneurial ambitions post-LBS more pursuable. Beyond the financial support, I’ve enjoyed working with the Foundation on their African governance initiatives and spending time with Dr Ibrahim, who has become a role model to me.
In my first term, I might have made some snap judgements about my fellow students. The quietest guy turned out to be super gregarious when you got to know him. The girl in the front row who always asked the ‘easy questions’ later edged everyone out to secure the big consulting internship. They’ve taught me a lot about how people work and what might be going on under the surface.
“Those without the ‘typical’ pre-MBA experience aren’t just coping – they’re thriving”
The MBA offered me learning and commercial fundamentals, but more than that, it shifted my view on private equity and renewable energy. When I arrived, I was certain that I’d end up within one of those sectors: there wasn’t anything else in my universe. Within the first term, I’d decided against both – and had moved towards the world of tech and entrepreneurship.
It took a lot of bravery to decide against finance and energy. When I realised that the finance and energy modules and clubs weren’t calling me, I had to think hard about what I was gravitating towards. And it was the Tech and Media Club, a passionate LBS club where I learnt about business models of near infinite scale and worked on new tech initiatives like LBS Elevate, which is all about offering those who don’t come from tech backgrounds the opportunity to do a six-month development programme.
It was during my time with the Entrepreneurship Summer School that my own start-up idea started to formulate: a professional network for the low-skilled African worker. When I was building power plants across Africa, I always reflected on how difficult it was for lower-skilled, blue-collar workers to position and sell themselves in the marketplace. This platform will help them showcase their abilities and stand out from the pack when looking for work.
LBS has been the best place to stress-test my start-up idea: you’re given free expert consultancy advice all the time. My classmates’ feedback on my idea has been critical and has helped me clearly articulate what I want my business to do.
“LBS has been the best place to stress-test my start-up idea”
I became Vice President of Special Projects at the Africa Club in my first year. It felt like a calling. The Club’s focus is celebrating Africa and sharing experiences of what it’s like to live and work there. We put on lots of brilliant events, including the annual Africa Business Summit, which is designed to be a launchpad for driving growth and demystifying life in Africa.
An MBA can be an expensive purchase but, if it’s right for you, don’t let cost deter you. LBS showed me how the experience would help me thrive professionally and personally. I thought I would expand my horizons, but it’s taken me further than I ever anticipated. In Africa, my ambitions were rationally limited based on what I saw around me and they’ve been drastically expanded. You get to dream much bigger at LBS.
People join the army to turn themselves into highly-skilled operatives. My MBA objective was to turn myself into a high-output, high-functioning thinker. It’s been two years of sword-sharpening with some of the brightest minds around.