I devoted the first month in 2021 to the Innovate For Africa (IFA) Innovation Readiness Training aimed at equipping young talented entrepreneurs with practical hard and soft skills that match the energy required for startups. Before this, I was looking for ways to advance in my career while developing and acquiring old and new skills respectively.
The training aims to provide hands-on experience that can be further applied to developing our innovation ecosystem, and I can attest that I have had the experience of a lifetime learning to be a young innovator. Every day, we experienced sessions that taught us how to embody the IFA values essential to startup life, they include; grit, collaboration, innovation, growth mindset and inclusivity.
Each day, we got a classwork script that outlined our tasks for the day and how to achieve them. Recommended articles, videos or books were also included to give us even better clarity. I really liked this as it made it easy to get a task done while self-learning. The IFA team; made up of professionals from Harvard School of Education and MIT Sloan School of Management, were highly encouraging daily. They understood how new this was to many of us and were there guiding us.
Another key aspect of this training was the collaboration between fellows. It was wonderful to see every day how other fellows came to the aid of one who was struggling or confused, sharing information and tips that made a task easy to achieve. When we worked on our group projects, even when there were disagreements, we always came back to encourage and present good work.
The training curriculum was divided into 4 parts:
Personal Branding; we spent time learning and applying different ways to communicate and professionally present our brand and skills through our resumes and portfolios. I understood the importance of self-reflection and putting myself out there in the most creative way possible. It was fun and enlightening as I learnt how to capture everything important about myself.
Strategic Analysis; The lessons in this session focused on how I could properly research, assess and learn about a company’s goals, mission, strengths, weakness, and business environment. This analysis helps organise the way we understand necessary details about an organisation, perhaps before going for an interview or working on a project for a client.
Design Thinking; here I understood how vital creating user-centric products can be for a startup creating a solution to a recognized societal problem. We spent over 2 weeks working as a group to identify a problem in the society and come up with user-centric solutions, my team worked using the design thinking process of empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping and finally testing. At the end of the hackathon, I was proud to be part of the team behind Nimra Health; a data management tool for the health sector in my country.
Hard Skills Lab; This had to be the most challenging part of the training but I would also describe it as the most rewarding. I enjoyed exploring and applying myself in product management. This was entirely new to me and quite frustrating at the start, but I was able to apply my knowledge consulting in a project for SplitSpot, an apartment renting company in the USA. To help make it easier, IFA assigned us mentors who were industry experts. My mentor Mr Quadri Oguntade was kind and encouraging. By the last week, I had learnt how to conduct primary market research, draw up a product roadmap, experiment with prototyping tools and finally collaborate with a team to make product requirements document detailing this task.
Throughout the training, we had entrepreneurs who had experienced success in their own ways who spoke to us. There was a pattern I noticed, how each of them had persevered through challenges, they were unafraid to pursue a dream or vision that they had. I was encouraged that though the road is rough, it is important to persevere and stay on course. One of my personal favourite speakers was Mrs Faith Adesemowo, co-founder of Social Lender. She has been able to address a real-life social problem in society while also making strides in the hairstyling industry, a field I am particularly interested in.
Key things I learnt from IFA’s Innovation Readiness Training include;
There is nothing that I cannot learn how to do- This experience was new and I struggled especially with the hard skills lab but at the end of our final presentations, I was reminded yet again that I can achieve anything I decide to.
There is a reward in perseverance- Pushing through this program and then seeing the reward at the end got me thrilled. It was good to see that my grit had yielded good fruit.
Collaboration never grows old- It is great to achieve things on your own but to collaborate is to open the doors for even more.
I am thankful to the IFA team for this experience, I believe I am well on my way to being an innovator for change.
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