Ada Osakwe left Nigeria as a high school graduate and returned as senior investment adviser to Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture.
In between she spent more than 10 years abroad, earning a string of degrees and working on three continents, according to an interview in Bella Naija.
After attending high school in Lagos, Osakwe attended university in the U.K. She studied economics at the University of Hull, graduated with honors in 2003 then earned a master’s degree in economics and finance from the Warwick Business School. This was where she developed a love for finance and investing, she said in the interview. She joined the debt capital markets team at BNP Paribas, an investment bank in London, and earned a second master’s in business administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the U.S.
“I had an amazing time at Kellogg,” she said in an interview with Bella Naija. “We worked hard and we played hard.”
Through it all Osakwe said she was always passionate about Africa and business on the continent.
With the prompting of an African mentor, she applied for a job in African Development Bank’s Young Professionals Program, and after several interviews and trips to Africa, landed the job.
Part of her work entailed structuring and investing in private sector projects in Africa. She worked on public-private partnerships, hydro-power projects, toll-road concessions, and other infrastructure initiatives in South Africa, Botswana, Senegal, Ethiopia, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. She also invested in private equity funds on behalf of the bank.
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Then she heard the Nigerian Ministry of Agriculture was recruiting for a senior investment advisor to the minister.
“I met the minister for an interview in the U.S., and after three hours of chatting I was convinced I wanted to be part of the ambitious plans he had in mind for agriculture in Nigeria,” she said.
Osakwe has been on the job for seven months, “and it has exceeded all my expectations,” she said. “I am the point person for the minister on matters involving investment in the agriculture sector in Nigeria. So I could be dealing with global companies such as Unilever, SABMiller, Nestle, or other types of investors looking to gain exposure to agriculture in Nigeria.”
Her advice to anyone thinking of moving back to Nigeria?
“Make sure you are ready, and do not do this simply as a knee-jerk reaction. Living in Nigeria requires a lot of mental preparation. Do not compromise when looking for a role in Nigeria. As long as you have the skills, companies in Nigeria will find a way to pay you. Have a backup plan in place in case things don’t work out as planned. If you do your research properly however, you should not have the need for your back up plan.
“Make sure you are confident when you interact with colleagues or partners in the work place or business environment in Nigeria. Particularly if you are a woman, and you are young (or young-looking), some people in the workplace tend to disrespect you or take you for granted. So you need to know your stuff. Be articulate in expressing yourself, be confident in your interactions with people, and hold your own. Just think about what you bring to the table and focus on that. It’s all about what value you add.”