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YALI REFLECTION: Four Indelible Phrases from a Journey in Entrepreneurship

Twenty-five young African professionals have spent the last six weeks journeying through a business institute directed by the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. In that time, the Farley Center and Northwestern’s Program of African Studies guided them through an academic seminar, community service projects, cultural and civic and site visits Evanston and Chicago. In this blog series, some of our fellows share their highlights from their time with us and what lessons they’ll take back home and build on in the future.

Tangai MurangariAs we meander through the few remaining days of the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellowship at Northwestern University, caught in a desperate scramble to try and capture and retain all the significant events of our six-week journey, the obstacles of being limited beings—of finite capacity and capabilities—are more and more apparent. If only we could recall every moment, and every hour of what has been a prodigious odyssey. And so we hold onto our memories, the visions of significant events, and the words of striking quotations to preserve the process of reformation we have had the opportunity to undergo.

That a six-week intensive course in business and entrepreneurship would lead to soul searching, to lessons in fine art and the realization that all things seemingly unrelated have everything to do with each other! Our time here is etched in my mind by four significant events and quotations!

Substance and Form

Having the opportunity to see Charles Ray’s work for the first time. Charles Ray’s use of scientific precision to give form to artistic projects goes well beyond what is common. Fiberglass sculptures of fallen trees and wrecked cars, reproduced to perfection to create striking, visually appealing objects. The visit to the Art Institute of Chicago will always be a reminder that with detail, patience and some creativity we are capable of producing beyond the ordinary, and perhaps building businesses that are beyond conventional.

The centerpiece of the exhibition though is a duo of sculptures of Huckleberry Finn and Jim, the central characters in the Mark Twain story. The phenomenal proportions of the statue left a striking impression of just how their friendship would transcend racial boundaries. It is in many ways a representation of the relationships and friendships that have developed during our stay!  Our relationships with the fellows and with the new friends we have made here! Including Peaches!

Iterations to Perfection

Pablo Picasso’s La guenon et son petit (Baboon and young) was introduced to us in an oddball presentation that would leave the cohort stricken by intensity and in awe of the faculty we have had the chance to meet. The faculty that has reminded us un many ways that we are human, we have limitations but that its ok to be human, you can seemingly produce masterpieces from unrelated elements. The sculpture is made from two two cars as its main elements and represents some of our greatest atke aways from this process. In the words of Dean Julio Ottino (NU) “Inspiration is overrated”, but that the many positive iterations to perfection will result in a materpiece. The image of succesive Picasso Sketches before some of his paintings will probably be our greatest reminder that even the masters plan, canvas and Pivot!

Finding True North

The process, although ongoing right now of Finding True North, has perhaps been the mantra for the 2015 MWF at Northwestern University. It’s been our go-to phrase and perhaps central to our course here. It’s a description, a verb, and one of the most poignant lessons of Bill George’s bestseller. It’s about finding our internal compass, breathing before class sessions, relaxing and soul searching. It is probably the foundation on which we will try and build our grand businesses! It is also probably attached to Verinder, an experienced Indian man, who has touched our lives, made us cry laugh and dance, and for most of us started the journey to finding ourselves. It’s an intense reminder that we need to lead ourselves to be successful business leaders and of the great many lessons for our cohort.

Now isn’t that just all the lessons one needs in business and entrepreneurship! 

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