They both have a common alma mater, But fate – and, of course, hard work – have put Misan Rewane and Olujimi Williams on the threshold of actualising what is unarguably nearly every student’s dream – a scholarship at Harvard. Kasie Abone writes
Both young Nigerians, they share a passion to make positive change and give their careers a lift. Meet Misan Rewane, an economist and Olujimi Williams, a chemical engineer, beneficiaries of 7Up annual Harvard Business School (HBS) Scholarship scheme.
Coincidentally, both were pupils at Corona Primary School in Lagos. While Rewane attended Lagoon Secondary School, Williams attended King’s College for their senior school certificates before travelling abroad, Misan to United States and Olujimi to United Kingdom for their higher education.
Born in Lagos, Williams attended Manchester University in UK where he studied chemical engineering. On graduation, he joined General Electric and worked in a variety of finance roles for four years. In 2010 he returned to Nigeria and joined the power sector with the hope of helping the country attain a reliable public power supply. Still yearning for more knowledge, he dreamt often of securing a peace at Harvard Business School.
Like Williams, Rewane attended Corona Primary School, Victoria Island and Lagoon Secondary School before going on to do her A-levels in Badminton School, Bristol. She went on to study economics at Stanford University, after which she joined a management consulting firm, The Monitor Group in New York. After three years in consulting, she spent six months volunteering for TechnoServe in Cote d’Ivoire, working with aspiring entrepreneurs via its first ever francophone Business Plan Competition. She then moved back to Nigeria in 2010 to work with the Centre for Public Policy Alternatives, a public policy think tank in Lagos.
From childhood her passion was to become a teacher, but her father would not hear of it. “My dad advised me at a young age to forget about becoming a teacher when I grew up because I would be poor, frustrated and unappreciated. But a part of me always knew that I wanted to fix Nigeria’s education sector. I couldn’t understand why such an important job should be something that repelled bright ambitious minds. I became even more determined when my parents, unable to ignore the system’s breakdown, consequent dearth of facilities and incessant teacher strikes, were compelled to send me to the US for college. I resolved then to play a role in transforming the Nigerian education system so that it can develop human capital effectively, so I could one day have the choice to send my children to high calibre Nigerian schools,” she told THISDAY.
She also got accepted to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School and with 7Up Bottling Company picking all their bills, the journey was made easy and both are on their ways to realizing their dreams.
They both spoke in exhilarating tones about their motivation and how the scholarship would help them realize their dreams for Nigeria. “I enjoyed learning and helping people solve problems - academic or otherwise - and I wanted to be a teacher at some point. In 2006, I co-founded the IMPACT (Inspiring Minds, Perceptions & Attitudes to Change Tomorrow) initiative as an immediate response to the need in Nigeria for local capacity development. Over the past five years, IMPACT has focused on leadership development and maximizing the individual’s potential contributions to the community. IMPACT has run mentorship, internship and scholarship programs in addition to annual youth forums and summer programs that have provided academic and career guidance for well over 1,000 Nigerian youths,” Rewane said.
Last August, IMPACT through iStep-Up Summer Programme held a week of learning, fun, networking, scholarships, internships, and self-development programme targeted at senior secondary and university students. The programme provided participants career coaches and career self-assessment tools to help them improve on their chances of finding and excelling at a job in their chosen field.
Rewane, the first beneficiary of the 7Up scholarship award, who was in Nigeria for the summer holiday saw the second winner, Williams, presented to the media. “I have spent this summer working with the Bridge International Academies, a network of ultra low-cost ($4 per month tuition) primary schools that currently cater to over 25,000 children from low-income Kenyan homes, on their international expansion strategy to other African countries, and in the process, I’m learning a whole lot about the affordable education landscape in East and West Africa, which I plan on plugging into fulltime upon graduation.” She added that such affordable education scheme if introduced in the rural communities would deliver quality education, the type obtained in high end schools, to the less-privileged at affordable rate.
Williams said he wants to be part of the leadership team that would transform the inefficiency in the energy sector to make it work at optimum level. To achieve that, he intends to work hard and rise to the management level so he could influence decisions that would deliver the expected change. “I would like to be part of the solution to the power sector. As a manager who is part of the decision making team, I would stamp out inefficiencies and corruption that have stopped us from driving the power sector to where we want it to be.”
7Up’s executive director of human resources, Mr. Femi Mokikan, said the aim of the scholarship was to “produce intelligent, young, energetic runners who are capable and able by virtue of their training and exposure to take the baton from the present crop of administrators and technocrats and lead Nigeria to political and economic Eldorado.”
He explained that the choice of Harvard Business School is premised on the fact that apart from its top global rating as a reputable business school, having consistently maintained a top three rankings for decades, Seven-Up believes that the best way to build a pool of global leaders for Nigeria is to sponsor qualified young Nigerians to a world class institution to compete and learn from others.
“We are doing this because we want young Nigerians to believe that through Seven-Up they can make it to Harvard .If Harvard University is in the moon and you feel it is unreachable, we will provide you with the shuttle to get there,” he said.
The scholarship is however without any bond or obligation from 7Up scholars. That means they are not under any obligation to come back to work in Nigeria after graduation. But the company expects that whenever the beneficiaries choose to return to the country, they would have been fully equipped with knowledge acquired to contribute to the development of Nigeria.
Rewane is very optimistic that the desired change would come. “I’m a believer; the day I stop believing I probably won’t wake up the next day. If we don’t see that difference, we make the difference ourselves.”
Her advice for future beneficiaries of the scholarship carried her characteristic optimistic tone: “Start crafting a story that is consistent with whom you are. Start working on it years before you get into it. Go for it, apply, it could really be yours and you would be surprised what 7Up would come up with.”
For Williams the thought of a scholarship at Harvard is still overwhelming. “The style of teaching is extremely fantastic. It grooms you to take decisions in an organization in terms of uncertainty. I feel fantastic winning the scholarship. It’s a great thing 7Up is doing, giving us a chance to go to HBS to get top quality education without having to worry about the burden of funding our education. 7Up has made my dream come true. I will be back.