Ada Osakwe has become the first African to give a speech at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. The event took place on Friday, 19th June, 2020. The topic of her speech was titled ‘Finding your voice in extraordinary times’. She is also the fourth black woman to do so, following in the footsteps of outstanding Black-Americans that include Edith Cooper (Kellogg ’86), Global Head of Human Capital at Goldman Sachs in 2017, Roslyn Brock, Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP in 2012 and media titan Oprah Winfrey, in 2011.
She felt incredibly honoured that not even up to a decade after graduating from Kellogg where she earned her MBA, she was invited to address the class of 2020.
“As a young woman who has worked hard to promote Africa in all I do, this meant a lot to me. I was sad when due to COVID 19, I was unable to join them in person. But by God’s grace, we will do so next year”. Ada said.
With a critical phase of their lives upended by the ongoing global health pandemic, the class of 2020 completed the last few months of their MBA degree program virtually, instead of on campus in the classroom, and they will receive their diplomas in the mail or on their phones. Recognizing the need to offer extra inspiration at this extraordinary moment in history, in her commencement speech, Osakwe praised them for their bravery, resilience and courage.
Ada is the Founder of Agrolay Ventures, an investment firm focusing on early-stage innovative food companies in Africa. Since 2015, the firm has built a portfolio of 10 high-growth investments in food and technology, including The Nuli Juice Company (‘Nuli’), Nigeria’s fastest-growing farm-to-table beverage producer and fast-casual restaurant chain that utilizes locally-grown vegetables and fruits.
After her time in New York, she went into public service, joining the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture as his Senior Investment Advisor. This high-level role gave her unparalleled exposure at the highest levels. After four years, she gave up all the power and influence that came with her position, deciding to become an entrepreneur instead.
Osakwe revealed that those she called her friends disappeared overnight, her phone wasn’t ringing anymore. She says it was a difficult time as she felt she had to prove her professional capabilities to people all over again and rebuild her entire private-sector career from scratch. “Thinking back, it was just what was needed to motivate me to make sure my start-up, Nuli, became the fastest-growing beverage brand and fast-casual restaurant chain in Nigeria.” She said.
For Ada, it’s important to believe in yourself to make it through challenging times: “So in your quest to thrive, there will be curve-balls thrown your way and you’ll have to take risks, it’s a given. But you’ve just got to trust your journey,” she advised the graduating students.
Furthermore, she emphasized on the importance of finding their voices saying “…globally, we are at a tipping point, as we see various forms of injustice being revealed. And so now, more than ever, the world needs brave leaders like you, and me, and all other Kellogg grads around the world, to provide solutions to the existential problems being faced by humanity.” Adding that “It so important to find your voice and help others find theirs too, during these extraordinary times.”.
This message was important to Osakwe as she has recently been very outspoken about the Nigerian Government’s insufficient response to support small business owners in Nigeria through the difficult COVID 19 pandemic. “Small businesses like mine, a group that makes up over 80 percent of the labour force of my country, have been left alone to navigate these shaky waters”,Osakwe complained.
Ada has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, MSc in Economics and Finance from University of Warwick, U.K. and BSc in Economics (First Class Honours) from the University of Hull, U.K.
She is Chair of the Small Business Networking Nigeria (SBNN), a new organisation founded by small business owners to represent their collective voices and interests on issues around policy and business environment.