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  • Neba Elvis Tanwie, Open Dreams Scholar

A Summer Full of Experiences

The Edinburgh Summer School on Transformative Leadership, the NICE Summer School on Intercultural Competence and Entrepreneurship and the Open Dreams Summer Academy on College Preparation all highlighted my summer. As fun as participating in these activities had been, they were by no means free from challenges. The challenges were numerous and the lessons, many. There were days I felt like disappearing yet others I didn’t want to end; there were people I struggled to engage with at first but found difficult to say good-bye when it was time to part ways. Overall, my 2019 summer has been the most dynamic and enriching.

Started just two weeks after the completion of a hectic academic year, the Edinburgh Summer School was by far the most stressful of my summer activities. First, being used to individual work, I found it arduous to work in a team of zestful young leaders with varied perspectives. More so, was the real-world tasks we were assigned: consulting, researching, prototyping etc, which were all somewhat discrete from the typical lecture theatre tasks. Those four weeks couldn’t have been less wearing. We had as tasks to form teams, assign roles and brainstorm on the chosen client’s problems during the first two weeks. By the end of those weeks, we formed a team, came up with a group name and defined the client’s problem. We were a team of 6. We named our team the “Green Mortals” and we had the task of researching and recommending materials for the construction of a Scope 3 carbon-neutral cultural hub to our client, North Edinburgh Arts. We then focused our third week researching on the potential materials; our research focused on specialist websites, consultation of notes on Architecture and consultation with an Edinburgh-based architect. We were fortunate to have Aisha in our team, an Edinburgh student majoring in Architecture, as she was instrumental in getting notes in Architecture and connecting us with an architect.

By the end of the third week, we had detailed ideas for our recommendations; our final task for the last week was to present our findings to our client. Earlier that week, we were blessed to have Tom Ilube, British entrepreneur and founder of African Science Academy, and James Gutierrez, an MIT alumnus, whose life experiences helped in boosting our confidence. Equally instrumental in the design of our final presentation was Mel Sherwood, a public speaking expert. The final day came and though nervous, we were all ready to give in our best. All 9 teams came up with thrilling presentations overcoming all nervousness to present to an audience invited by the MasterCard Foundation team and to our clients. I am grateful to my teammates: Aisha (Nigerian), Grace (Kenyan), Peniel (Zambian), Mark (Ugandan) and Shester (Cameroonian) and to all 45 young African leaders who made this an experience. My gratitude equally goes to the MasterCard Foundation team staff at Edinburgh who worked tirelessly to provide all the resources and assistance we needed. Today, I can confidently say I have an idea in consulting and architecture thanks to this experience. And if there is one thing I took out, that will be the fact that the most important step in consulting is defining the client’s problem.

My next stop was the NICE Summer School at the University College Dublin. Before heading to Dublin, I was fortunate to spend some time with family in Bedford and was pretty much the only proper holidays I had. Dublin was just awesome, I felt at home from the moment I landed. University College Dublin was even more stupendous; Geofrey and I kept clashing on which is more beautiful: Edinburgh with its typical ancient buildings or UCD with its stunning modern infrastructure. The summer school itself was yet another challenging experience. In 6 days, we were tasked to form teams, design a business plan and pitch our plan to a panel of judges. These, of course, embodied the smallest tasks of innovating a brand name, designing a logo and defining the role of each team member to the complex tasks of innovating a product for a defined market and defining financial channels. We were however fortunate to have sessions with renowned experts on Entrepreneurship who guided us through the process. We succeeded to form a team of 6, brainstormed on the chosen Global Challenge and pin-pointed our focus during the first 3 days. Our next challenge was to define our product and come up with a brand name and logo which we tackled on day 4.

Our brand was “SALUS” and our product was a nano-filtering system powered by solar energy to provide potable water to rural communities with polluted water sources. Day 5 focused on refining our product and practising for the final pitch, which we dealt with. Then came the final day when all 12 teams pitched their business models to a panel of judges in a heated round of presentations. The range and maturity of the ideas were just thrilling; I was dumbfounded by the amount of progress each team made in the limited time. It was indeed a remarkable experience. I am thankful to my Salus teammates: Sasha (German), Katja (Dutch), Carmen (Spanish) Marco (Italian) and Alexandra (Romanian) and the entire NICE Project team for an excellent learning experience. Today, I can confidently say that I have an idea of the work entrepreneurs do daily. Entrepreneurship and its associated skills: critical/design thinking, prototyping and pitching are skills every young person should be taught; the American economy is the world’s strongest today because of the entrepreneurial spirit of an average American. During those 6 days, we were also drilled on practical lessons on Intercultural competence, a skill highly valued by today’s multinational corporations. If there is one thing, I found particularly striking, this was the damaging effect of preconceived stereotypes and quick judgement on multinational teams.

Then came my last activity for the summer, coordinating the first-ever Open Dream summer academy in Yaoundé. Just returning from a hectic week in Dublin, I was ardent to meet the 25 brightest Cameroonians we recruited for the summer academy. I was equally keen on meeting the terrific team that had been doing the groundwork running the summer academy in my absence.

Meeting and engaging with these wonderful people couldn’t have been more enriching. I was not only given an opportunity to put to practice the numerous skills I had learned in Edinburgh and Dublin, but I was equally opportune to learn even more from Cameroon’s best. Engaging with students on a one-to-one basis was the most inspiring as their farsighted career ambitious prompted me to dream more. The little time I had with them was enough for me to pass on strategic advice on College Application drawn from my experiences. Insightful conversations with the facilitators, who were all students from top universities across the globe were equally incentivising. Equally remarkable was the fact that I was given a chance to develop some work-place skills. I was tasked to constantly communicate professionally with my team of facilitators and the Open Dreams team.

I equally had to strengthen my time management skills. Yet another staggering experience I had with the pre-scholar was the community service activities which involved the collection of plastic bottles. It was during this activity that I got to fully grabs the extent of poor waste management in Cameroon and this caused me to start pondering on ways the country can alleviate this. Honestly, I strongly believe that despite the efforts of several NGOs recollecting plastic bottles, tougher regulations most be implemented for tangible change.Overall, the academy was a sheer success; the improvement in SAT performance, essay writing and public speaking for our pre-scholars were just thrilling. I can’t wait to see the top universities they will all be heading to by next fall.

My gratitude goes to Ferdinand, Maeva, Hoffmann, Edwin a to the host of facilitators who made this a success. I am equally thankful to the Open Dreams team for giving me the opportunity. Today, I leave the country feeling fulfilled having been able to impact the life of 25 young Cameroonians directly. But I know it’s just a beginning of a chain reaction that will make Cameroon’s advancement a reality. My goal is to continue to assist at least 100 young Cameroonians get educational opportunities abroad by the end of my undergraduate studies. I envision a future in which Cameroonians are strongly represented in top universities like their counterparts from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria and Rwanda. Indeed, it has been a dynamic summer full of experiences; days passed like hours and time was just not a friend. And as I head back to the lecture theatre in two weeks, I can’t wait for the numerous experiences next summer holds for me.

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