Saïd Business School with a baby on board

3 minute read

2020 was a tough year for me, as it was for most of the world. I found out I was pregnant in February, and the excitement was quickly replaced with anxiety as it became increasingly clear that Covid-19 was going to mean that this year of milestones would be spent far from friends and family, and in increasing isolation.

I had spent my career working in reproductive healthcare, with a focus on adolescents, and was entering a fifth year posted in Kenya. It is an incredible country, but so many of the things that made life here so pleasant – live music, travel, nature and friends – faded away as the pandemic lockdowns rolled on and on. My work as a portfolio manager at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation felt as important as ever as widespread school closures threatened a leap in teenage pregnancies but working from home left me feeling distant and stressed. Kenya’s early responses kept the pandemic at bay for months, but, as my due date drew closer, hospitals were increasingly overwhelmed and dangerous.

There were some bright sides, however. My employer was supportive of my professional development even as I went into my year of maternity leave, and I was intrigued by the diploma programmes offered at Saïd Business School. I was likely to come back to a leadership role with greater strategic scope after many years in operational roles, and I knew I wanted to invest in a solid theoretical grounding for that new challenge. After all, innovation isn’t only for the world’s richest people – it is just as critical for the global poor, who are the world’s fastest-growing internet users. Innovation has the potential to create real disruption and empower people at all levels of society.

The cost of the Oxford Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation at Saïd Business School seemed insurmountable for someone in the charity sector, but with generous support from my employer and the scholarship for exceptional female candidates from the School, I was able to afford it. I feel so grateful for their confidence which has allowed me to take advantage of the opportunity.

I had my first online engagement with my classmates when my daughter was eight weeks old and, as I go into the final week of classes this month, she is a happy, babbling, crawling toddler. The content of the course itself has exposed me to a broad range of business thinking, so much of which is immediately applicable to the challenges I face in my daily work. 

We have certainly missed out by not being able to spend time with our classmates in person, but an active WhatsApp group and regular lunchtime talks coordinated by our excellent student representatives have helped fill some of the gaps. In truth, the remote sessions have been a blessing for me as travel with the little one would have been such a challenge.

It hasn’t always been easy to balance childcare with the requirements of our coursework – there is a lot of reading before each session to fit around nap times, and, of course, childcare to allow me to join the online classes and write exams. During one of the modules, Kenya had an 8pm curfew so even having a babysitter was not an option during the later classes. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and support of classmates and instructors every time I’ve had to hold the baby while on camera, either as she babbles at the screen or falls to sleep while I nurse her at bedtime.

Undertaking the course during my maternity leave has allowed me to keep part of my brain engaged, while affording me the time to experience this magical period with my daughter. I would really recommend it to anyone who has the support network to make it possible.