Princess Agina is joining the Oxford MBA in September 2021 as an inaugural Laidlaw Scholar. In her first blog post, she shares her career journey so far and what brought her to Oxford.
Growing up in a vibrant multicultural household, with a Jamaican aunt (the sister of my deceased mother and the woman who I lovingly refer to as ‘mom’), grandparents and a Nigerian father, I developed a passion for travelling and intercultural learning early on.
In primary school, I would delight in sharing my culture, and its delicious traditional cuisines (like Nigerian jollof rice and Jamaican bammy), with other classmates during show-and-tells and excitedly accompanied my mom to local international festivals. I found it thrilling to share and learn from the diverse and complex world around me.
By the time I got to college, I had found more ways to explore the world. I ventured to Ghana to study abroad for a summer semester. In Ghana, I was fascinated by the eclectic energy of the entrepreneurs in the local markets.
In lieu of taking sales courses at my university, I got to learn how to barter and sell by observing the bustling markets in Accra and noting the slick dexterity of the salespeople around me first-hand. By summer’s end, I confronted my paralysing acrophobia and mustered enough courage to walk the 40m-tall canopy at Kakum National Park as my final hoorah before concluding one of the best travel experiences ever. I learned that I could go anywhere, even to new heights.
By the time I graduated college, the bright lights of New York enticed me to pack up and move to the Big Apple. I worked for a small startup and was then hired to do media strategy for Wal-Mart. I enjoyed the dynamism of the city and the work I was doing but the seed planted during my childhood, and watered during my trip to Ghana, cemented a desire to not only travel but to make a difference.
So, after an arduous application process, I joined the Peace Corps and headed to a small community in rural Costa Rica. As I excitedly boarded the flight to my next adventure, it did not strike me as problematic that I barely spoke Spanish. It was. For three months, I could not eat, travel, or converse with my host family without various awkward blunders and embarrassing mistranslations. Yet somehow everything was fine.
I was lucky to have a cadre of new friends and a very patient host family who took me under their collective wing. As I struggled to express myself verbally, I was forced to listen and observe more than I ever had. After a few months, I progressed from having to engage in what was essentially a non-stop game of Pictionary to facilitating a series of business development workshops for women in complete Spanish.
During those two-and-a-half years in Costa Rica, I improved my communication skills in both Spanish and my native tongue (English) because I had learned to be a better listener.
When I moved to New Orleans, I learned to be stubborn. I wanted to shift the paradigm that only showed white men as entrepreneurs and business leaders. So, I started my social entrepreneurship camp, BusinessU, for underestimated Black and Latinx youth to learn how to address societal ills via innovation, ideation, and entrepreneurship. I sought funding and partnerships for 11 months and was rejected over and over before securing university partnerships and, subsequently, receiving a grant from the US Department of State and Partners of the Americas to expand the programme.
Thus far, I have taught 100+ youth in the US and México that they indeed can be the next Sheila C. Johnson or Nely Galán. I learned not to feel dejected if I encountered hundreds of ‘no's because it only takes one ‘yes’ to get an idea off the ground.
Finally, during my Fulbright scholarship in México, and by way of working as an Economic Development Specialist for the County of Hawaii, I learned patience.
Whether co-facilitating community meetings with indigenous peoples or developing economic development projects with business stakeholders, I learned no project could commence without meaningful relationships being developed and a strong sense of trust being built. Make the meeting efficient, delve into the problem, check off tasks – these I knew how to do. Listen, gain trust, accomplish the first step – these I have had to learn.
As I venture to the ‘city of dreaming spires’, to an institution that I have endlessly dreamt of attending, I cannot help but let my imagination run wild with possibilities of the lessons that I will learn from a diverse class that boasts 67+ nationalities and an array of perspectives; the exchange of ideas and perspectives that will enable each of us to make sense of the global issues of our times and take action towards societal wellbeing and sustainability.
To the Oxford MBA, I bring all of the lessons from my journey thus far, I bring the urge to keep learning, and I bring a mean recipe for jollof rice.