Life at MEST as a Fellow

Kelechi Udoagwu | Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

When I decided to take up the fellowship at MEST, I clearly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had heard a lot of stories about Africa. My friends clearly warned me, are you sure you want to go Africa? But there was one aspect that hugely motivated me and this was my quest for adventure and I could not think of a better place than Africa. However when I did land here, I was up for a pleasant surprise. The people were so warm and friendly. Right from the first person I met at the airport, until I was dropped back to the Fellow’s Hostel that would be my home for the next one year, everyone was just extremely warm and welcoming.

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Today as I write this it has been four months of my stay working at MEST and specifically at the incubator. And the ride has been amazing. There have indeed been a lot of ups and downs along the way. But I am quite certain I made the right choice by moving here. The sheer diversity of the people that I have been interacting with is just great. I am able to see the particular differences in people and culture in the three countries Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. I have been working on a wide variety of things across different products and there is possibly no better place than MEST to get immersed into the entire entrepreneurial paradigm.

MEST has a unique culture that sets it apart from many other organizations I have worked with in the past. MEST values individuality and gives people the freedom to explore various ideas and follow their passions. The students here are highly motivated and are clearly some of the best from the continent. On a typical working day at MEST, I am either in meetings with some of the companies that I work as a relationship manager with discussing their issues and brainstorming ideas. Or I am working with students who are building new products where I am typically giving product advice. My work here ranges from designing products, writing newsletters, setting up email marketing campaigns, figuring out customer retention strategies or any of the other myriad things that a typical startup deals with. No two days are the same and the role here being very autonomous, the entire responsibility is upon me to choose my priorities and give my best to ensure that these startups flourish.

Ghana being such a unique and a relatively safe country, I have spent most of my weekends either traveling around Ghana or partying in Accra. Ghana has some amazing travel places: great beaches like Busua and Kokrobite, small tiny hill stations like Aburi that is a perfect getaway for a short trip near Accra, Kumasi and adjoining places in the Ashanti region and the Volta region for hikes and backwaters. I am yet to cover the Northern Part which I have also heard is extremely beautiful and different from the other regions.

Apart from travel, I have had the opportunity of interacting with a diverse range of people, usually guests at MEST. We had guests from the Facebook team recently. It was insightful to learn from them and understand how product management works at Facebook. We also have notable speakers from all over the world during our Guest Lecture weekends. This has been a great plus point of my stay in Accra. The networking opportunity is tremendous here especially since we get to meet people from a very diverse background and industries and it is certainly one of the many privileges of being a fellow at MEST.

The only small aspect that I have been struggling with ever since I arrived here is the food. Before moving to Ghana my diet was primarily vegetarian and I would also go months without any meat. Forever I found that in Ghana people only eat meat. Every single meal had some form of meat in it. I was okay with it initially but in a few weeks I started to heavily miss my Indian diet. I was not used to meat in such abundance. But on the flipside, Ghana is the place I started to learn cooking. We are lucky enough to have a wonderful kitchen at home with all kinds of utensils. And pretty soon, I found that I could cook pretty much anything I wanted to eat, of course with a little bit of effort and some planning to get the groceries in place. That being said, not all Ghanaian food is bad. I do like the Tilapia that is grilled so perfectly and tastes just yum. I also like Jollof Rice which is pretty much the favorite of any foreigner in Ghana who is new to the Ghanaian style of fermenting the food.

So far, in the last four months, the journey has been amazing. My growth has been phenomenal after reaching this place. There are a lot of factors which I would attribute that to. The diverse range of people that I meet here, the diverse things that I engage myself in, living and surviving in a foreign land far away from home, meeting the challenges head-on and managing to survive, all of this has resulted in only making me a stronger individual and I am excited for what is in store in the next 8 months of my stay in Ghana.