by Smith Molua Mbua
When a company is starting from scratch, there is more to it than meets the eye. Besides benefiting from the pay raise that comes with acquiring an MBA, I had always aspired to be a top-notch business manager. I decided to enroll for the MBA at FUNIC to acquire best practices in business administration and how they apply to real businesses as well as to gain the skills and abilities that could help me make my current organization better.
Before enrolling for the MBA at FUNIC, I had held several Human Resource consulting roles and at this point, I was a Human Resource Assistant at the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services, in Bamenda, in the North West Region of Cameroon. During my time in this role, I had learned how to play the role of a personnel manager in meetings and other settings, but this did very little to prepare me for the challenge that the MBA would bring.
Introduction of the Entrepreneurship Laboratory (E-Lab)
The Entrepreneurship Laboratory was introduced at FUNIC’s MBA program for the first time when I Just enrolled for the MBA in January 2021. I was in for the biggest challenge of my life. This laboratory was the first of its kind, an innovation in the dispensing of MBA programs in Cameroon, if not, the entire world. In a presentation that left the student body gasping for expressions of feelings, the board chair of FUNIC Dr. Fotabe Elmine explained that in “the E-Lab, a company, a startup or a social enterprise will be brought into the lab for dissection, dismantling, fixing, and rebuilding as it were”.
This analogy was not exactly easy to imagine. Most laboratories we have in Cameroon are medical and science laboratories. Those who have traveled to countries in Africa, Europe, and America, may have heard of innovation laboratories, but these labs, pale in comparison to the innovation that takes place in an Entrepreneurship laboratory. Being in this lab means being in the shoes of an entrepreneur. You do not just get to understand their thought processes and patterns, you practically do everything they do and go through all their sufferings. This entrepreneurship laboratory is the only way a school can teach someone and make them entrepreneurs.
Coming off that presentation from the founder, in my first set of courses, we were assigned to work on a social enterprise called Make-It. We were charged with the task of solving the most daunting problems plaguing some rural communities in Cameroon. We were required to take Basic education to remote villages in the country with no electricity, no internet connectivity, and where parents could not afford basic education because they had no money.
My Experience in the E-Lab
This project at first appeared to be impossible to pull off. At first we felt like the school expected us to be magicians. If these initial feelings and the rush of adrenaline through our veins were the only worries, we had to deal with, the project would have been so much easier to handle.
To perform the “dissection, dismantling, and rebuilding” of this social enterprise, we had to work as a team. MBA students from the October 2020 class were assigned to join my class (January 2021) to handle this project. Working in a team with people who feel they are experts in their own right, was an even bigger challenge. Heated conflicts arose about what direction the project should take, what kind of solution should be created, where the solution should first be implemented, where to get the funds to finance the project, and how to ensure the sustainability of the project. I saw another dimension to people management that my current job would only perhaps have shown to me in another 20 years. This deepened my appreciation for the learning approach used at FUNIC.
Through classroom lectures and support from the university’s administration, we learned to manage these internal conflicts and to carry on with our project regardless. The Bamako village in the Mungo Mainland region was selected for the implementation of the project. This area met all the criteria provided for in the project description. No money, no electricity, no primary schools, and no basic education.
We eventually designed an online solution to deploy and were soon ready to conduct the first test. This solution involved building a mobile app that works offline. The app is installed on tablets and deployed to the locality with solar charges due to a lack of electrical power. A special technique was created to update the data on the tablets through wifi.
Some team members and I were assigned to visit the chosen locality to organize the implementation of the solution. We needed to understand the needs of the children in the village. What would be their preferred learning options? How would we keep them engaged? How would we track their progress? How many children of school-going age qualified for the solution? And where would the funds to finance the project come from?.
When we first arrived the village of Bamako, the initial reaction of the inhabitants took us aback. Even though the solution was designed to be provided for free, they thought we just wanted to enrich ourselves, some of them even asking for tips to help facilitate our work in the village. Lessons learned on negotiation in the MBA classrooms had never been so practical. We saw classroom lessons come to life as we applied them to negotiate our way through these hurdles.
Exploring the Startup Space
Finding a startup role, particularly in a social entry like Make-it, required a lot of networking with government ministries, in addition to the individuals that I met through the E-lab projects. After months of meetings, conversations, and research, in April of 2021, I played a role in following all the processes involved in conceiving the idea for a business and then following all the steps to set up a vocational training academy in Cameroon.
We applied all the types of funding and investments we were taught during our finance lessons. Many of them did not work for us, some did. There is no better experience than being a part of the process.
My time at FUNIC taught me a lot about the assumptions I had made about myself and my career journey. I thought that I had found the perfect fit at my current job because the role checked a lot of boxes – but playing the personnel role in the make-it project, helped me understand that I was at the very bottom of the ladder and had a long way to go.
Key Lessons & Advice
Having gone through the FUNIC MBA and the Entrepreneurship Laboratory, I wanted to provide a few suggestions based on my experience for other professionals out there:
- Use the E-Lab as a channel. The E-lab has amazing and innovative projects that can materialize into the biggest companies in Cameroon. Use it as a channel to have Top-management experience. I had an amazing top-management experience in the E-lab taking a part in all decisions, including those that led to failure and those that did not. Now I align better with top-management decisions in my organization.
- I learned how to source funding through practice. This is the only way to be thought how to get funding for projects, by making you actually do it.
- Eliminate friction. You will learn in this program to appreciate the presence of diverse perspectives. Embrace working in teams.
- I learned how to make data-driven decisions. Going to the field, meeting people, conversing with them, and taking into consideration their needs was a priceless experience.