Guest post by Hannah Kabir Ahmed, Emerging Leader from Nigeria
We arrived in San Francisco on October 1, which marks Nigeria’s Independence Day. By that time, we had clocked more than seventeen hours of travel time. There was excitement in the air. For the first time, we were able to meet members of the Techwomen team, and the first batch of Emerging Leaders (ELs).
Within the first few days of being in the United States, I learned what “two blocks away” meant in American parlance. I always thought it meant two buildings away, until we had to cross two streets with Tina, one of the mentors who graciously gave us a brief introduction to Mountain View.
At the logistics orientation at Oracle Corporation, we met Oracle Women Leadership (OWL), which added a spring to our strides. Remarkable women like Barbara Williams and Nandini Ramani shared valuable insights that I will consult later for inspiration. Something that resonated with me from Barbara’s list of life lessons to live by (The Barb List) was that “life begins outside of your comfort zone.” It was incredibly powerful.
I got to know Winnie Ngamije, an EL from Rwanda, during the Get Connected Exercise at Oracle. Winnie works for the Civil Aviation Authority in Rwanda. It was clear that Winnie loves her country and admires Paul Kagame, the Rwandan President, for his ability to lead the country and create peaceful coexistence between the different ethnicities, post-genocide. Every day is a discovery moment for me, as I unravel a bit more about my newfound EL friends – Omnia from Libya, Aretha from Zimbabwe, Aseel from Lebanon, Ngwana from South Africa, Rosemary from Kenya, Braun from neighboring Cameroon, and many many more. These sisters are inspiring in their own right, and all I can say is, “Watch out world!”
Our first workshop was a breakthrough session with Barbara Fittipaldi. She was full of energy, and she energized me. She taught us the ability to listen powerfully within and outside of ourselves for what inspires us, what resonates, and what we love about great ideas.
Barbara reaffirmed the importance of asking questions about myths we never questioned before. New perspectives opened up as we learned to probe the status quo. My takeaways from the session were that there is power in spoken words, and there is clarity within the inner voice once you filter the out the noise.
After a week of orientations, work began for me at NuvoSun, a CIGS module manufacturing company in Milpitas where I learned about thin-film solar modules made from CIGS and the technicalities that go into producing them.
The warm welcome from the NuvoSun executive team made me very comfortable from day one. For the first time I saw what it took to make a module! The most exciting thing for me was making my very first 12-watt panel with Christine and her team. I was also able to meet the serial entrepreneur who founded NuvoSun, Dave Pearce. In the few hours we conversed, he provided candid advice on the need to have the right team, control costs, think outside the box, and be un-afraid of failing.
During my mentorship, I was able to present about the electricity challenges in Nigeria, and why I started Creeds Energy to provide clean energy solutions mainly using solar photovoltaics. It was interesting for us all to discuss the contexts in which solar technologies move from a good add-on investment for a home owner or an environmentally friendly option in the USA, to a necessity in Nigeria that would provide the much needed alternative electricity for productive use in households and businesses.
After a few weeks of mentorship, I participated in an Entrepreneurship Workshop, arranged by TechWomen, which gave me a better idea of business models and how they evolve at certain stages of a start-up. Jackie Wright, VP Strategic Enterprise Services at Microsoft, and Rashmi Sinha, CEO and Co-founder of Slideshare, underscored the importance of knowing yourself and prioritizing what’s significant to you as an individual. I learned the importance of knowing the business and market well enough to give value, taking opportunities that are not often on the well-trodden path, networking, telling a great story, and giving back. There is no one recipe for great businesswomen, but they seem to have one thing in common: passion.
Note from Editor
After four weeks of professional mentorship at NuvoSun, Hannah and the rest of the TechWomen traveled to Washington, DC for meetings at the U.S. Department of State and another session of the Innovative Leadership Workshop with Barbara Fittipaldi. They had the honor of meeting and hearing from Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, before celebrating the completion of the program and heading back to their home countries.