5 lessons from Nairobi


1. Always Seize Opportunities

In one of my quiet moments while I was getting ready to leave Nairobi. I was reminded that it was a google search at the beginning of January 2013 that had led me 7,000 miles across the world. A google search that was motivated by an ambition to seize and take advantage of the opportunities open to me. A google search that was drenched in the naivety of impossible that youth provides. A google search that earned me the opportunity to become an Amos Bursary scholar.

There is an old Latin motto that was used by the British Special Air Service: Qui audet adipiscitur translating to Who Dares, Wins. You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. I say seize opportunities purposefully as while handouts could potentially happen to some, they are not guaranteed. I remember when I was work shadowing at a law firm during sixth form and asked a lawyer what skill he would say separates him from the rest of the lawyers in his practice area – his reply inspired me as he said audacity. A word which was at the helm of Obama’s first presidential election bid. The audacity of hope. Audacity has the ability to take us places we could never imagined just because we gave ourselves the opportunity to believe that such a thing could happen to us.


2. Focus On The Work

The work is the most important thing. A lot of the time as we leave university usually as idealists we like to participate on the grand-scale projects, the culmination of small consistent and diligent efforts is largely unappealing. The grunt work as it is sometimes called is largely shunned by us. However, while an intern at Vivo Energy – I saw firsthand an incredible level of attention to detail.

I also learnt an important lesson in navigating conflicting personality types from focusing on the work. There will be times when people you work/study/collaborate with will have personalities that will not necessarily compliment yours and in doing this you will need to be able to remind yourself of the importance of the task at hand. The completion of the work to which you was assigned. Acknowledging that while you may not necessarily gel with a fellow colleague or student; you can appreciate the fact that you both have similar objectives as pertaining to the work. Performing the work at the highest level possible. This understanding will prove helpful in finding common ground which will aid the development of a rapport and a more healthy dynamic.


3. The Small Gestures Matter

While interning with Vivo Energy, I was assigned a buddy who would help assist me navigating a country totally new to me. He actually took me out to go and get lunch and dinner. One of my friends who had come to Nairobi to intern also, but at a different company, was also invited out by my buddy to get a ‘true’ taste of Nairobi.

The kindness he showed was further overwhelming when he invited me to meet his wife and two young children. I was honestly shocked because he could have kept the relationship purely professional and only facilitated my internship experience at the office. But he didn’t. The authenticity demonstrated when I was in his living room discussing his family members while his children desperately dashed around the room in the hope that I would give them my attention can’t be reproduced. He decided to make my visit in Nairobi as homely as possible. A gesture for which I will always be grateful for.


4. Honour The Sacrifices Of Those Who Came Before You

While in Nairobi I was provided with a driver, which was quite an interesting experience in itself. On my way to work one day, me and my driver were conversing in the Nairobi morning traffic when I glanced to the side and saw a woman carrying a bag on top of her head making her way down the street. Her motion consumed my focus immediately because it reminded me of when I was a child and my mum would manage her shopping in similar fashion. It was at that moment I realised my mum directly was the reason why I was even in a car halfway across the world with the opportunity to gain exposure to one of the biggest energy companies in Africa. She was, and continues to be, my drive. The ‘why’ for the first lesson I learnt. The reason why I’m so persistent on the journey towards reaching my goals. I knew that even though I was thousands of miles away from her, on another continent, I was still her son and so had to conduct myself as such. That meant giving 100% every time I entered the office and carrying myself to the highest standard because that is exactly what she would have done. That is exactly what she did when years ago she came to the UK. An (ideal) that many children of the diaspora can resonate with.


5. Always Be Grateful

I was actually taught this lesson by a 6 year old boy called Jackson. We was walking from our apartment from to a local shopping centre to get myself a new charger (after my first one broke after only a few days!). On the journey we saw a family sitting on the roadside – Jackson ran up to us asking for food. We said that we could come back and help them out. So eventually we spoke to the parents and organised to buy them food that would hopefully last them for the next few days. They were so grateful to our generosity – but to be honest with you I didn’t see it as generosity – I saw it as basic humanity. That moment had me thinking that there was so much more to do and has left an imprint in my mind. In some shape or form I need to help the situation of development in Africa. (I’ll be honest I don’t have immediate answers – but if you do please do not hesitate to contact me with organisations/opportunities to donate or support.)

Reflecting on that experience taught me humility and to always express gratitude at all points of our life. Sometimes I can be very quick to get annoyed with the world if I don’t get the opportunity I wanted or if my bank account isn’t looking the way that I want it to. However, in perspective – I always need to understand that I am very blessed to even be in the position I am in. Despite it all, Jackson was still smiling and his smile will always serve as a reminder for me. A reminder for me to also smile and give thanks.


What’s your favourite lesson? Use the hashtag #nairobi5 and let your network know which one resonated the most with you.

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