My experience in the Innovate For Africa innovation readiness training.
By: Adeyinka Adebiyi
Date: 30th January, 2020

On 30th of October, 2020, a friend of mine sent the registration link for Innovate for Africa (IFA) yearly fellowship. I curiously went through the website and found out that Innovate for Africa is an organization with a mission to create the next generation of innovators in Nigeria. They do this through their yearly fellowship that started in 2020, the application for the 2021 cohort would close by midnight.

I quickly started the application, for I was sure that I would blame myself if such an opportunity should pass me by. The application was intense and lasted for more than two hours. After the application, there was a group interview and later an individual interview for people selected.

Fast forward January 4th 2021, I was anticipating meeting the selected applicants. I was eager to meet the others that successfully went through the application process and selection process. These people would be my fellow for the four weeks training programme that would ensue. Throughout the program, my eagerness to meet the fellows was justified because I was able to meet and rob minds with some awesome and creative innovators.

IFA fellows 2021 cohort

IFA fellows 2021 cohort.

IFA fellowship started with an intensive four weeks training program which featured design thinking sessions, strategic thinking sessions, personal branding sessions and a Hard skills lab.

For the design thinking session, we listed some challenges facing people in Nigeria, and each fellow chose the one they are interested in working on. Throughout the first three weeks of the training, we learnt the design thinking process and applied the knowledge in finding an innovative solution to the selected problem.

The design thinking session ended with a product pitch. We empathized with the people most affected by this problem, defined the problem, brought up different possible solutions, then we filtered the solutions. We discarded some based on their feasibility, merged others. Then we created a prototype for the final solution. The pitch was judged by some CEO's entrepreneurs and some of the facilitator. They gave feedback about the solutions we pitched with insights to help groups who wished to continue implementing theirs after the fellowship.

The Hard skills lab to me was the most challenging part of the fellowship. I chose the digital marketing track. Each fellow was assigned an experienced mentor who is active in the field and whose help we could seek when needed. We were also provided with pools of resources and guidance to make the best use of those resources. This is where each fellow had to use and develop their grit. The materials were much. I thought those materials should cover for a four-year course on digital marketing. At the start of the fellowship, each fellow selected a project that requires the application of the knowledge from their hard skill track. This project belonged to IFA partners, meaning we would work on a life project that would be implemented, and its success or failure would affect an organization. After the second week of the fellowship, fellows working on the same project merged to ease the workload, and also to improve collaboration and teamwork. For my hard skill track, the final deliverable was a report and a presentation of how we would approach the project with the knowledge we have gathered.

I find it difficult to believe that as a novice to digital marketing, in 4 weeks I would be advising a startup on how to undergo their digital marketing project. All thanks to IFA, and their amazing team of facilitators for the opportunity.

IFA team 2021 cohort

IFA Team 2021.

The strategic analysis track was relatively short. Using Jumia as a case study, we learnt how to map out an organisation and identify the systems using systems thinking. We learnt how to make a SWOT analysis and map out strategies. SWOT analysis and systems thinking have numerous use cases. A recent graduate or job seeker can use it to learn more about an organisation to decide whether their goals align or whether they are best fit for each other.

The personal branding sessions were all about "Personal Branding" we learnt how best to create a resume, how to create a personal portfolio, professionalism, interview preparation and also had mock interviews. It was through the personal branding sessions I got to learn about the STAR method of answering behavioural based interview questions. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action Results. Behavioural questions are used by interviewers to access your ability to handle particular situations. Using this approach, you state the situation you faced, the tasks you wanted to carry out in that situation, the actions you carried out to complete the tasks and the result of the process. The STAR method is not only used in answering interview questions. It can also be used to tell compelling stories.

And my favourite part of the fellowship is with the guest speakers. We had the opportunity of hearing people like Faith Adesemowo; CEO of Social Lender and Vivian Nwakah; founder of Medsaf talk about their entrepreneurial journey. We also heard from engineers like Chiedo John; a Senior Engineering Manager at GitHub, Efosa Ojomo a writer and a researcher talk about their experience. It was eye-opening hearing these people talk. I learnt a lot from these sessions and was able to connect with some of the speakers

Another important feature of the fellowship was the matching of fellows to startups they can work with. There was a group of partner startups whose most important criteria for hiring was candidates grit and innovativeness which has been duly tested by the four weeks program. I'm sure a candidate without these values would not complete the training.

All in all, the one-month innovation training program was intensive and energy-consuming but I can't think of a more productive way to spend my January.