A year in Nigeria: Evolving professional

“For her, those jobs held no meaningful purpose. And so she made the decision to search for meaningful work- work about which she would have such passion that the question, Why try for greatness? would seem almost tautological.”

-Jim Collins, author, Good to Great

I’ve definitely settled into life here in Akpap Okoyong and it’s anything but routine. Sometimes I still try to be hyper-efficient and add too many tasks to my expanding ‘to-do’ list, but then a downpour begins (we’re well into the Nigerian rainy season) or the bus breaks down and the road is closed because of too much rainfall and a serious lack of road maintenance, and I’m brought back to the reality of the challenges associated with working and living in a developing country. Rather than get frustrated by these inefficiencies (which can be difficult for my Type A personality), I take a deep breath and use the time to observe my surroundings, speak with whomever is around and learn something new.

A woman in a nearby community makes the roof of a new section of their home out of palm leaves and bamboo stalks. She showed me how to do this and couldn't stop laughing at how slow I was!
A woman in a nearby community makes the roof of a new section of their home out of palm leaves and bamboo stalks. She showed me how to do this and couldn’t stop laughing at how slow I was!

Various and ongoing activities keep my work at the Mary Slessor Foundation (MSF) interesting and enjoyable. We recently celebrated the hard work, dedication and achievements of a group of students at the Mary Slessor Foundation’s Vocational Training & Skills Acquisition Center graduation ceremony. It was, as it should be, such a proud and magical day for students, families, trainers and the community of Akpap Okoyong. In line with the capacity building aspect of my role here, I’ve been holding weekly “business, entrepreneurship, and life skills” training for our fashion and design trainers and students, while at the same time supporting the launch of a small fashion accessories business in which they can see the lessons being put into practice.

We’re exploring topics such as communication, pricing strategies, ethical trading, marketing, and goal setting and vision. We’re also getting ready to revamp our palm oil processing facilities in time for the next high season while at the same time training our customers, mostly women, on improving their business practices. My colleagues and I have been doing extensive community outreach as well by meeting with the women’s groups of nearby communities to recruit new students for our school and to provide vital health information about the negative consequences of female circumcision, which although against the law, is still practiced here.

Graduation award winners (top performers, best attendance, overall dedication and hard work): Okon, Margaret, Etim
Graduation award winners (top performers, best attendance, overall dedication and hard work): Okon, Margaret, Etim

In my free time, I’ve been reading a lot of interesting and practical books about business, poverty alleviation and agriculture (Good to Great, Out of Poverty and The Last Hunger Season, among others). I’ve also finally had the opportunity to work on my friend’s cassava and palm tree farm, which I absolutely love! It’s very strenuous labor but such a nice and welcome change from the typical computer work and meetings we are used to in corporate life.

My career aspirations have certainly evolved since arriving in Nigeria almost 14 months ago. I’ve become fascinated by smallholder farmers, who make up much of this country and the developing world, and how they can lift themselves out of poverty with proper training, farming inputs, access to markets and information, and access to capital. I’ve also come to understand the importance of growing food on an individual, family, community and global level. My goal is to work at the intersection of organic farming and poverty alleviation using the tools of business and technology. I’d also like to be involved in ethical trading and sexual and reproductive health and rights in some capacity, likely as side projects and ongoing volunteer work.

Me, falling in love with farming!
Me, falling in love with farming!

As I’ve seen firsthand the negative consequences and culture of dependency that can come from too many handouts, I firmly believe in an approach that involves the poor as both producers and consumers in the local and global economy. I’m drawn, even more now than ever, to market-based solutions to poverty alleviation in which enterprises create shared value for all stakeholders. Socially conscious and inclusive business is the future of industry as I see it. My experience in Nigeria continues to shape my worldview and confirms the possibility that I can, and have the responsibility to, follow the path in which I can use my interest and background in business to work meaningfully and (hopefully) have a positive impact on the world. The future is bright o!

Christine M. Adolf (BBA ’07) is spending more than a year in Nigeria as a CUSO International volunteer, exploring how she can use her background in business to empower people living in poverty around the world. Her interests include yoga, reading, dancing, social entrepreneurship and exploring new places.

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