Graduating executive MBA students of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School received wise counsel from African Development Bank President Dr Akinwumi Adesina last week.
Delivering the business school’s 2023 commencement address, Adesina called on the graduates to use the skills and knowledge they had acquired to address some of today’s most pressing global challenges, including climate change and the quest for a hunger-free world. “It is unacceptable for more than 2.3 billion people in the world to go hungry each day,” he said.
The bank president said: “Class of 2023, I see in you, builders, and shapers of hope. You have been well prepared to go into this world to be change-makers. You have received a world-class education. You are ready, and the world awaits you.”
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Adesina urged to draw lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure future global pandemic preparedness and that no one is left behind in terms of access to affordable healthcare.
Commending the graduates to use innovative ideas and solutions, he highlighted the need to help meet the needs of the 940 million people worldwide living without electricity, three billion people without clean cooking energy, two billion living without access to clean water, and 4.5 billion without sanitation.
He also emphasised the 1.7 billion people that lacked access to basic finance, credit, savings, payments, or insurance, while also stressing the need to build a better world for the 244 million children who are out of school, including 129 million girls.
“Their dream,” the African Development Bank president said, “is to be like all of you today as you graduate with a world class education. But they cannot achieve their dreams, and neither can our world achieve our collective dream of a more just and equitable world unless we prioritise financing for developing countries to accelerate development.”
We want you to become great leaders who will shape tomorrow and have a positive impact on our world
Soumitra Dutta, Peter Moores Dean and Professor of Management at Saïd Business School, encouraged the Class of 2023 to dream big and assume the mantles of leadership waiting for them. He said: “We want you to become great leaders who will shape tomorrow and have a positive impact on our world. To become a great leader, it is very important that you are inspired and that you dream big. With your dreams, you will raise the aspiration levels of others around you.”
Professor Alex Connock, specialist in Media Business and Artificial Intelligence (AI), called on the Class of 2023 to set the terms and conditions of what they do in life, and devise the strategy. He said: “You must be confident about making choices that work to your vision of your own future.” He added: “So please—throw your own javelin confidently into the infinite space of the future, starting from today. Go out there, make a difference. Bring this splintering world back together. Don’t settle for a new Cold War. Don’t settle for global warming. Make good things happen.”
Adesina told the new MBA graduates to be selfless and dedicated to justice, equity, and fairness. While encouraging them to promote transparency, inclusion, honesty, and integrity, he emphasised the determination they would need not to be sucked into what he called the “slimy allure of insatiable corporate greed that has wreaked havoc on the lives of millions through creative accounting, misrepresentation of the valuation of companies,” and other unethical behaviour.
“As you go out into the business world, stay within the rules and regulations,” Adesina said. “You all look great in your suits today. Keep it that way. Do not trade your striped business suits for orange jump suits. Do honest business. Stay out of trouble. Set your goals and stick to them.”
The African Development Bank president encouraged the graduates to build alliances and collective partnerships rather than individual success. He evoked the image of the African Baobab tree with its massive girth. He said the only way individuals could encircle it was by linking arms together around its enormous circumference. He encouraged them to employ the Baobab approach and work together.
“Nothing works better than collective success,” Adesina said. “Never work alone… Ahead of you is a stretch of life. Live it fully. Live it supporting others. Live it doing the best you can to improve the lives and livelihoods of people around the world. Use the Baobab approach.”
Amy Major, Associate Director of the Saïd Businees School’s MBA programme, told the new MBA holders: “Display kindness to yourself and others. You all hold yourselves to high standards, but as you move out into the real world, whether you are now gainfully employed or searching, facing financial pressure or not, moving back to your family or away, you will all experience a different set of challenges and opportunities. No matter where life takes you, you possess something that can never be taken away: your Oxford MBA and your rightful place as Oxonians.”
Adesina spoke about the need for a reformed global financial architecture. “The global financial architecture is failing development in the world as it faces multiple global challenges,” he explained, adding: “The global financial architecture must be modified to tackle global challenges more effectively and to accelerate the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” He told the graduates: “The global pension funds and institutional investors, which many of you will go on to work for, have over $145 trillion of assets under management. As you do, take leadership in ensuing that these vast resources are directed towards the collective good. Use the skills and tools you have acquired at Oxford, to help make our world a better place for all.”
The African Development Bank president concluded his visit with a group and one-on-one chat with some of the new graduates from Africa to talk about leadership, and Africa’s future and development, and the role of the youth.