SPEAKING REMARKS BY DR. VIMAL SHAH DURING USIU AFRICAS 41ST COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY ON SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2019
Board of Trustees, The Chancellor, Dr. Manu Chandaria, University Council, The Vice-Chancellor Prof. Paul Zeleza, University Senate, The Management Board, Faculty, students, staff and alumni present
Parents and guardians, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
I would like to begin by welcoming you to USIU-Africa’s 41st commencement ceremony. I feel honored to have been invited by my Alma Mater as the Chief Guest for this year’s commencement ceremony. It is indeed a beautiful day for us to be commissioning the new graduands into the industry, ready and eager to make a difference in the world. Congratulations to each and every one in the Class of 2019.
It is even a greater honor to speak words of hope and inspire all of you that first, you are in the right place and second, there are even greater things that lie ahead of you. What an honor to be doing so as USIU-Africa celebrates its 50th Anniversary and renews its unmatched commitment to remain an institution of academic excellence. The University Council and entire administration’s strategic direction in shaping the growth path of this institution has had remarkable impact on the continent of Africa, which is quite evident today. When you survey the landscape of Africa you will meet many USIU-Africa alumni who are playing a significant role in transforming lives and society and I have and do meet many across the World today. Our role today is to usher these brilliant men and women to join the very formidable force that is turning the wheels of our continent and the making a difference to the whole world.
Dear Graduands, how many of you believe in luck?
Anyone? By show of hands? Perhaps no one or very few.
I personally believe there is luck, only that it happens to those who are prepared.
A Roman philosopher reminds us that ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’
The difference between lucky and unlucky people is all in our perspective. It is all in the lenses we wear and how differently we see the circumstances that unfold before us. What your professors have done to you in the last couple of years was ensuring that you are prepared. They have empowered and equipped you with the lenses to see hope, to wear confidence and have the authority to make a difference in whatever you do and whichever places you will set foot upon.
Luck is not just being at the right place at the right time, but also about being open to and ready for new opportunities. You will create your own luck and the university has helped with this, by changing your perspectives. Good fortunes are waiting and these will come to be, if and only if you create and notice new opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to your intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies by having positive expectations and having a resilient attitude. Knowing yourself, staying grounded, having self-awareness while scripting your own story, having an iron will, and always using humility which is a non-negotiable so that you keep listening and embracing lifelong learning despite all the wonderful success that comes your way.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I remember sitting in the same position as these young graduands during the 1980 USIU commencement ceremony waiting to receive my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Back then, we were only a handful number of graduands at the KICC with butterflies in our stomachs eagerly waiting for this important rite of passage and a mindset of “Yote-ya-wezekana” which in English means everything is possible. I cannot remember what was going through my mind at that time but I was very excited about the possibilities that were waiting for me. I knew that I wanted to be a job creator, which was my way of making an impact. I stand here in awe of the progress that USIU-Africa has made in the last 39 years since I graduated with the magnificent campus and facilities it offers today.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Kenya and the world is increasingly graduating and injecting fresh graduates into the job market. You are all eagerly looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead of you. As you know, the great opportunities that are ahead also come with a myriad of challenges. Your success will be determined by how you view and handle these challenges and create them all into opportunities for in my language every challenge is an opportunity waiting to be discovered!
The work environment is being redefined daily and a lot is rapidly changing. What the industry and the modern-day consumer is looking for in skills is no longer what we had in the 80’s. Whichever workstation you will be at will only be your base, the Planet Earth will be your playing ground. Competitiveness is the new way of doing things and value creation is all that matters. Are we geared up for this? Becoming the best employers and leaders will mean you will have to work your way up; this is the only Non-negotiable. You have already bought the ticket and it will now be time to win the lottery.
It has also become increasingly important for graduating students to chart their own paths and become job creators as opposed to job seekers. Those who graduate with the mindset to be employed approach life differently from those who graduate with a passion to be job creators. The results are visible within a very short time.
Based on the challenges I have observed over the years, I implore universities to go the extra mile and ensure that they are preparing the next generation of leaders who are sufficiently prepared to contribute significantly whether as employees or as employers. I highly commend USIU-Africa for going the extra mile to ensure that it increases the employability of its graduates by implementing several pathbreaking initiatives. By establishing initiatives such as the AppFactory, the only one in Kenya and the 14th one in Africa in partnership with Microsoft, the Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Program supported by the Devki Group, the Kenya Youth Employment and Opportunities Project in partnership with the World Bank, the Coding for Employment Center of Excellence through the African Development Bank, the Innovation and Incubation Centre at USIU-Africa, the Social Media Lab (SimeLab) supported by the American Embassy allow students to develop and hone their skills before entering the job market.
An inspiring story of one Robert Otieno Apiyo, who is an alumnus of USIU-Africa and now a renowned radio presenter and producer for the Voice of America in Washington DC is one to pick a lot of learnings from. Chosen as a radio host when USIU Radio was started, he took the opportunity to sharpen his skills and most importantly, to shape his beliefs and attitude from interacting with people from all walks of life.
Robert’s consistent urge to learn, explore new tact and the never-say-die attitude has seen him established at the top; even when he was rejected as a starter back in the years past.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The work place is already experiencing significant shifts and we must adapt to that change. A majority of jobs being created are in emerging fields, particularly in the ICT sector. According to the World Economic Forum, four specific technological advances—ubiquitous high-speed mobile internet; Artificial Intelligence; widespread adoption of Big Data Analytics; and cloud technology—are set to dominate the next four years as drivers positively affecting business growth. As more young people continue to enter the job markets, these are the key areas we must innovate in order to stay relevant. Each one of you have devices that you hold in your hands all the time and that have empowered you to be as equal to if not better than the global best in technology.
The World Economic Forum further highlights these new areas to include increasing adoption of new technology, increasing availability of big data and data science, advances in mobile internet, advances in Artificial Intelligence, advances in cloud technology, shifts in national Economic Growth, expansion of affluence in developing economies, expansion of education, advances in new renewable and innovative energy supplies and technologies and expansion of the middle class. These shifts are going to dramatically change how we live in Africa and also do business in the next five to ten years and we need to continuously invest our time and resources in them.
Ladies and Gentlemen
According to the United Nations, the number of youth in Africa aged between 15-24 years will be more than 250 million by 2020 and they will be the new entrepreneur’s and job creators of tomorrow. Most of these young people are already running their businesses as was revealed in the 2019 Forbes Africa Top 30 under 30 list of entrepreneurs who range between ages 21 and 29. This inspiring group of driven, young entrepreneurs have already left a mark in the world and are changing how business is done in Africa both in the services and manufacturing worlds but also in the social pillars of healthcare and education and infrastructure.
In the spirit of celebrating USIU-Africa at fifty, I would like to share a few tips that have helped me in my own journey as an entrepreneur. It will not be easy but it will be worth it.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We can all agree that small businesses are an essential contributor towards a healthy economy. These businesses create a competitive environment, provide vital employment opportunities and revitalize our communities even through the most challenging times. To this end, how can we ensure that the business environment creates a place to grow entrepreneurs, innovators and businesses? These very small businesses will become medium and then big globally.
Disruption and innovation will be the enabler. Look at Uber, M-Pesa, Jumia and lots of other e-commerce and e-service platforms. Most of these innovations trace their ways back to universities.
Lack of capital is an excuse of the past. I encourage young women to take on this challenge and build their own companies. There is a lot of capital in the world today looking for good returns but very few creditworthy and bankable projects are being effectively communicated to these sources of capital.
However, we must also be alive to the fact that in Africa there are many obstacles and barriers to business. However the good news is that there is a real will across Africa to change the status quo and reform rapidly.
Failure to embrace these opportunities will only lead to slow economic growth and a youthful population that could be a danger to itself.
And finally, for you the Class of 2019
Your graduation today is an important achievement of a milestone in your career and personal development. Your achievement today is the result of your dedication, long hours and the sacrifices that you made through the years of study here at USIU-Africa. The qualities that you obtained here such as passion, commitment, tenacity and open-mindedness will be important throughout the next phase of your lives. Nurture them. They will be even more important than what you have learned, as you work towards becoming the creators of the future.
As alumni who have gone before you, I can only advise you that these qualities will work for you. They have uniquely worked for us as we graduated in a world of no internet and no mobile phones or devices and no bandwidth and no wi-fi. You are entering at a fantastic time in Africa.
As you step out today, remain connected to your alma mater through the alumni association. You will soon appreciate the importance of contributing to the growth of your alma mater as we say learning never stops and we all embrace lifelong learning.
Your social networks and the relationships will eventually become valuable ‘social capital.’ You can perfectly use these to advance your goals. And don’t forget to be the Goal Keepers of your Goals.
I wish you well in your journey. Put into practice the lessons you have learnt and always ensure you remain a person with a clear purpose and high integrity and good intentions – for in the end that is all that matters.
My heartiest Congratulations to the Class of 2019 as you go out and Make A Positive Difference to the world!