How Innovative Leadership Can Begin with University Students


I am a student studying for a Bachelor of Commerce Degree at the Kenyatta University. Would you believe me if I told you that, in the middle of my hectic study schedule, I have had the opportunity to grow a  manufacturing business, and manage a full staff complement in Macau SAR China? A year ago, I would not have believed that was possible either.

I have always been passionate about business; some of my earliest memories revolve around me at around 10 years of age, sitting in my mother’s small shop where she sold women’s’ clothing and cereals. At first, I took part in the scenes that unfolded there as a mere observer, then as an explorer, and finally by inserting myself confidently as part of the business operations,helping whenever I could. Whenever she would leave me in her shop for a few hours, I would calculate her income as best I could, ready for her inspection when she got back. I quickly learned good accounting truly is the backbone of any solid business.

A lot has happened since then. My journey to Macau began when I spotted a poster advertising the Global Management Challenge (GMC) on our campus. The GMC is the world’s largest strategy and management competition, with Kenya being one of the newest entrants. The GMC got me and my friends excited because we share a common interest in management. We quickly christened ourselves “Team Gladiators” and registered to take part.

We approached the GMC as a practical tool to apply what we had been taught in school. Our education system does not have a strong practical element and we decided that the competition would act as a gauge of what we had been learning. We had the chance to build a virtual business and make decisions usually reserved for members of the board. It became apparent that such practical experiences  need to embed in our education system.

Leading a team that eventually emerged among the top ten globally, I came to realize that many students and young professionals have the innate ability to successfully manage complex tasks; they only need the right channels to practice their skills. On the flip side, in leadership, there is always room for reflection. In retrospect, I probably should have encouraged my team to research tirelessly, even late into the competition, because I now know the top position, the number one, was within our grasp.


Traveling for the GMC International finals was our first experience outside Africa, and I took with me many lessons which will be important in the growth of my career. You can have all the knowledge in the world but without exposure, it is unlikely you will get far in our increasingly interconnected world. In addition to this, the power of networking cannot be understated. Opportunities abound around us; we can no longer afford to limit ourselves to our home countries and continent. The most surprising realization that dawned on me building a business empire is not rocket science. It really isn’t. To run a successful business, you need timely, relevant information, use it to satisfy customer needs and create new opportunities. It is about continuous growth.

The GMC was definitely one of the most challenging events I have ever participated in. Working with a team of talented and open-minded individuals changed my attitude towards work, and competing with the world’s best gave me a new appreciation for attention to detail. I felt like for the first time in my life, as a young person, I was given a chance to create something of value. To the team, I am forever grateful.

A lot changed when I came back home. I was suddenly doing media interviews and sharing my experiences. I was accepted for the Young African Leaders Initiative because of my leadership experience at the GMC and secured an internship with Tarpo Industries, a sponsor of the GMC. I also got a chance to attend the state house summit on youth. I am glad that I have been able to positively challenge my peers to strive for bigger, better – to be beacons of possibility. This is the greatest promise of youth.

We all have the occasional chance to practice leadership; you need to understand that when this happens, the buck stops with you. Leading the team, I grew to appreciate that I was not the custodian of all information I needed to make the best decisions. But with a good team, you can be sure that the decisions you make will be impactful. It all starts with a good team.

I now model my leadership around Dr. James Mwangi, who is commonly referred to as the people’s banker. A decade ago, there was a large segment of Kenyans who were referred to as unbankable, and it took a single man’s vision to change this notion on its head. If there is one thing I admire, is innovation in leadership.

Everyone who participates in the GMC, from students, young professionals, and partners, gets to be part of something greater than themselves. They are promoting the culture of self-learning. Such competitions will help build talent pools of skilled young people, who are ready to serve the job market competently or launch an innovation that will shift the way business is done.

The GMC marks the beginning of my path to success.


This article was written Oliver Maina .



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