How the Unilever business competition shaped my student life

“Team Kaizen, you have only ten minutes to make your presentation. Unfortunately, you will be cut short, should it run out. The power point and the visual aids you submitted prior are at your disposal to supplement your pitch. Once you are done, the judges will ask questions should there be any. Understood?”

We nodded our heads affirmatively.

“Proceed and good luck.”

She struck a glass gently with a teaspoon and sunk into a comfy looking leather seat in anticipation. So were the three other gentlemen, pokerfaced and yet cordial; awaiting us to woo them over with our next big idea.

Like most of our competitors; we were sleep-depraved and fatigued after burning the midnight oil rehearsing for the judgement day. To rejuvenate my dampened spirit I had had some White Russian (cocktail of milk and three shots of vodka) with breakfast. Yet at such a time I needed it to feign confidence and maintain composure, I was still waiting to feel its sting.

What was guaranteed was that at many instances in the years to come, I would find myself in similar situations before a panel where my relationship with vodka would be the least of my concern.

“Gentlemen shall we?” I began.

Soon we would know our fate.

This being the last year in school, I had intended to make it exceptional. From perfect grades; learning how to eat a chicken thigh with a table knife and fork, to taking an Asian lady out on a karaoke date and sing to Taylor Swift. So when I heard about a student business competition by Unilever, I was…indifferent.

But what did I have to lose by participating? Could it open doors I would find useful after campus? What was my worth among the many in my class that will flood the job market in a few months’ time? This questions as well as my quest for an Asian lady 😉 had me join the competition.

So what is this Unilever Africa Idea Trophy?

Unilever Africa Idea Trophy is an annual student business competition, where all students in recognized Universities in Kenya are eligible to participate. With each year, comes with new challenges and activities, making it dynamic and quite interesting for students looking for something besides the norm.

What makes it unique?

What intrigued me most about UAIT is the fact judges do not have a pre-determined expectation from the participants. Anything goes as long as it is in line with the provided framework. Out of the box thinking as well as well laid plan on how to roll out your idea is highly advised.

The competition requires discipline, quantitative research and adhering to details in line with Unilever standards and goals. No kid gloves here just because you are a student.

Moreover, Idea Trophy invests more on the experience for the student than the final prize. One is mentored and taught how the business runs, positioning oneself for employment, business ethics and personal branding.

Lessons learnt

Team Kaizen was third runners up. Being a finalist out of over 500 plus participants was quite an achievement for me and a significant self-esteem boost. Though business intuition from my economics background could have played a major part in it, I still reckon the importance of skills in making any work outstanding.

For instance, my script-writing and basic video editing had me with a fantastic advert that had judges questioning about its credibility. Another team had even gone further to develop an app for their idea!

Once you interact with minds that abhor complacency and being normal, one is challenged to take risks and experiment. Failure becomes an accomplishment; a reward for not being comfortable and doing nothing.

Finally, it is important to test oneself. In such competitions, any tinge of effort and seriousness while participating in them will earn you the much-needed experience and learning so much about your capabilities, deficits and strengths. It gives you a bargaining power in your negotiations with potential employers and colleagues.

UAIT is for young people who want to make a difference in the community they hail from; African solutions for African problems. It is an opportunity of a student’s lifetime.

Anthony Muhia :