Darden African Business Organization (DABO) hosted their 2023 conference earlier this month with the theme, “Closing the Infrastructure Gap”. The two-day event focused on success in the funding, execution, or operation of infrastructural projects in Africa, showcasing contributions to the African economy.

Darden Africa Business Conference Market Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

DABO also coordinated exciting events such as a marketplace showcasing literature, goods and food of African origin; a great lineup of conference speakers; an infrastructure innovation tournament and a fun after-party to conclude the weekend’s activities.

Raimat Amosu and Tobenna Nnebe-Agumadu (both Class of 2023), conference organizers and DABO leadership board members, shared details about their experiences with the African community at Darden and why the team decided to pursue a conference theme around infrastructure for the second annual African Business Conference.

2023 Africa Business Conference. Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

Q: Why did you decide to become involved in DABO and the conference planning, especially?

Nnebe-Agumadu: Before joining Darden, I had always been involved with organizations dedicated to social impact on the African continent while catering to the needs of Africans in the diaspora. DABO ticked all those boxes for me. DABO provided a space for African and African-American students to commune and network professionally and socially. In our service as DABO leaders, we wanted to carry on that mission to ensure that students with African heritage had a home in Darden and excelled inside and outside the classroom.

Last year, DABO held its inaugural African Business Conference, focusing on Africa’s creative industry. The conference was a success, and it incentivized us to organize another conference this year. The theme was inspired by McKinsey’s article, “Solving Africa’s Infrastructure Paradox.” We wanted to highlight Africa’s infrastructure problems and discuss potential solutions with leaders in those industries. We also wanted Darden to be a place of thought leadership for socio-political and economic issues on the African continent, and this conference provided an excellent opportunity for that.

Darden Africa Business Conference Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

Q: Could you share a little about DABO as an organization and why it’s such an important (and impactful!) part of the Darden community?

Nnebe-Agumadu: Darden has been experiencing exponential growth in the number of admitted African students. The incoming year will have a 100 percent increase in African students joining Darden in addition to the current First Years in the DABO community. Nigerians represent Darden’s second largest international group, so DABO has to become a second home for these students. Many will be coming to the United States for the first time and must deal with the rigor of academia at Darden, recruiting and the added stress of adjusting to a new country.

DABO gives support from when prospective students prepping for Darden interviews until Darden students accept their internship offers and beyond. We are dedicated to ensuring our members excel and find the right places for them at Darden and in the U.S. job market.

We also provide a lot of social support with our events, which are great places for our members to learn about different African cultures and meet members of the Darden community they don’t often get to.

Darden Africa Business Conference
Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

Q: What are a few examples of your favorite events and programming that DABO has coordinated throughout the year?

Nnebe-Agumadu: I can unequivocally say that our favorite events last year were our potlucks. Darden loves African food, especially since getting some in Charlottesville is difficult. Food is central to African culture and an easy way for non-African Darden students to share and learn about the continent. Our members go all out to make and share dishes they love at these events.

DABO was one of the clubs that created the first ever Darden Emerging Market Conference. Raimat Amosu, Executive VP of DABO, initiated and led collaborations with Darden South Asia Society (DSAS) based on similarities in African Markets and South Asia, which evolved into the Emerging Markets Conference held in partnership with DABO, DSAS, Latin America Student Association (LASA), Asia Business Club at Darden (ABCD). It was an excellent opportunity to have African thought leaders such as Eunice Ajim of Ajim Capital and Opeyemi Awoyemi of Fastforward Venture on panels and as lectures at Darden. We hope this one-of-a-kind event left Darden students craving more learning about business and industries in emerging markets.

Another popular club-related item the DABO swag. We have two designs for sweatshirts and t-shirts that anyone can order, and we still keep fielding requests from people! It’s incredible seeing the sweatshirts on students around grounds. We even gave some items to the Darden staff for free to show appreciation for their hard work and commitment to making our Darden experience great.

Darden Africa Business Conference Market. Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

Q: DABO’s “Closing the Infrastructure Gap” 2-day conference just wrapped up – what were a few highlights or favorite moments from the event?

Amosu: The two-day conference started with an African market experience. Abena Mensah (Class of 2023) had the idea for this unique component of the conference. She was inspired to bring Darden students a market night to celebrate Made in Africa products and brands at Darden. We sold products such as the finest coffee from Kenya (Safari Pride), customized wristbands (Nkoroi Crafts), organic beauty products with shea butter from Naya and Bioko Treats chocolate with varieties you can’t find anywhere in the U.S. We also had a feast with different foods representing East, West and Southern Africa, such as Beef Suya from Adun (West Africa), Biltong from Z Biltong (South Africa), Moroccan candy flown in from Morocco (North Africa) and samosas from Maharaja (East Africa). The Night ended with an exceptional performance from AfroHoos.

Dr. Fiyin Oladiran speaks to students during the Darden Africa Business Conference. Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

On the second day of the conference, we had a lineup of panel sessions with guest speakers put together by DABO’s VP of Alumni and Corporate Relations, Dele Fashola (Class of 2023). The conference opened with a keynote session from the former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum and CEO of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu. He shared insights into energy infrastructure problems and opportunities in Nigeria and Africa. Dr. Fiyin Oladiran, Partner at Mckinsey in Social and Public Sector Practice, was our second keynote discussing McKinsey’s report on Solving Africa’s Infrastructure paradox, highlighting critical opportunities for attendees to take advantage of with a global mindset. He also shared the current state of Africa’s infrastructure and the potential referencing specific African countries. He noted that the future is bright if the right solutions are implemented. Our panel on Physical Infrastructure with Christopher Kost, Africa Program Director for Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (Kenya), and Sofiri Ezekiel-Hart (MBA ’16), CEO at Ponitec Markets Limited, brought together insights and opportunities in transportation Infrastructure Railroad, City Planning, and Logistics. Natalie Casey (MBA ’05), COO Koolboks on Renewable Energy, spoke on her startups’ solutions to power infrastructure problems in parts of Africa and a case study of their impact in Nigeria. She detailed how Darden prepared her for the opportunity to work in an impact-driven startup.

The conference’s second half started with the Darden Africa Innovation Tournament. We had three judges, Michael Noumbissi, Director Capital Stone (MBA ’18); Yinka Omolere, Founder Seren; Veronica Warnock (Professor of Practice Economics, Darden School Of Business), who listened to five infrastructure ideas across healthcare, technology and education.

Darden Africa Business Conference
Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

In discussing Infrastructure solutions in Africa, one common area is funding. We hosted a panel on The Role of Private Equity in African Infrastructure Development with Grace (Darkwa) Buaka, Investment Director, Oasis Capital (MBA ’12). She shared some of the infrastructure projects funded by private equity and the opportunities to be a player in this industry. Tatenda Mabikacheche (MBA ’21) moderated the later sessions on Sustainable Development opportunities in Africa with Michelle Mfuni, professor at Richmond University and former Executive Strategy Lead at Deloitte South Africa (MBA ’95), and a final keynote session with Deniece L Mantey, Director at Africa, National Security Council at The White House on the Role of US in Africa’s Infrastructure development. During the session, Mantey shared some opportunities MBA students can take advantage of to participate in the growing interest in Africa’s infrastructure development. She also highlighted her recent trip to West, East and Southern African countries with the Vice President Kamala Harris, and shared some of the initiatives discussed with US-owned businesses who showed interest during the trip.

Q: Tell us a bit about how the innovation tournament went and how that came about!

Amosu: Yetunde (Yeti) Ogunwunmi (Class of 2023), DABO’s VP of Marketing, and I developed the idea for the innovation tournament during Panos Markou’s Managing Innovation class. We believed in the tournament’s power to generate some radical ideas with the potential to disrupt infrastructure development across Africa. We also wanted to reach participants beyond the usual MBA student. The planning took two months to conceptualize, fundraise and execute the tournament. Judges were enlisted from across social development, entrepreneurship and venture capital, including Darden’s professor Veronica Warnock. We received ideas across the transportation, health, social, and financial services sectors. It was exciting to see the semi-finalists talk about the ideas they hoped to develop and see students get excited about them.

Innovation tournament winners:

  1. Genti – An Africa-focused audio content and education app in Local African languages
  2. Rural Health – A cloud-based patient information management system for East Africa
  3. MyDomot – A service for Africans in the diaspora to provide healthcare for families on the African continent
Darden Africa Business Conference
Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

Q: Were there any surprises or unexpected moments during the event that stood out?

Amosu: This was the first time DABO’s conference hosted partner schools, and African students came to Darden grounds for the two day conference. We had African students from Arizona State University, WP Carey School Of Business, Duke Fuqua School of Business and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. It was great to have these crucial conversations on Africa’s infrastructure development with MBA students who are stakeholders and have vested interests in the growth of the African continent. The efforts to include other Africa Business School students was led by DABO’s VPs of Admissions and Careers, Kehinde Abiodun and Selorm Dzamefe.

In addition, we were thrilled to have great partners who believed in our conference and the need to have the Africa Infrastructure Conversations at Darden as a great learning opportunity for Darden, UVA Students, and other MBA programs. Our headline sponsor was Darden’s MGMT Club, as well as other sponsors.

Dance performance from UVA’s Afrohoos. Photo credit: Jannatul Pramanik Photography

Q: Any advice you’d like to share with African prospective students?

Nnebe-Agumadu: Find niches in Darden to explore and share your passions! The clubs and people are so diverse you have every chance to meet people that share the same passions. Darden is a place for great ideas, do not be afraid to share those ideas and bring them to life. And make sure to join DABO when you get to Darden! We can promise great food, fun parties, and a network of students who genuinely care for your well-being and success.

2022-23 Board Members, Darden African Business Organization

Tobenna Nneba-Agumadu, President
Post-Darden plans: Senior Consultant at Cognizant Consulting

Raimat Amosu, Executive Vice President
Post-Darden plans: Senior Manager, Strategy and Innovation, Dicks Sporting Goods

Selorm Dzamefe, VP Careers
Post-Darden plans: Investment banking Associate. Bank of America, Financial Institutions Group

Manny Amoabeng, VP Finance
Post-Darden plans: Exploring roles in Development Finance

Dele Fashola, VP Alumni
Post-Darden plans: Director, Rotational Leadership Program at Comcast

Abena Mensah, VP Events
Post-Darden plans: Associate, McKinsey & Co

Kehinde Abiodun, VP Admissions
Post-Darden plans: Investment banking Associate, Evercore, Generalist Mergers and Acquisitions

Yeti Ogunwumi, VP Marketing and Communications
Post-Darden plans: Consultant, EY-Parthenon